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Undrunk & Indisorderly: A Wedding Through the Lens

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Undrunk & Indisorderly: A Wedding Through the Lens

Andrew Ryan

This weekend I photographed a wedding. Not only was it my first experience photographing a wedding, but it was also the first wedding I have attended this side of puberty. For years I have been looking forward to being of the age when my friends start to get married, because as a tomboy who doesn’t usually feel comfortable wearing anything but jeans and canvas shoes, a wedding is the perfect special occasion to rock out and be drunk in a pretty dress because everyone else is as overdressed and uncomfortable as I would be, and we’ll all be bound together in the unspoken knowledge of that fact, and it has always just seemed like a really good, fun time based on the myriad references to weddings I’ve seen in popular culture, but only if no one attending the wedding is a jilted ex-lover. I don’t care much for the institution of marriage, but for those who do, heck, I won’t hesitate to join their party.

So when my cousin told me that she was getting married, I knew my time had come. DRUNK IN A PRETTY DRESS, AND MAYBE SOME HEELS. Then she asked me if I would be the photographer, and my dreams were shattered. Tahlia’s rule number one of photography- the only occasion in which you can take good photographs while drunk is if you’re photographing a gig with a mosh pit. But my goal of having a diverse photographic portfolio is far more important than my getting-trashed-at-a-wedding goal, so I agreed, jumped on a plane and arrived in Perth, armed with my camera and a sensible pair of dressy shoes with only the slightest of heels.

The thing I was most excited about was seeing the tiny girls in my family- the bride and her sister each have daughters around 18 months old who were the flower girls, and even though I’ve been following their growth via photos shared on Facebook, and have heard all about their forming personalities, it just doesn’t cut it. I was craving some interaction, and could not WAIT to take photos of them. I love kids at that age, especially when they’re just starting to figure out words- you can see their minds making connections in front of you, all wide eyed and excited, pointing at things and copying the adults around them, and it’s fucking incredible. Crazy tiny sponges full of life and hope. Awwwwwwwwww.

I went around to my cousin’s house in the morning before the ceremony to document the hair and make-up preparations, but most of my attention was focused on those tiny humans running around being all cute and everything. I got the required set of shots of mother of the bride getting her make-up done by sister of the bride, and the bridesmaids all running around and emerging in their dresses and what not, then I gave up on everything else and just followed the two toddlers around with the camera. They are at the perfect age to be flower girls- any younger and they wouldn’t be able to walk, any older and the constant cries of “AHHHHH LOOK AT YOU YOU’RE SO CUTE” would go straight to their heads, they’d think they were the reason for the celebration and would get really pissed off once they realised the attention wasn’t on them all day. It must be difficult raising little girls so that they don’t become totally obsessed with their looks. Incredibly fucking difficult. But also worth it. Anyway…

The journey to the location of the ceremony was as low key as the rest of the wedding- everyone jumped into a couple of cars and directed themselves to the city. The mother of the bride, who was driving the bride and maid of honour, missed the turn off and arrived about 10 minutes late amidst a flurry of anxious phone calls, crying children and the snapping of my camera shutter. I went in to this job with the understanding that it was going to be fucking hectic, so I decided to document every part of the stress and upset that would eventually lead to the moment the couple have their first kiss as husband and wife. I know my family pretty well, and no one was going to pretend they were anything they weren’t, so I was allowed absolute freedom of documentation. I can’t see how any family would want it done any other way. What is the point of documentation if it’s all staged?

By the time the bridesmaids and flowergirls were walking down the little petal lined path to the gazebo in the park I was already exhausted, but the high pressure bit was yet to come. I consider most of this shit silly traditions, but, inexplicably, a lot of people care. They want the photos of the ring exchange, the first kiss, the signing of the legal documents, and they want the photos of the bridesmaids and groomsmen posing awkwardly together. Since this was my first experience with wedding photography, and I’ve never seen a wedding photographer in action, I was a little nervous as to how I was going to be received by the guests etc- like shooting at a gig, I was worried I would be getting in the way, stopping the audience from getting the most out of their experience… but I quickly realised that a wedding photographer is expected to get right up in to it all. No one seemed to give a fuck that I was running around and crouching in front of them. And it made me realise that I really have no idea how the role of photographer is viewed by people who aren’t involved with the medium beyond happy snapping. They probably care about photographers only so far as they can get a lovely photo of the children. And I definitely fulfilled that duty this time around.

“Ohhhh is that you Tahlia? I haven’t seen you since you were thiiiiiisssssss tall, you’re so grown up! Look at you running around with your camera”.

Back at the reception, I managed to get two gulps of beer in to my belly before I was being screeched at all over the place: “QUICK TAHLIA, THE GIRLS ARE DANCING COME AND GET SOME PHOTOS”, “Can you take a photo of me with this person, and this person, and this person, and then one of these two people together, then me with both of them, and then me with this person ” etc. Before the wedding, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of how much I would charge for this sort of service. This weekend blew that completely out of the water- a good wedding photographer really does deserve that $3000 or more they’re asking for.

Finally everything wound down, and I was able to leave. I am still tired, and I have at least 900 photos to go through to pick the ones suitable for the wedding album, the post production and resizing of which will probably take a solid 8 hours work. I’ve decided I don’t want to photograph many weddings- it is the “easiest” source of income for any photographer, but it’s also the hardest. I think I’m better off getting underpaid for being knocked around and covered in beer at a gig.