So on other days and in other blogs I have banged on about the high-end snapshot, and on other days and in other blogs I’ve talked about using flash to heighten the drama, to create atmosphere, or just shoot with the direct style of someone like Martin Parr, and certainly the way Richard Billingham used it in his seminal work, Ray’s A Laugh. But what would a whole day shot on flash look like? Not the soft fill-in flash of some old school wedding photographers, but that stark, brutal flash. It’s a tough ask because it’s not flattering, it’s not forgiving and it’s pretty much the polar opposite of the industry definition of wedding photography. It’s not just photographers that working under the largely meaningless ‘fine art’ category that are all about the beautiful image. Even as a documentary wedding photographer you’re working to create real images of real people while doing your best to make them look as good as possible. So how would it work to shoot a whole wedding day on flash? And who’s going to be crazy enough and brave enough to go along with this idea? Well, step forward Bridget and Maxie.
Theirs was never going to be a regular wedding. Bridget’s initial email to me described the day as being a ‘queer folk goth wedding. Nick Cave meets meets Morris dancing.’ We met up and just instantly clicked and they both cited this IMAGE as their stand-out photo from my blogs. In fact Bridget herself was the first to admit that while it’s not flattering it does have something extra about it. And so, at some point, we somehow agreed, over some really good cocktails that that’s how I would shoot their day. And while I do think that was incredibly brave and adventurous of them I don’t want people to think that I ever intended to shoot unflattering, Bruce Gilden-like photos of anyone. That just doesn’t interest me. I wasn’t going to get all Dougie Wallace on their day. Wallace’s gaze and flash-style seems to be not just intentionally unflattering but deliberately cruel. There is a judgement in the way he shoots people, an arrogance, a sense that he thinks his subjects are there to be judged, by him. Well fuck Dougie Wallace, I think he’s a dick.
But what flash does is bring a certain raw aesthetic. Nothing hides in those soft dim corners. I mean I never shoot weddings wide open, I shoot most things around f8 if I can, but f8 plus flash is something else again. But I think it did make me shoot slightly differently. Or at least edit differently. I maybe left some shots in where the composition was slightly awkward, because somehow that seemed to fit the look. But that raises another interesting question for photographers: why do we filter out the awkward and the imperfect? Are we in danger of curating the day in a way that borders on the glossy and unreal just to assure clients that we do know what we’re doing, or tailored to fit what we know award panels will approve of? Maybe that’s for another blog. But all that said, this is not a bold new manifesto. This doesn’t mean I’ll be shooting every wedding like this. But shooting it this way was a breath of fresh air, and shooting a couple who were up for this was a breath of fresh air. Added to that it was also such a fascinating, cultural diverse cross-section of people, and of what it means to be British these days, that it was really energising to be able to shoot it in a different way.
Here are the results. Some of you will love them, some of you will hate them. But either way I’d be really interested to know what you think…