I came across a bizarre but fascinating newspaper account of a husband and wife who celebrated their first anniversary by staging a precise reenactment of their wedding day. No detail was too trivial to duplicate. They donned their nuptial outfits again, placed the same flower arrangements in the same church, hosted an identical luncheon and asked their guests to dress in the same clothes they had worn a year earlier. The reason? The photographs from the original event hadn't turned out as well as the couple had hoped, and they wanted new ones.
Wedding photography has been around as long as the camera. In the beginning, a stiff, formal studio portrait of the couple was the rule. The photo was made after the fact, but it was a precious keepsake of what might have been the most important day of a couple's life.
As cameras became more mobile, they started showing up at the wedding itself. I fondly recall my own parents' 1950 wedding photos, which were mounted in a slim white binder kept on an inconspicuous shelf in the den. They included a studio portrait of my mother in her gown, a few formal poses of the wedding party and my parents' families at the altar, and a number of candid shots: the maid of honor and best man signing the certificate; the cutting of the cake; and my parents at the wedding lunch, momentarily lost in each other's eyes. Perhaps I romanticize my parents' wedding photos — they concern my own history, after all, and the fact they're in black-and-white makes them seem from a time long ago — but they have always struck me as elegant, simple and touching mementos.
In recent years wedding photography has become a more elaborate undertaking, to the point that it sometimes undermines the very celebration it seeks to document. It's not unusual to find a phalanx of video cameras set up around the location where vows are exchanged. I attended one large wedding in a church where there were so many cameras and lights that the altar looked like a Hollywood set. After the ceremony, the guests were herded into a single, narrow exit so they would pass in front of the videocams.
I've also attended a number of otherwise lovely wedding receptions at which the photographer, often with the approval of the bride and groom, repeatedly interrupts the natural flow of events to stage shots. My brother and his wife were hijacked by a photographer who insisted on posing them in every conceivable location at the church long after the guests had moved on to the reception. After nearly an hour, they joined their guests at the reception.
Admittedly, these may be extreme examples, but it seems undeniable that wedding photography has assumed more significance than ever before. What role should photography play at a modern wedding? That is a decision the bridal couple must make — and then pass on their desires to the photographer. Whether a couple opts for a few photographs or a full video with live Internet feed, two simple rules should govern.
First, photos should docu- ment what is spontaneous and real. Aside from shots of the wedding party and family together, asking the family or a few guests to pose for a photo is fine, but there should be no reenactment of a moment — the best man's toast, for example — solely for the benefit of the photographer.
The second rule is related to the first, but is probably even more basic: Photography should intrude as little as possible into the celebration. Pose to your heart's content in the days before the actual event. But on the wedding day, keep in mind that the best wedding photographer is silent and invisible, allowing a couple and their guests to live the experience and only later realize they were captured on film.
As a two-time best man and a guest at more than 50 weddings, San Francisco-based writer Christopher Hall has been photographed, filmed, videotaped and sound-recorded. As far as he knows, he has yet to appear in a live Internet feed.