Anybody else slightly embarrassed to be a wedding photographer? Yeah, thought so. I have a confession to make. I am.
I was out the other night with friends at a comedy show. I was in the vulnerable position of sitting in the first row, which I instantly regretted as soon as the show started. The comedian kept on calling another guy out in the front row. He was easy to target as he was wearing a lanyard as a fashion accessory. I tried to make myself small and unnoticeable, hoping to avoid getting called out. The comic asked everyone what they did for a living (the guy with the lanyard was an IT tech, go figure), and then he proceeded to make fun of them in some capacity. I certainly did not want to get called on. “Wedding Photographer” is WAY too easy a target for a comic. Furthermore, I did not want to admit, to a sold out show, in front of a lot of people, that I was a wedding photographer. I was embarrassed.
Most of the time, when someone asks me what I do for a living, I say, “I am a photographer and photography educator.” I answer this question with pride. But, it’s the next question that always freaks me out a little (on the inside): “Oh that’s cool! What kind of photography do you do?” UGH. I have to tell them I am a wedding photographer and watch their face contort as they drain every ounce of that cool credibility they initially had for me.
After facing this complexity more than a few times, I figured out what I really want to say is, “I am NOT a wedding photographer that photographs weddings.” But, technically, I am a wedding photographer. I photograph weddings and make money from it, therefore I am an actual real, bonafide professional wedding photographer.
It always feels like the people I am talking to are slightly disappointed when they hear, “I shoot weddings.” Like they were expecting me to say war photographer, adventure photographer, rock concert photographer or fine art photographer. I remember coming home from a photojournalism assignment once and my brother saying that he really liked telling people his sister was a photojournalist. He’s never said this about wedding photography. “Wedding photographer,” just doesn’t have a lot of sex appeal. Furthermore, I’ve heard what other photographers say about wedding photographers behind our backs. Not all of them, but some (OK, most) of them. It’s like we’ve sold ourselves to the devil.
I can justify myself out of this embarrassed line of thinking very fast. All of us can. We can push it to the back of my mind. I can pretend I am the most proud wedding photographer on the damn planet. I can tell myself it’s the most challenging genre of photography out there (and I wouldn’t be lying). I can tell people how important my job is and why it’s so important. I can pretend. But, if you know me, that’s not my style. I would rather dig into this subtle embarrassment and why it exists.
Here’s the honest truth behind why I am embarrassed. The words wedding photography comes with a box. A very small, pretty box. This box is tied up with a perfect satin pink bow. Just go look at any of the wedding magazines from the last 50 years. Wedding photography is constrained by the pretty. Shooting the rings. Shooting the bodiless dress hanging from a tree. Having the bridesmaids jump on the bed in matching robes. This is the stark truth of wedding photography. It’s also why I am embarrassed because I don’t value any of those things.
As I am writing this email I keep on wondering how I am going to turn this message around. How am I going to come back to the point of the story? At this point, I am still unsure what the point is. How am I going to reframe the current state of this email for all the photographers reading this who are looking for something useful? But, it seems today, the only thing I have to showcase this week is my cynicism. (Hello, My name is Erika.)
Wedding photography, as defined by our collective culture, is, um, boring. There I said it. Phew. But ‘wedding’ and ‘photography’ are also just two words placed next to each other. And it’s the very combination of those two words, next to each other that shape our definition of it. So, let’s just throw the combination of the words ‘wedding’ and ‘photography’ out the window. From now on I am a “photographer of humans.” Human relationships, human dramas, human beauty, human ugliness, human vulnerability, human sadness, human loss, human celebration.
And, if that all happens while photographing a wedding, so be it. The next time I’m at a comedy show, I’ll be sure to make eye contact with the comedian (OK, not really), and when they attempt to roast me, I’ll say, “I photograph humans.”
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