To me, being a documentary photographer is to observe reality without manipulating it. In other words, I don’t want to “make things happen”, I want to capture things as they happen.
When I’m working on a wedding, my day starts early: when the bride starts getting ready. I do my best to be the very first person to get there, so I can start acclimating with the surroundings, the location and the people living in it. That’s when I begin building trust and creating a safe and relaxed environment for us to enjoy such a special day together. Meeting the bride and groom is really important to me, so I can really get the sense of who they are and be a better storyteller when I’m called in to tell the tale of their wedding day.
Sometimes brides choose not to have a photographer participate in their preparation, fearing that such an emotional and exciting phase of the day would be “taken over” by the worst possible kind of photographer: a loud, disrespectful presence that comes barging in your home telling people where to stand, how to smile, where to put things so he can take staged pictures using flash, lights and other showy gadgets. That’s why I really want to make sure the bride knows that my presence will be nothing but respectful, unobtrusive and discreet: my equipment consists in just one backpack containing one camera, two lenses and usually no flash. This thin equipment facilitate me in literally disappearing in front of the bride’s eyes.
During the ceremony, I try my best to be as quiet and imperceptible as possible, out of respect for everyone. When I get complimented about my sobriety from both celebrants and guests, I know I’ve been doing my job well.
Since I believe my job is to observe and document the natural flow of things, after the ceremony I usually like to go straight to the reception, allowing the tale of the day to naturally unfold from the preparation to the ceremony and the party. I find it is a waste of precious time when photographers “abduct” the bride and groom, sometimes for hours on end, just to get them to some panoramic spot and take those posed, fake photos. When they finally reach the reception, people have been waiting for them for what seemed like an eternity. Wouldn’t it be nicer for everyone if the bride and groom naturally followed their guests, welcoming them at the reception and enjoying a glass of prosecco surrounded by their family and friends? This, the beginning of the wedding party, is another one of my favorite moments: I’m always curious to see people interact, and I’m always looking around to capture a laugh, an ironic glance, an emotional moment, a tender gesture. That’s what photography is to me: a mixture of joy, sentiment and irony.
Of course, I understand the bride and groom’s fear that skipping the couple’s photoshoot would mean risking not having the canonical couple shots in the end, but that’s not true! Those pictures will be there anyway, only they will be different, captured during spontaneous situations.
That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t ask me for a group photo or a couple shots of just the bride and groom in some beautiful setting of your choice: there’s absolutely no problem! I just wish for my potential clients to know me, and to know that I don’t usually do posed pictures, because I don’t like creating fake images (as a result, they will soon become outdated and dull) and also because I find it distracting and wasteful of the bride and groom’s time, especially if to make those pictures happen we need to leave the premises of the party and go somewhere else. Either way, when I happen to work on a couple’s photoshoot I tend to try and disappear, shooting photos from a distance, so that the bride and groom can forget about me and be natural.
A whole other world (but not entirely) is that of group pictures. I find nothing unusual in wanting some classic group photos, as an all-inclusive memento of those who were there that day: if there’s a purpose photography always served, was to preserve memories. My personal advice is to limit group pictures to close family, parents, best man and maid of honor, in order to avoid for people to literally stand in line waiting to get their picture taken.
During the reception, nowadays, people sometimes expect some form of entertainment from the photographer: I’m talking about photobooths, instant photo printing and so on. I don’t do those. I just wish to continue my work in the background, without drawing much attention to it. I want to capture moments and interactions, because a wedding to me is a profound and mysterious microcosm where there’s nothing to do but explore, taking all the time and sensitivity that’s required. So, to be able to continue my work, my exploration, my discreet documentation, I do not offer those services.
Before dinner time, I photograph a few details of the table settings and get some panoramic views of the location. Then I remain at the bride and groom’s disposal (of course I refrain from photographing guests when they eat!).
You may be wondering: still, no flash? Yes. All the way through the cutting of the cake and, of course, when the party moves to the dance floor (another one of my favorite moments!).
I choose to leave only when I really feel I have nothing else to give, no story to tell. Then, and only then, when I’m out of inspiration and would be taking photos driven by mechanical habit rather than desire, I choose to leave. I get in the car and I always feel overwhelmed by one thought: I’m so lucky!