Weddings Exposed

We sometimes speak (okay, write) here at Manolo for the Brides about wedding professionals. We discuss what to look for, how to know this is or isn’t the professional for you, and how to negotiate getting what you really want. We almost never cover the question from the other side. What is it like to work weddings professionally? How do vendors help steer the clueless and those with unrealistic expectations toward a plan that makes better sense? What do they do when their best efforts in that regard don’t work? And what makes doing what they do worth all the hassle?

It is the tension between expectation and reality that keeps the work interesting. It is also what occasionally – when I come home very late from a particularly horrible event – makes me want to bury my head under my pillow and wake up in a world where weddings no longer exist. But by the next weekend I’m out there again. The truth is I like what I do. And maybe twenty years from now my clients will look at the photographs I took and remember how they felt, not just what things looked like. They might even know by then that the feelings were what mattered. Or maybe they will see where it all went wrong later was foreshadowed in those moments caught on film, when no one was trying to keep up appearances. I’m not a glamor photographer. I’m not a fashion photographer. I’m a storyteller, and the story I tell is the one I see.

Thus ends the introduction of Claire Lewis’ book Exposed: Confessions of a Wedding photographer.

Lewis is – in case you couldn’t tell from that snippet or the title of her book – a professional wedding photographer. She also happens to live and work in my neck of the woods, the San Francisco Bay Area. We’ve never met. I doubt that I’ve been to a wedding she shot. On the other hand, by the end of the book I wanted to invite her over for scones and wedding gossip.

The stories told range from the absurd to the surreal to the heartbreaking to the quietly satisfying. There are tales of brides who hear nothing they don’t want to hear; bridesmaids on Xanax and grooms sneaking off to liquor up for the big event; parents run amok and every possible disaster. There are also heartwarming tales of couples who understand how to pick and choose among traditions, expectations, and their own tastes to create fabulous, memorable events that reflect their personalities and don’t plunge them into debt. Read about the geek wedding and try not to smile. I dare you.

And while the book is not meant as a wedding planning guide by any means, there are many lessons to be taken from it. One that I took away from my reading was Know Thy Officient…and make damn sure (s)he knows enough about you to do things right. After all, you don’t want to discover as you’re standing at the alter that the groom proposed to you atop Mount Kilimanjaro and your fondest dream as a couple is to start your own line of vegan athletic shoes. That really is the sort of thing you ought to know before you marry. And if you’re getting married on a cliffside with only one set of parents witnessing the event because the law says somebody has to watch…you don’t want a preacher turning it into a revival meeting for the seagulls.

There are other lessons, too. Lessons about making wise choices, be they about what length of veil to wear for your outdoor wedding or how to include a beloved pet in the ceremony. Lessons about why living out someone else’s fantasy is probably not a good idea. Lessons about why it’s a bad idea to infuriate your caterer at the last minute. Lessons about what happens when you wake up one day and discover you’re not going to be a globe-trotting photojournalist, but a wedding photographer.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have steam pouring out your ears, you’ll sigh happily…and in the end maybe you’ll understand a little more about how you look at weddings.

For my part, the instant I finished reading I pulled out my wedding album and took a happy trip down memory lane. I saw the images, refelt the emotions, and realized once again just how lucky I am to have married a great guy like Mr. Twistie.

As Claire Lewis says, it really is how we felt that mattered most. The best thing is that we still feel much the same way.

It’s still nice, though, to see how our photographer captured the love, the trust, and the committment in our hearts that day. Truly, the right professional is worth his or her weight in gold.

2 Responses to “Weddings Exposed”

  1. Fabrisse November 30, 2008 at 3:36 pm #

    If you offer clotted cream with the scones, I bet she’d come to tea. *G*

  2. Melissa B. November 30, 2008 at 3:42 pm #

    Cool look into the other side of weddings! Now I really want to read this book, I bet Claire Lewis has some great stories.

    One thing I think tends to get lost in all of the hand-wringing about the Big Bad Wedding Industrial Complex is how many wedding vendors are not, in fact, international conglomerates conspiring to rob you of every last cent. Many caterers, florists, and wedding photographers are more like Claire Lewis — they’re small business owners who love what they do. In other words, there’s no reason to put up with a caterer who laughs at your budget and tells you that your wedding will suck if you don’t serve filet mignon, because there are other caterers who will happily suggest their delicious, budget-friendly vegetarian options.