Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Click - My Day as a Photographer

I promised my friend Emmie that I would write something about my day helping her shoot a wedding. Emmie is a photographer (check out http://www.emmiebates.co.uk) and on something of a whim, she invited me along to assist her with a job last weekend, when her husband couldn't make it.

I think it came out of me helping her with a photography project a while ago, where I just thought about stuff and she wrote it down. I can do thinking. Actually framing and snapping though, might be a different ballgame...

"I want you to try to catch some really natural shots," she said in the car, "people's reactions, their faces and smiles in those unguarded moments." Emmie explained that she would simply hand me a camera and set me loose. It occurred to me of course, that this is by far the best thing to say to a creative person - off you go, have fun, come back with something a bit like this... and enjoy it. I smiled.

Hours later, as the air grew chilly and we packed away the mobile studio, I found myself reflecting on the day. The disco blared inside, and the lights flashed hypnotically. Outside on the grass, suited couples clutched plastic glasses and laughed in the long shadows. Boys with untucked shirts were flinging a frisbee around and a little girl was blowing bubbles. Everyone seemed remarkably happy. I realised that this in itself was part of the job; helping people to enjoy their day. And as wedding photographers, we must surely have helped with that.

Emmie herself, understands this well. Somehow, in a way I know I couldn't have done, Emmie created an atmosphere where everybody felt at ease but was in exactly the right place at the right time. I surmised from all of that, that being in the right place at the right time is at the heart of all photography. My innovative quest to find a step-ladder for the group shot was a bit too late, so I had to return it to Tony at Donnington Motors. It's all about timing.

Timing, and positioning... I was quite astonished by how easy it is to be invisible as a photographer. Emmie and I roamed the service, shuffling down the aisles of the red-bricked church, snapping silently as the vicar rambled and the happy couple stood at the centre. At one point, Emmie was hanging off the balcony thirty feet above the nave to catch a crowd shot. I don't know whether it's just the way mind works, but it reminded me of Jimmy Olsen, the photographer in Superman III who gets stuck up a crane while a chemical factory is about to explode. It can clearly be quite a daring occupation.

Despite the vicar's odd sermon about love holding you together when you're old and paralysed... the service itself was quite straightforward. I was amused at the point where he processed to the vestry for the signing of the register and forgot to switch off his radio-mic. Moments later, crowded into the little room while the groom clutched an inky fountain pen, I hoped the good reverend had realised before he joked about being a vampire with purple fingers.

The part of the day I enjoyed the most I suppose, was the portrait stuff we did with just the bride and groom. This is where the wedding photographer comes into her own. Emmie was brilliant. Despite having worked their way through an eternity of group shots with extended families, uni friends and people who vaguely knew them... the bride and groom were still up for the more intimate portraits of the 'happy couple' in the afternoon sunshine. And somehow, even though their cheeks must have been aching and their feet killing them, Emmie created an atmosphere where they could sink happily into each other's arms and sigh romantically, as she moved them and snapped them. These photos, I thought, would be the ones that end up on their mantlepiece.

At the end of it all, as I loosened my tie and handed back the spare battery, I thought about the emotions of a wedding. The nerves, the exhilaration, the hilarity, the joy, the love, the relief, the dancing, the exhaustion... there's not really anything else quite like it. As photographers, we view and capture it all from the other side of the lens, preserving memories, downloading happiness for others to enjoy for the rest of their lives. Invisible and unnoticed, we move through the service, the reception, the speeches and the disco, never appearing in the photographs, unseen and largely unremembered. Emmie squished the equipment in the boot and shut the boot of her SmartCar with a satisfied click. The sound reminded me of a shutter opening and closing. "Good job!" she said.


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