The Final Cut: Jenn and Andrew – Potentiality and Reality Posted by Spencer on September 5, 2012
The Final Cut is a series describing my personal view of the wedding accompanied by a selection of images to reflect that view. Image selections are thematic, and they are not intended to represent the full story of the day.
A wedding is a bubbling cauldron of subtext. A tapestry of interwoven thoughts, feelings, and relationships sitting right beneath the surface of what we do and how we act, but always just beyond the grasp of our eyes. It is spoken in a language only our hearts can feel and our minds can see, as we stitch together the fragments reality lets us in on. Everything is suggestion. Nothing an answer.
And this is the hardest part of for the photographer. A photographer sees light and form and composition and exposure. A photographer sees brightness, darkness, space, and figure. In a day running at a hundred and fifty miles an hour, this on its own is hard. But it’s not the real challenge. The real challenge is freeing your heart so you can fill it with what’s in front of you. It’s clearing your mind to perceive what is really there.
The first time you capture a wedding the challenge is technical. It truly is a matter of exposure and timing and using your camera the way it needs to be used. But this is only the beginning. And as it subsides, the truer challenge becomes apparent. After a hundred, two hundred, three hundred weddings, how do you keep your vision open and free? At a certain point, you’ve figured things out. You know what you’re supposed to do, what you’re supposed to shoot. You know what works. You have all the answers.
But if you have all the answers, why would you ever solve a problem differently? If you know a shot works, why push for more?
This is the real challenge. Everyone is a creature of habit, and at a certain point in a career the pull towards repetition becomes deafeningly loud. But if you believe that subtext is there, if you believe the day is something unique and special and different, then you have to let go of the very answers that define you. You cannot construct the same story each and every time. You cannot frame it the same way or look for the same moments. Commonality creates the cultural bond that underscores the way we connect, but it is individuality that tells us who we are. It is our unique nature that lies at the heart of marriage. We understand great images because of what we have in common, but we love them because they honor our differences.
The space between the dress and the party
The dress is a subject of persistent fascination to me. Not so much for its beauty or form, though some are stunning, but for its symbolism. The wedding dress is a statement of pure potentiality. A belief in something greater and more. An ethereal anticipation that exists in the abstract, as all things do before reality takes hold.
And, yet, the power of the wedding itself comes from its reality. This is one of the great tensions. How do you reconcile a year of anticipation with a day of occurrence? How does a year of hope diffuse itself into 14 short hours of existence?
It’s tempting to say in the most perfect of days, the two match wholly, as one becomes the other. But just as often, perfection comes by the way of the unexpected. In the bold acceptance of what happens and the belief that it is even better than what was supposed to be. And, in this sense, weddings are much like relationships. We jump headfirst into the fantasy without thought, logic, or restraint, but at some point, we find it is worth infinitely more for what it is than what it seemed it should be.
More interesting yet is that the reality does not exist independently of the anticipation. For better or worse, the two are always intertwined. Our initial ideas of how something was supposed to be – the excitement, energy, and the raw, unadorned hope – colors our views for the rest of our lives. Sometimes we struggle to reconcile the two in the face of inconsistency. But just as often, it is a source of hope and strength. Powering an underlying nostalgia, it takes that spark of excitement and energy, and converts it into a place of comfort that we can always return to. And, perhaps, this is truly the most beautiful thing of it. In moments under the spell of this power, we can always pick and choose what matters. We can see the world the way we want to.
“No veil. No bouquet. Got it.”
Jenn was onto me pretty fast. She put it together right away as she uttered those words. Whenever I think of it, it makes me smile. It’s not to say that I never prefer a bouquet or a veil in my portraits, but I suppose more often than not, I like it clean and simple. Don’t ask me how I decide. Sometimes it’s explicit, but just as often, it is intuition. In the course of a wedding, we assume certain roles. The bride, the groom, the mother of the bride, father of the bride, maid of honor, and so it goes. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate those roles – everyone is part of a cast of some sort all their life – but when it comes down to it, the significance of who we are before the wedding and, really, in each moment we live, is always more expansive than any role we could ever inhabit. So I like the simplicity of people unencumbered. I believe that wedding photography is about people having a wedding, and not a wedding having people. Giving the body a little more freedom to move and explore suits that notion to me.
It was a nice that she saw this. It was nice that I knew that she knew, and that I wouldn’t have to think about the conflict. Because if a wedding is that push and pull between the idealism symbolized in that dress and the reality that unfolds in that day, because if it is that divide between the wrote answer in my head – the go to shot I’ve done a thousand times before – and the answer that exists uniquely in front of me in each moment I am present, then it is also at its most challenging when both options present themselves, and I have to decide between one or the other. Sometimes, it’s either the shot that looks good or the one that feels good. Or, more specifically, the shot I think someone wants, and the shot that I think will matter for them. And this is when I have to make a choice.
This is the quintessential question in the relationship between photography and the modern wedding. Do we want images built on the day we imagined? Or the one built on the day that took place? You can cover one or the other. But not always both.
The image selection
Jenn is astute and kind. Accessible in that fashion that makes it easy to speak your mind. And she made the day easy. What was distinct about this wedding was the grace in which it tread both the common and the novel. The way in which it made its way through the day, effortlessly transitioning from the ideal to the real. There are some weddings that eschew tradition. Some go against the grain, wanting nothing to do with anything bridal. Others embrace it fully, sometimes even going so far as to be statements of design, decor, and everything bridal. Jenn and Andrew preserved the best aspects of each without falling prey to the pitfalls of either.
I selected these six images as a beginning and end to leave the middle to the imagination. A reflection of this transition the couple bridged so effortlessly. There is Jenn holding the dress with the candid reaction of onlookers. There is the elegance of her form in silhouette framed by a dress aglow – the future Mrs. Charles. And there is the transition itself as she puts the dress on. The singular moment that a person moves from what was planned to what is happening. At that point, it is a wedding day.
And then there were the moments at the end. The reception. If the day begins a dream, it ends a party. The strands unravel into a big, wonderful mess of an affair fully free to be its own expression. Uninfluenced by blogs and publications, the party exists as nothing but itself without the weight of expectation. It is all heart. A dance, hands in the air, a full-throated celebration of the wedding day. A father, elegantly imbalanced, baring the full weight of his form to hold onto his girl for one moment more as they finish their dance. And the tenderness of a mother’s touch, head arched, hand up.
And in that middle we don’t see here? Everything. There was everything. Because it’s not just the middle we witness as those present, but it is the middle we witness in our minds. It is the values we attach in our imagination. When I close my eyes and look back, there is one distinct moment. Something beyond the reach of the camera – you can only feel it in real life. It was right after Andrew made his way down the aisle. He turned to his mother, and the two of them came together. It hit hard and fast, not so much a hug, but an embrace. Several people in the front of the room reacted. Because we all knew something in this moment. We all saw the importance of this day. These things that we do in our weddings – these are not only acts of family. They are acts of care. They reflect invisible bonds that bring power to the wedding day. That give love and celebration their weight. That moment told me exactly how much it mattered that he was marrying this girl in front of these people at this time.
And that’s really what a wedding is. The space in our hearts between the dress and the dancing. The subtext between what people do and plan and what it all means. It is not the dress. It is not the hugs. It is potential materialized. The energy of hope transferred into the reality of love. And if you’re going to ask what it is about a wedding picture that matters, that’s just what it is, too. The ability to know that in the distance between something and nothing, we can let go of ourselves to see love, fresh, new, and unencumbered every single weekend. It is simply to realize that no matter how long we do this and how much we see, we don’t have all the answers.
Margeritte and Brian Posted by Spencer on June 27, 2012
Right before posting this, Margeritte just shared a picture of Katya, my wife and one of the photographers at the studio with me. How sweet is that? I was touched. That’s exactly what I mean when I say that I have awesome clients. And I think it shows. How can you not love their energy and verve?
Angeli and Ashul in Brooklyn Posted by Spencer on June 12, 2012
Tammy and David Posted by Spencer on June 5, 2012
I knew Tammy and David’s wedding was different in the middle of the first dance. Not for an expression, not for an action, not for the perfect weather or the closeness of each person there. In fact, not for any one thing, but for the simple effortlessness of it all. For the fact that their togetherness – in fact, the togetherness of every guest there – was as palpable in this most perfect of days, that at the moment the song kicked in gear and as they reached for one another in that exact moment, I utterly forgot that I was there to capture a wedding. I was simply present, camera in hand, lucky enough to be watching something special.