Hello Dear Readers!
So my beautiful, amazing and inspirational wife Katie has asked me to get off my writers butt and write you some fancy words on the subject of the weird and wonderful profession within which I now find myself making a living.
I can give you the definition of wedding photography by directing you to the Wikipedia entry on wedding photography but that’s pretty much like reading the ingredients in a recipe. It’s sometimes hard to visualise that final result and simultaneously understand what makes it so damn alluring.
So as you may know Katie and I have both lived with depression and anxiety on and off for years and a main feature of this blog is to show us living in the truth of our shortcomings. But from this we’ve found an immense amount of strength by being present and mindful more and more in what we are passionate about and letting that which truly does not matter slide. Now I’ve worked just about every job under the sun and never felt like I was going anywhere that excited me and brought me closer to a version of myself that I thought could ever do anything meaningful. I just assumed that was what you did. I honestly thought I would end up working on an oil rig like everyone else I went to school with. I ran around pretending to be a lot of things. Trying on a lot of hats the way you do when you’re a kid and you play dress up and take on a role for the afternoon. I even ended up pretending to be happy constantly. I ended up isolated and severely depressed. One day I hit one of my rock bottoms. I got on a train that day and never looked back.
I had grown up around photography. My family are all keen amateurs. All of them were crazy about documenting all these fantastical places they visited. It was mesmerising. Then there was all the wildlife stuff which I just loved. My Dad is a keen hunter but ironically is also a keen naturalist photographer. My uncle seemed so content to document life’s little intimacies at home with his children and his wife. My grandfather used to shoot reels and reels of super 8 film on his visits to Iran, Afghanistan and the East Asia when working as geologist in the 50’s and 60’s (which to this day we have still not finished watching) this may have in turn inspired a slightly shutterbug-ish quality in my immediate family. It may have even rubbed off on my cousin Alastair who went on to work in film at BBC Bristol doing some truly spellbinding projects like Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Deep Blue and Earth. I think out of everyone though I came back around to my uncle’s style of photography. Lots of little personal moments chronicling the emotive things that captured my attention. I used to religiously photograph my ridiculous teenage house parties that invariably ended in some form of absolute mayhem. No one really looked at these pics at the time. It’s only really since we’ve gotten a bit older and quite a lot of our friends have gone on to have their own kids that these memories have seemed more poignant. That’s the amazing thing about photographs. It’s history in miniature. It’s this isolated fossilised moment in your own personal history that is there forever and it brings back floods of emotions and memories. It’s a moment between the moments that no one else in the whole world noticed. And sometimes those moments are complete crap. And sometime they are everything.
Now I am a sentimentalist. I LOVE love. Big-styles (I’m a big Spielberg fan). I romanticise everything. I cry at adverts. I am almost certainly the more emotional one in my relationship. In fact my wife tells me that I am on daily basis – so it must be true! Now there is an element of emotional tourism in the job of a wedding photographer but that is part of the attraction and the primary reason I love what I do. To clarify – I get to meet some of the most truly amazing people ever, on possibly the best day of their lives so far. I am, in many cases, then privileged to follow their stories and keep telling them at specific milestones cyclically throughout their lives. It’s hard to describe how much of an honour that is in words. I very often find myself just speechless at weddings having a blub behind my camera as I see the wobbly lips, the raspberry chin squishes and the proud happy tears of all and sundry. You get swept up in the enthusiasm of it. I can’t lie to you and tell you every wedding is a bed of roses but most of the time it’s a total rush to be such an integral part of the day and then to be the one who captures memories that they share with 3 or 4 generations of their own family one day…. That’s an unbelievable incredible mind-boggling honour and such a wicked thing to be able to have done.
So I found my current path in life when I got together with my amazing wife Katie. Now I will probably reference Katie and how amazing she is a lot. I don’t put my wife on a pedestal but I do believe in positive, consistent and grateful affirmations. I’d spent far too long practicing feeling bad. Feeling trapped. Feeling aimless and sad and jealous and angry. I was a mess of a person when I met my wife and she saw through all my bad habits, saw through all of my neuroses and told me that I was worth something in no uncertain terms. And one day she picked up my camera after a friend’s wedding and came up to me and told me that I could do this professionally. No bloated hyperbole. She just said you should do this as a career. Well I balked at the idea of doing anything so brave as starting my own business. It was too hard! I mean, setting up a website, a blog, a LinkedIn, a Pinterest, a Facebook page, a twitter, an Instagram. This shit was hard woik! One afternoon over the course of about 5 hours she set up all of the above and said right – the rest is up to you. Well, little did she know my utter incompetence when it came to admin or the internet. She’s been an integral part of the administrative machine behind my photography business ever since. Which is just one of the many reasons I’m behind her in the insane amount of extracurriculars she manages to fit in around being a full-time primary school teacher. Katie is nothing if not multi-talented. Which is good because I learned a lot from her. About self-teaching, self-discipline and the wearing of many hats. Salesman, ambassador, photographer, marketer, administrator, illustrator, artist, photo-editor, accountant, stylist, tailor, make-up artist…. The list is almost endless. But as we’ve been finding out over the last several years stretching ourselves out of our comfort zone – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot – is the only way we grow. I’ve never been a mature person, in work, in life – in anything. So when you start your own business you have to grow up and focus so damn quickly. I think tax-returns should be a mandatory life skill taught at school – no bullshit.
So it became clear – Live with passion – Live for yourself. Live for your ideals. Do not live incongruently. I was sick of living for other people or some idealised version of myself. I just wanted to do something that made me happy and made other people happy. Katie gave me the push. And things just kind of accelerated. All of a sudden were doing wedding fairs, blogs, shoots for businesses, bands, products all sorts. Now when I was asked or told to do any of the above by way of advice I didn’t have any experience. I didn’t have any confidence I could pull it off. I just kind of flew by the seat of my pants and learned to fly whilst falling. It was a hell of a first few years and balancing the photography with full-time temp jobs, security jobs, call centre jobs was tough. I mean really tough. I couldn’t do all the gigs I wanted to as I couldn’t always get cover. I couldn’t always afford it! Photography is prohibitively expensive as a hobby and a career or at least it used to be. A hell of a lot has changed in the last 20 years with technology thankfully.
So what is wedding photography? It’s storytelling. In a very real sense. Even in the most contrived moment there is something real going on even if you can’t always see it. I have become more and more obsessed with capturing people with their guard down. When they aren’t looking. When they are in the act of losing themselves. Throwing off their inhibitions. This is a very real challenge as well. I’m a 6ft+ barrel chested chap who is about as inconspicuous as a mountain can be. So the energy and effort became about speed as much as anything else. Even if they know I’m there I just have to be that bit quicker about getting my camera to my eye and being in the right place at the right time. I’m learning all the time about anticipating the decisive moment (as Cartier-Bresson put it. And if you’re still not clear check out his amazing work.) And YES this means I’ve hit myself in the face with my camera back on so many occasions I’ve lost count. Possibly from hitting myself in the head so many times. But to capture that first kiss, that first dance, that first moment a father tells his son he’s proud of him, that first time a new spouse see their in-laws cry with abandon it’s kind of worth the repetitive concussions if I’m being honest.
I possibly could have just said wedding photography is the best job in the world (for me anyways) and left it at that. But it’s much more than that. Photography is a complex subject. You resign yourself to being a life-long student. And like any student there will be eureka moments of elation. There will be despair and abject poverty as you spend entire paychecks on courses or lenses or advertising. There will sleepless nights over missed photographs and late paying clients in the early days. But photography is also for want of a better pun – a framing device. It presented me with technical and social challenges I had to overcome in order to be a better student, a better businessman, a better boss, a better husband and role-model. It has taken everything and then given it back.
So my philosophy when it comes to wedding photography? It’s a work in progress. A lot like me. A lot like the eternal student it’s turned me into I am not a technical photographer. Never have been. My aesthetics are not pristine and perfect and soft and gentle because that is just not the way real moments leave themselves on our memories. It’s messy and grainy and sometimes blurry. But even in a black and white photograph there is colour in the moment, the gesture, the mystery of the expressions. Photography is life. It’s not perfect, it’s entirely subjective even when it tries not to be. Each photograph is a different set of eyes with which we view grand vistas and the most intimate moments. One mans treasure is
another’s trash. I focus on what intrigues me as a storyteller. I’ve stopped comparing myself to others so much now. That is my current guiding philosophical star and when that resonates with other people I hope I have in some indelible way left a mark on their lives.
I’m very lucky in my work. I’m very lucky in whom I’ve ended up sharing my life. I can’t say too much more than that. I’m sure you don’t want me to ffs. This is the longest blog post in the world, so here’s some pics to enjoy!