Wedding Photojournalism – It’s A Long Story

Posted by A J Williams Photography on March 4th 2010 .Comment(0)

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Wedding Photojournalism – It’s a Long Story

Wedding photography is a tricky business. It is virtually unique among the various services which make up the wedding industry insofar as it is, on the one hand, arguably the most important service which a couple will engage, and on the other, the one service about which clients may understand relatively little.

I stress the importance of photography as a service for fairly pragmatic reasons; after all, flowers do die, cakes and meals do get eaten, even the more enduring dress will usually be worn once and once only; and all the attendant experiences – fun, romantic, emotional, beautiful – all are ephemeral and all, apart from what remains in the human mind as memory, will simply vanish unless, of course, you have the photographs.

With regards to the second point about a client’s knowledge of photography, this is a slightly more complex matter, particularly in today’s rapidly changing industry and the attendant shifts in expectations. Put simply however, photography is once again unique since it is the only service which is pretty much sold to a client on the minimum of pre-knowledge and the maximum level of faith. I’m not suggesting for one minute that the majority of clients are at all ignorant of the impact and varying aesthetics of photography, but it does remain, unfortunately and quite often disappointingly, the one service which requires the most salesmanship and negotiation, where in fact it would be better for everyone if it required none at all. After all, and without wishing to appear too stereotypical, choosing a dress is a task with which a bride will be familiar, confident and comfortable.

The same goes, to a certain extent, for flowers, cakes, venues, Djs or bands, in fact most if not all of the other services involved in the wedding industry. Furthermore, a wedding client is not choosing from examples of a product but with the actual, more or less physical product itself. It is these levels of combined experience and confidence and hands-on prejudgment of a product which makes these services relatively straightforward to choose. But wedding photography, as I have already suggested, is very different.

But it was not always so, and in a sense it is this shift in trends and expectations that lies at the heart of the issues we face today. The explosion in exponents and popularity of so-called photojournalism and reportage wedding photography has dramatically and irreversibly rattled the cage of photographic practice and client expectations. Unfortunately for many, however, this has not led to an attendant explosion of true understanding and appreciation of what photojournalism and reportage actually mean or involve. The point here, perhaps, is that a client will always give themselves a better chance of satisfaction, if not delight, if they are informed and very clear in their own minds about what they actually want and expect from a service.

The obvious stumbling block here, as already suggested, is that in most other cases (apart from photography) this information and clarity of thought has already been firmly established through the simple everyday exigencies and pleasures of human experience (choosing clothes, tastes in music, food and location being the main players in this context). Photography, and photojournalism in particular, is not an area of experience in which many clients will normally have had such experience, knowledge and, by extension, confidence to make a successful, well-informed choice. Wedding photography is thus, for many clients, a fairly loose, abstract set of ideas and expectations informed by little more than a select set of images – it is, in short, a construct.

The answer to this issue, if there is one, is twofold, and the responsibility rests largely at the feet of the client. Firstly, it is up to the clients to really stop and consider just what part and importance photography really plays in their event. The tendency may be to simply consider it as just another service, another box to be ticked and another part of the budget to be successfully negotiated. And for some this is indeed, and quite reasonably, the case. But for those who desire a true, enduring and meaningful record of an event, which in many respects is the raison d’etre of the entire photographic enterprise in the first place, then they have to look way, way beyond the ticking of (quite often) media controlled boxes and penny counting.

Of course budget is a factor for most of us but photography, for reasons already indicated, ought to be at the top of the client’s priorities, not languishing around the bottom, which in terms of relative expense, it nearly always is. And this makes it all the more crucial for a client to make the correct decision which can only really be done if they develop their own understanding and appreciation of photojournalism, and not just photojournalism in the context of weddings but photojournalism as a free standing enterprise; in just the same way that a bride may have developed an instinctive feel for material and a deep understanding of what designs, colours and even bespoke alterations will help her choice in the perfect garment for a specific event, so wedding clients need, in my opinion at least, to take time out to research and develop an appreciation of photojournalistic photography.

For photography is a creative medium like any other and just as fashion and gourmet cooking has its shining stars, so does photojournalism, and clients, if they are to take control of the decision which they make, should familiarise themselves and develop personal opinions about these icons of photojournalism, past and present, in just the same way that they are familiar with and have tastes, preferences and opinions about the exponents of all the other trades and services which will play a part in their wedding.

In the end, it is all about developing your own construct – your own personal set of ideas, preferences and opinions – rather than having one sold to you. For me, as a photojoiurnalist, the ‘perfect’ photograph, if there is such a thing, will include a little of the impeccable composition and artistry of Cartier-Bresson, with a dash of the aggression and spontaneity of Ben Shan and Robert Capa, but always with that narrative – at any level, oblique or overt – which is integral to the very word and practice of true photojournalism.

And this is a crucial point, for photojournalsim is not about randomly tilting one’s camera at a 45 degree angle when there is, apparantly, absolutely no reason for doing so, or any of the other devices which have unfortunately, become such misleading markers for this style of photography. No. Photojournalism is precisley what the word imples – a photographic journal, both in terms of having a chronological set of images about a specific event, but more importantly perhaps, implying or suggesting a narrative within the image itself.

Wedding photography should, and very often does (depending on the photographer of course) lend itself perfectly to genuine photojournalism. It is, after all, an event packed with emotional charge, local culture as defined by tradition and ritual, a showcase of sartorial elegance, imagination and, hopefully, extravagance and, of course, includes a very large splash of adults and kids simply doing what they do. A wedding, in short, is a true photojournalist’s dream, and that should be reflected in the photography.

Having made all these comments and observations about photojournalism and how it relates to successful wedding photography I should, perhaps, end with another piece of solid, accessible advice, and that is; whenever you begin to think about choosing a wedding photographer, if indeed true photojournalism is the stye which you are after, and also given that you have done enough ‘extra-curricular’ research to develop an understanding and appreciation – preferences even – of what photojournalism actually means, then you should always insist on being shown an entire wedding.

It may sound excrutiating to sit through someone else’s event but it is a necessary discomfort, for this is really the only way that one can gauge the true competence and consistent commitment of any photogapher who calls themselves a photojournalist. After all, any photographer, quite reasonably, will showcase their best and most exciting work on their websites, but glorious as many of these images may be they do not, quite literally, tell the whole story. For while it may be great to have a selection of spectacular images, this does not necessarily mean that they will be particularly enduring. A good photographer may supply a mixture of the two. A great photojournalist will have the commitment, skill and passion for his craft to at least try and pull off the combination every time.

So do look at whole weddings, for this is the only way that you can make any sort of decision about whether or not the photographer is at all proficient in the product which he or she is trying to sell to you being an enduring, meaningful and, above all, true photo story of your day. After all, a wedding is not a fashion shoot or a passport photo booth; it is a whirlwind of fun, tears, laughter, romance and many other of the warmer, more noble and endearing human responses and emotions all packed into a few short, ephemeral hours of your life. So what if the cake was a bit over-sugared or the band had an off night or the bouquet didn’t match your dress; these, again, are ephemeral irrelevances that will rapidly fade into nothing.

But the only way one can ensure that the overall memories of the day do not also vanish into thin air is through consistent, committed and authentic photojournalism. And it’s up to the client to discover precisely what this is.


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London, United Kingdom Photographer N/A

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Jason Pierce-Williams

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