I always used to giggle when people asked what I did, I'd say, embarrassed that I was a wedding photographer. That was well before I became a decent photographer and well before I realised that to be a good wedding photographer, you could still be a feminist without selling out to possibly the most insidious patriarchal trade about town. Yes, I think in the competition between the wedding and the sex trades, the wedding trade is by far better at selling and tricking women into a life of patriarchy than the sex trade ever will be. Sex work prohibitionists say are at pains to say that no little girl dreams of being a whore, yet we raise little girls to dream of being an aspirational bride. I've been at over 400 weddings, I know this indoctrination of turning women into brides to be true.
In the beginning, I produced work that I thought that you had to produce to be a wedding photographer, my work was technically faultless but I was ashamed of what I was producing, I was ashamed that my work reflected typical gender roles within heteronormative scripts played out in wedding visual cliches. A chat with a married lover about his wedding photography (still not forgiven him for printing his wedding photobook via photobox.com) was meet with, it's what people do, get married and have traditional wedding photos. I was more than a little annoyed and frustrated with his response, wedding photography does not have to follow a script, but photographers are forced into visual scripts by societal expectations. Just look at professional escort photographers, all shooting the same way and following it's the what we do script because we have expectations that surround shooting certain people in certain ways. I was/am never comfortable with that. As a visual artist, wedding photography is what you want it to be but at the same time, you still have to conform to societal expectations of how you are allowed to shoot as a wedding photographer.
I was never comfortable with it's what people do approach to professional wedding photography. A quick flick through wedding magazines or even looking at wedding lists of must-have shots will tell you that we have not evolved far from the wedding photography script of heteronormativity and perhaps it's easy for me to slate the industry that shamed me for being a whore as well as a wedding photographer, the notion I could exist in both realms was shamed upon and my art was shunned and I suffered for my whoring but it was the whoring, in the start that was funding the art. Being an outsider, being a whore in the wedding industry grants you a certain amount of creative licence and the ability to transgress creative wedding photography boundaries because people were dismissive of your work, to begin with, so why the hell not just roam totally off script?
I lost count of how many times I heard, that you can't do that in wedding photography. People either loved my work or hated it but what can you do, you don't shoot to keep people happy, you shoot to sooth that creative need in your head and then pray like hell you can find the clients who love your work and what you do. I mean people really hated some of my wedding work. I spent many days being a starving artist and shooting budget weddings I should never have shot in order to eat. I sold my creative soul out on more than one occasion to people who did not appreciate the inherent talent in my work or wedding photography because after all, it's just something you have done as part of a wedding. That will always be one of my biggest regrets, working for less than I was worth for people who did not value what I did. I suffered the harsh consequences of what happens when your whore worlds and wedding worlds collide. It was a very painful and difficult time. I have many regrets but one of them is not conforming to wedding photography expectations and styles.
Wedding photography is, not what we wedding photographers sell it as. The pretty romantic presets and the film inspired editing may add a romantic hue to your wedding day but It's not an accurate reflection of the day, nor the state of your relationship. It's a romantic story played out in photographs so you have visual cues to say that you have partaken in a very public declaration of love and transcended into a happy ever after, one that is aspirational since childhood indoctrination into bride and husband-dom. Wedding photographs are visual social lubrication of sorts, that you belong to adulthood, that you have a relationship sanctioned by the state. Pierre Bourdieu describes that photographs of ceremonies like weddings are only permissible because they capture behaviour that is socially approved, and social regulated. Tis photographs of sex workers online are being cleansed by state legislation because they are not socially approved. What Bourdieu speaks to is what is photographed at a wedding and what is perceived by the spectator of the wedding photographs is not individuals declaring individual love captured on film, but individuals not in their capacity of individuals but individuals in their capacity of fulfilling a social role as husband or wife. Photography acting as a form of family cohesion, enforcing the roles of men and women within patriarchy one pretty edited image at a time. Of course, then how did wedding photography adapt to same-sex marriages, that is for another blog entirely.
I was interviewed by a journalist the other week, amongst other things I was talking about the internal conflict I have as a feminist and being a wedding photographer, and well, a whore. If that was actually possible given how anti-feminist weddings were still in the 2000s and I am not convinced they have entirely changed that much. Prior to doing my MA in photography, I was starting to rebel against the rigid confines of the expectations of what it means to be wedding photographer and being shunned my work took on a rebellious streak and I started producing work that did not line up with what we expect from wedding portraiture. Basically, I began taking the piss out of what is acceptable in wedding photography.
As a female wedding photographer who got comments such as you must love love, I mean really love the whole idea of love to work in the wedding industry and I was met with my fair share of surprised at being a female wedding photographer and encountered situations of being offered less money than my male counterparts to photograph weddings in Muslim states, being told to wear strapless cocktail dress with heels or a hajib to fit in with the wedding guests. I starved myself more than once to fit in with the skinnies of society weddings. Looked blankly at brides musing about desperately wanting to be married before the age of 30, indeed one scheduled her wedding the day before her 30th because she was so desperate to be wed in her 20s. I don't think the question should be about whether it's possible to be a wedding photographer and a feminist, because it is, without question, possible. The question should be whether you can be a wedding photographer who has the confidence to shoot the way you want to shoot in a world the demands wedding photographers produce works that reflect societal views and expectations about wedding photography and still have the commitment to your artistic vision and remainly truthful to your work (and well, not starve at the same time). The shamming for being a whore I can take, but what I'll never do is adjust my photographic style because it does not fit in with an industry that praises the cookie cutter wedding photographer and shuns artistic quirkiness and rule breaking.