It would be fair to say there’s been a hiatus in blog posting of late. Given I posted one a day in May, I just needed a little time to divert my energy into ‘being on the road’ with a camera in hand over the last thirty days or so. So, here’s one from Greenwich; The Queen’s House to be pedantically accurate. Weddings in London are, in terms of transport, a juggling act. I try to leave my car at home in Berkshire and use public transport. There’s little that enthuses me less than making a snail’s pace of progress through smugly calculated short cuts, only to watch cyclists flash past at a relative light speed – and that’s not even the lycra brigade. Having said that, if a London wedding is in one place, or relatively tight in crow flight planning, I prefer the moderately less than mortgage styled train fare, park up at or close to a venue and use my legs. And I’m pleased I did just that for this day, as climbing the hill between Greenwich and the observatory for bridal preparations I happened upon this view.
And so the day began; bright sunshine, Greater London’s decadent and most beautiful hillside awash with sun worshippers, and one ‘glowing’ wedding photographer ascending and descending what seemed like a forty-five degree gradient to traverse between bridal preparations atop the hill and the main show in the valley. This is the story of Lena and Ander’s day. I’m yet to mention that the couple know what they like in terms of photography, respective movie producer and decorated special effects supervisor for films within the Harry Potter franchise to name but one.
I remember attempting a ‘365’ a couple of years back; 365 days, 365 posts. Boy was that hard. The professional bloggers seem to be able to trot posts out morning, noon and night. I’m not a professional writer and there’s a thorough discipline to ensuring you pen fresh thoughts on a daily basis. Hats off to those that can and do. A mere month of daily posts musing about the whys and wherefores of each photograph published, well, it’s been a healthy exercise, both artistically and cathartically. I hope as a reader you have enjoyed the short series. For me it’s focused my creative channels, particularly on the mornings I have written prior to photographing a wedding. So this last one in the series is about legacy. I know I use this word ‘legacy’ quite a lot. No, more than quite a lot. Simply, a lot. But this L word, well, it underlines my reason for photographing weddings. This feature has been a month of pictures about my relationship with the genre of wedding photographing. So I’d like to close May with a picture of grandparents finding a photograph of themselves taken on their own wedding day many decades previous. It had been placed on a display table by grandchildren tying the knot. The couple had worked hard to collate a collection of photographs from every married guest’s wedding day, which they would view as they entered the dining room that afternoon. I’d seen the table prior to the guests viewing it, so I’d already spotted the picture I really wanted to make. I was after a reaction or at the very least physical contact with their framed picture. And that couple is of course, the grandparents. I like to think that the pictures I make will one day serve as historical legacy. Legacy is, I think, my mantra. Sure, I’m not making photographs that will appear in Times magazine or ones that will change cultural thinking. I’m not collating a collection that will one day show at The Magnum Gallery. But I am creating many hundreds of private galleries, that will hopefully be viewed by generations with a vested interest in their family tree. That these pictures will live on long after I have finally depressed a shutter button, is quite an incredible privilege that I’m still not sure I completely comprehend.
“We wondered if you photograph portraits too?” It’s a subject I touched upon at the start of this month’s series of ‘picture a day’ postings, though that was a piece focusing primarily on the topic of family group portraits. Yes is the answer, yes to both. I may not highlight that within the portfolio pages of this website, but that’s always been because I’m keen to draw couples who’d chiefly like me to photograph their wedding from a documentary or reportage slant. But on the subject of bride and groom portraits, I like to ‘borrow’ a couple for up to fifteen minutes, sometimes a little more as requested, or if scenic logistics dictate – but generally that’s the guide timing in my head. And I use the word ‘borrow’ after much thought on this subject. Too often I hear the afternoon drinks reception, or cocktail hour, referred to as, ‘the photographs.’ It’s as if the guests don’t exist. That they should wait until I have taken them away for an hour, returning only when the chef is chasing me meat cleaver in hand because the soufflé starter has both risen and fallen. It’s an historical reference to a time when format dictated a photographer run through his or her inventory of poses to produce a staple diet of pictures where the men threw their top hats in the air and/or the bride was held aloft by the ushers and best man. For instance, my own late parents’ album features a full page black and white, where my mother is sat on the grass at the reception with her dress organised in a fine circle around her; classic 60s. I call it the ‘bride fallen down a hole’ shot, as it looks like my dear mum was waltzing across a park and fell through a cracked man hole cover. For the sake of balance though, there are photographers who are simply sublime when it comes to delicately posed wedding portraiture and many couples who demand that service as large portion of their day. I’m not proposing that there is a right way and wrong way. Personally I like a few portraits. There’s a legacy to some photographs that display the fashion of a day even if that does creep into a contrived arena for a few short moments. Equally though, I prefer to practise a more relaxed approach, a light touch, a walk and talk, a time where a couple have time to reflect upon the enormity of what’s just happened.
Wedding photography and garden games. I’ve been meaning to post these images as testament to that great garden sport; Giant Jenga for a while now. And before you challenge me for listing Jenga as a sport, I bring you darts. If a game that can be practised by a player supping ale and fags classifies as a sport, then surely that permits Jenga to this club too? I can’t understand why Sky doesn’t embrace the art of balancing wooden blocks precariously atop each other whilst robbing their foundations and hoping a strong breeze or indeed child doesn’t show up to spoil the result. Flippancy aside, mix beer and a garden game with adults who could otherwise be in a top level meeting any other day poring over spreadsheets whilst making board level decisions and you encourage the kind of competitive nature that nurtures escapism. And that’s the very definition of sport isn’t it? Anyway, something light and very ‘One Show’ this evening, to ease the ride of the oft emotional pictorial rollercoaster.
What do you do for a living then? It took me a good few years to be able to answer that question in undeterred veracity, the result really of my chosen occupation having a prefix, that being ‘wedding.’ See, I’ve met many talented chefs who upon meeting at a wedding venue will initially furnish me with a who’s who of famous personalty chefs they have cooked with or under and an equally impressive list of acclaimed restaurants they have served their wares in before I’ve even had a chance to become acquainted. And it’s the same with bands and singers. Same with magicians. And yes, the same with photographers too on occasion. “I am the wedding photographer,” sits uncomfortably for some who feel their offering is perhaps diluted, because it doesn’t lay claim to a different and far more important prefix like, fashion, or even war – and for whom Magnum agency membership can only be considered a distant dream. “31 Days in May,” has been about my own rolling genre affair with wedding photography. It’s a subject matter that has brought me the privilege of witnessing different cultures’ nuptial custom and some reasonably intense and intimate reportage. I have heard peers of mine refer to wedding photography as street photography which just happens to occur at someone’s wedding – and if that makes the shooter feel more comfortable with his or her lot on the world photographic stage, then so be it. It’s a good thing. I see my offering to the photographic community as social commentary. When I attend a wedding I want to feel like I am capturing legacy photographs which could, if sat within a time capsule, emerge one day as a strong and important narrative depicting wedding customs from a different time and century. Educational perhaps. So with a hopeful and not too clumsy or crass nod to a well worn phrase under the ownership of AA; “I’m Neale, and I’m a wedding photographer.” I’ll sign off today’s post with some really rather good performers, from the West End stage production of Jersey Boys – who for this night, but not limited to this night only, are equally happy to profess to being; the wedding singers.
So you’re not sure what a rood is? Nor was I until my life took a rather unexpected pictorial twist and dealt me wedding photography as a vocation. Photographing in churches is a levelling experience. I find myself at peace and not necessarily in a spiritual fashion. I turn into, I think, what can only be described as some kind of golfer. There’s a quiet to this experience that is unlike the rest of the day. I know this only because I wear a Fitbit, but my heart rate slows and I can feel an almost meditational calm. It’s as if I’m trying to fashion a path by which my forthcoming shots will work – that’s the golfing analogy. I may kneel to see how a photographic angle could be affected by the shape or position of a pew. I’ll find hiding places from which I may photograph the more solemn moments of a ceremony without attracting observation from clergy or fear of seemingly giving the congregation permission to start photographing too, when actually a minister would much rather they be concentrating on the matter in hand before their eyes. But this observational quest often yields compelling pictures before the service even begins. So back to the rood, or the chancel screen; an ornate partition between the congregation and choir/high alter. Often elegant carvings provide an opportunity to deliver ‘shoot through’ alternatives to simply photographing from 5 foot 10. This is one such example. The groom and his best man wait for the bride, seated, chatting. It’s a moment of quiet and an angle that I would not expect a guest’s camera to have sought or been trained upon.
Bam, and Summer arrived. The iMac fans were whirring in rhythmic cadence this afternoon as the temperature rose, indicating a weekend of weddings ahead where I expect to see the appearance of lawn games and hoppers. It all gets rather competitive when it comes to Giant Jenga, but I’ll save that for a later post. In terms of old fashioned entertainment, pepper half a dozen space hoppers across an expanse of lawn at a wedding reception and adults will unleash their inner eight year old really quite briskly. Thing is with hoppers that the entertainment is equally as potent for a viewer as it is for the user. Somewhere in the two, or indeed three, perhaps even four decades since they last mounted one of these cult toys, they’ve forgotten how to balance forward motion with all that hoppity inertia. So today’s 31 Days main photograph is the unashamed joy of capturing a guest falling from their perch aboard the humble hopper. I can’t help thinking that an afternoon tipple or three may have been spoiling the rodeo party for this hapless guest? And then a somewhat quieter picture of another guest photographed through trees, no doubt texting out his highest bounce scores of the day to an impressed friends list. As always comments on this or social media, entered into our May draw for the bottle of champers. Just don’t drink and bounce?
Following a post earlier during the week, I wanted to expand on the theme of introducing scale within photography. Placing your subject/s small within a wide panavista can be a powerful way of introducing the scale of a scene or awe-inspiring backdrop. I often see American photographers use this method well when photographing couples against a backdrop of say The Rockies [insert other countries, other incredible vistas]. Scale can be used well too when considering the little ones at a wedding. This picture is a case in point for sure, excuse the Americanism. I like their interaction. It’s a gentle composition and a fine opportunity to introduce the scale and maturity of the grounds around them. It’s, for me anyway, a double take shot for the bride and groom. It introduces landscape into a collection whilst serving as a portrait too. Their guests, their page boy in particular, just taking five minutes away from the business of the day. It’s a wide angle lens choice, in this case 24mm, to take advantage of the larger scene. There’s a kind of symmetry involved too. I’m one for symmetry. The tree is my mid mirror point, with an unused second bench offering a little, if not tenuous, reflection. We’re heading briskly to the tail end of the month now. Thank you for your emails in particular, the welcome occasional blog comment and social media remarks too. All comments and thoughts are entered into the end of the month draw to win champers and wall art.
There’s a lot to be said for ‘getting in and amongst it.’ There’s a plethora of opportunities to do this of course at weddings as a photographer, but one of the stand out moments is certainly the confetti shot. Deciding where to stand seems an obvious decision, of course. If you were plotting your ‘play’ like a football coach you’d probably suggest ‘straight in front of the approaching bride and groom, three or four arm lengths away.’ But often there’s something to be said for thinking outside the six yard box. Think of angles, think of where you’d least expect the composition, because there are times this form of approach will yield surprisingly refreshing outcomes. Bottom left is particularly satisfying as I feel I’ve become ‘the usher’s eyes,’ producing an unusual crop that to me shouts of POV.
I considered dropping my 23rd post on this ’31 Days’ feature, because I seemed to trawl through today in reasonably pedestrian fashion following last night’s atrocities and this morning’s abominable headlines. I cleared the desk and inbox, professionally. I did some accounts, professionally. But when it came to piecing together some thoughts for the blog about how I photograph weddings, it didn’t seem appropriate. The moral revulsion I have felt today in the shadow of last night’s attack in Manchester was tempered slightly by James O’Brien, an LBC broadcaster who started his programme with this thoughtfully worded prose. But even that didn’t necessarily spur me on to create something. But as the day has gone on, I thought of an image I do want to share. I don’t wish to make political statement with it, but it does make me smile. It’s an image I made several years ago at a humanist wedding. Of itself humanism has inspired some of the world’s greatest thinkers, social reformers and philosophers. It’s not a religion. I believe it is a sentiment. And whilst I am not a humanist I can certainly empathise with their chosen path. What’s not to like about a belief system that is centred around seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same on an ethical level. This is a simple composition, using the ‘little people,’ to demonstrate the scale of the world around us. But for fear of sounding unnecessarily sentimental or exercising gratuitous poetic licence, I also see this as a picture of hope, for children who have the opportunity to make change. There’s a joyous youthful exuberance to their skipping. They are colourblind, as yet oblivious to the twisted beliefs of some people who prefer rancor to peace. It could seem somewhat puerile or perhaps facile to regurgitate the starting lyrics from a George Benson and latterly Whitney Houston song which sang of hope and children being our future. But you know, the lyricist Linda Creed, I think she just may have been on to something.