Category Archives: photography

flattery gets you everywhere else but here

This one goes out to those two people who voted that they wanted to see only my most unflattering wedding photos. Please accept my apologies for making you wait so long for the horror.

Oh. Did I say horror? I guess that could make sense. Because I am about to open up a bag full of a lot of potentially squicky, uncomfortable stuff. The contents of this bag include several deep-seated insecurities with regard to various body parts, a bunch of truths and lies about cameras, what’s left of your self-confidence, a general sense of mortification, and the struggle to mentally connect the dots between your still image on screen or paper with the live one you see in the mirror every day: Do I really look like that? Is that even the same person?

So I didn’t mean horror, after all. I meant hilarity.

How else can you react to pictures of yourself that aren’t really very good? I suppose you can cry about them, or send them through the paper shredder, or put your wedding dress back on and sit in the middle of the living room floor carefully cutting models out of bridal magazines and pasting them over your own image while alternately guzzling a bottle of raspberry-flavored vodka and cackling maniacally to yourself. Because wedding photos, like everything else wedding-related, seem to carry a special weight. This weight can make it harder to come to grips with bad photos of you taken at your wedding, because their very existence seems to capitalize, boldface, and underline all the fears you had locked away about your looks.

Which happened, of course, the very first time I started clicking through my various wedding pictures. It was so weird to see how simply moving from angle to angle — frame to frame — could induce a fun house effect on my physique. Fifteen pounds were gained, then lost again. Arms transformed from sleek strands of linguini to lumpy sausages. Chins receded and disappeared into necks, only to tentatively protrude again.

I was initially embarrassed, but then a strange thing happened. I started to giggle at my ridiculous-looking self.

We all have our own individual “problem areas,” of course. My most despised ones are my chin and my upper arms. There is just no way around it: my face is rectangular, and kind of masculine. I have a weak chin that’s made even more so by my tendency to clench my teeth together very hard. Add to that the fact that I lost some weight in high school everywhere but my upper arms, and since then no amount of toning exercises can eliminate the flab.  These were the genetics I was dealt. There is no changing them. At some point, I have to be okay with that.

Have to be.

Look, I am not insinuating that in these photos I resemble some kind of wretched, hideous, bloated, snaggle-toothed, cross-eyed, deformed, demonic, and malodorous beast not even a mother could love. I am not suggesting that upon reading this you should rush to the comment form and attempt to convince me that NO, I actually look GREAT, omigod, what ru even talking about ur crazy gorgeous lol.

What I am hoping is that you will laugh, too.

Because, damn. Some of them are bad.

And I am also hoping that after laughing you will feel a little bit better, because we all look bad sometimes, don’t we? That doesn’t mean we’re inherently ugly. It means that… oh, who the fuck knows what it means, except that we’re all in this together.

We might as well have some fun, right?

Ah. Oh. This gets things off on the right foot. Excellent job with the mushy, dimply neck. For my next trick, I will grow another chin.

This. This is a face I’d heretofore been unaware of making. But apparently I do make it, and quite frequently, too, judging from the number of times it appears in photos taken during the wedding. Look, I understand that if it’s inherently me, I can’t really knock it, but come on. It’s like I’m grinning, but I’m also grimacing. I am baring my teeth at you: rrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Me bride. Ha ha! BRING BRIDE DRINK! NOW! Ha ha ha! RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Arr.

Uh. Huh. Hmm. Uhhhhhh… duh? Ha ha. Huh. Heh.

“The crowd gasped, but by then it was already too late. The bride had contracted a serious case of Sausage Arm. For a few long, horrible moments, the situation looked grim. Then Aunt Hilda suddenly remembered the jar of sauerkraut in her purse. If there was only a way they could dig up some mustard, well. Then they could turn this travesty into a party.”

Guess what I look like in profile? I look like I have no jawline. Seriously. I look at photos of celebrities, and it seems like the space between their chins and their necks stretches on for miles, providing actual definition to their faces. Sort of like this:

The photoshopped image above will always be what I wish I looked like from the side. But no. No, my destiny will be to fulfill my womanly duties by bearing a bunch of children with weak chins and and slack jowls. They will surely thank me later for the fine genetic pool from whence they sprang.

Oh, but it gets better as the evening progresses.

What fine, unfocused, greasy-faced specimen is this?

Surely one who should open her mouth even further.

Seriously, folks. Back away from these goods. Or you might get hurt.

Ouch.

And now I present to you: the dance of the giant velociraptors.

Won’t you join me? No seriously, join me or die.

Further evidence to support the fact that all of my photographs should be taken from below, and with flash.

Listen, I hope you’ve enjoyed our time together here today. Go forth, all ye engaged, and know that there will be wedding pictures of you that you will never want anyone to ever, ever look at. Unless, of course, you choose to post them on your blog for all the internet to see.

Hooray!

[this post will self-destruct in 5… 4… 3… 2…]

UPDATE: A number of kind souls have so far pointed out that, whatever, I look fine in these pictures. So then I realized: you know all those times you’ve been shown a photograph of yourself, and you say, “EW,” and the other person is like, “HUH?” Yeah. I think that’s what is happening here. Those photographs where we cringe and think we look our worst actually appear to others as … normal. Or something. This is kind of disturbing, because either a) each of us is more awful-looking than we actually think we are, or b) society has left us all terribly, horribly warped. I’ll let you decide which is right (hint: it is B).

But seriously, you guys. I hardly look attractive in these things. I don’t know where you get these insane ideas.

the visual record

Photography is a tricky thing.1

Photography is both art and science. It is record and story. It is truth and fiction.

From the moment we enter the wedding planning world, we start to develop a love-hate relationship with photographs. First, you’re bombarded with brightly saturated, shallow depth-of-field pictures of cute and trendy must-haves. If you’re anything like me, you likely got wide-eyed with the possibilities… and then you got pissed off. This stuff costs how much? Do they think I’m freaking Martha Stewart over here? I don’t have time to make 200 pinwheels by hand! These expectations are ridiculous!

Then, you’re bombarded with photographs of other weddings. At first, they look amazing. Thirty weddings in, you suddenly realize that the joke is on you, because you’ve clearly been looking at different details of the same exact wedding shoot. All the brides and grooms have now blended into one cute, hip, impossibly thin couple with a propensity for adorably mismatched vintage place settings. You gradually realize that the style blogs are full of shit.

Somewhere along the way — probably in self-defense — you begin to scoff at the phrase blog-worthy. Blog-worthy? Whatever. We are real people with real weddings. We come in every size, shape, color, backstory, and age bracket available. We have ugly cries and mountains of stress and poorly-crafted decorations and half-assed centerpieces. Oh, we are worthy in every sense of the word, dammit — we’re just not going to be featured on Style Me Pretty or Snippet & Ink any time soon. As in, like, ever.

So then you switch to only looking at photographs of “real” weddings. Ah, finally, a place to call home. A place where the people look different and the sentiment can’t be faked. But that’s not the best plan, either. Because, oh my god, how do these people still manage to look so amazingly good? They seem so genuine, happy, and emotional. Everyone is so present in their own individual moments. Everything looks like it came together so well, and without a hint of drama. The guests are all smiling and crying. Somehow, all of their outfits are better than the ones you’re considering for your own wedding. All of their details are more poignant than your own. It all looks so effortless. And even while your heartstrings are being tugged, your brain is lamenting the fact that your wedding could never, ever, ever look like this.

Or maybe, after all, it was just me who went through this. The endless cycling between scoff and swoon; covet and resent.

Understandably, I developed a bit of anxiety around wedding photography. Because I understood what it felt like inside the planning of my own wedding, and it did not seem to line up with what I was seeing on my computer screen. I didn’t feel coordinated. I didn’t feel prepared. I didn’t feel pretty. I didn’t even necessarily feel happy — at least at first. From the outset my wedding seemed like a useless pile of last-minutes, halfhearteds, and coulda-shouldas. I was afraid that I shouldn’t expect very much to come from it.2

Then, just a few weeks after the wedding, I saw the first pictures our photographer Christina Richards posted on her blog. And I thought: Oh, my god. My wedding looks blog-worthy.

And I loved it.

And I was confused as hell about this.

It took me a long time to sort through it. Hell, even now, as I write this, I’m not sure I quite understand. I feel like I spent so long alternately railing against the relentless visual imagery and succumbing to it that I almost feel embarrassed that my wedding photographs look so good. Does this make me fake, too? Am I a style blog waiting to happen?

No. Of course not.

Am I suggesting that the only way to make your wedding look really good is to hire a professional photographer?

No. Of course not. Meaning isn’t generated via photographs. And if professional photography isn’t your bag, don’t do it. Spend your money on something you care about more.

Here I feel the need to wrap this up with some sort of call to action. A proposal to redefine the meaning of blog-worthy, perhaps. A rallying cry to take back our self-worth from the badlands of other-wedding-envy. But no. What we need is some good old-fashioned sense kicked into us. We need to stop listening to others.3 We need to stop caving in so easily to doubt. We need to stop feeding those voices that say I could never look like that or my wedding could never be that nice / pretty / cool / sincere / relaxed.

Because I saw my wedding from the ugly, messy inside. And what came out of it, both on film and in real life, was still beautiful. No, you can’t see the shitty stuff that went on behind the scenes in my photos. You can’t see all the stress and tears and hard work and late nights. You can only  see the beauty of that day, and the love. And what I said up there, that meaning cannot be generated via photography? I mean that. But what’s also true is that a good photographer can take the best parts of your day and make art out of them.

Go. Please go and look at our wedding photos on Christina’s blog. If you like the photos there, please leave her a kind comment. She sure as hell deserves it.

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1 Okay, this totally goes completely against the tone of this post, but whenever I read over this line I hear it spoken in my head in the same way Rick James said “Cocaine is a hell of a drug” in that one Chappelle Show skit. No? No? Come on.

2 I mean, except the happiness that comes from being married, of course.

3 Easy as pie, non?

the old college try

The other night we arrived home from honeymoon to a refrigerator that contained approximately 17 semi-used containers of condiments, half of a bag of dried-up baby carrots, and four* bottles of champagne. It’s clear what our priorities were before the wedding.

Here’s another thing we arrived home to:

It was apparently so hot in our house while we were gone that this candle melted. Or at least, slumped over in a permanently drunken stupor. I heard it was 113°F here on Monday, which means it was very likely — in my best estimate — 147°F inside of our closed-up home. This prompts me to wonder: why was the weather this year so consistently cool and foggy all the way up through our wedding, and then it suddenly decided to explode violently into summer while we were off battling rain and clouds in Vancouver? Which in turn prompts me to reflect on the fact that I will clearly never be satisfied with the outcome of anything, because if I’d actually been here during the heatwave I would have spent the entire time sprawled in a damp heap on the couch, moaning woefully about my impending sweaty death. HA HA. Karmic payback, to be sure. I knew I shouldn’t have taken that last maple bar from the kitchen at work.

In other news, our mail pile contains several envelopes addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Hislastname. The ones that kill me the most are the ones that are addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname. Because it’s not enough that I should take his last name, right? His first name must also be conferred on me, as if upon marriage my individual self deflated like a party balloon; collapsing and synthesizing with my husband’s. I’ve now become an extension of him — a new appendage, perhaps? Which is obviously not me overreacting for the sake of humor, or anything. Far be it from me to throw a sanctimonious fit about taking the road less traveled and expecting everyone else to already know exactly where I went on the journey.

The most frustrating thing is that not taking his last name feels like a statement, when really it is just another decision in a long string of decisions I’ll make in life. I chose the chunky peanut butter; I kept my last name. Hell, the next time I go to the grocery store, I may choose creamy peanut butter — and one day I may decide to adopt the beau’s last name after all. My current decision is not a caterwauling cry against The Patriarchy, and yet it is, because you can’t talk about family names without invoking history, feminism, social expectations, and gender norms. But at the root of all this it’s still just me, here. I made this decision because it was right for me, like how many of my friends took their husband’s last names because it felt right for them. Sometimes I think the hardest thing about being a woman is that you can’t make a life decision and have it just be about you. It’s about everyone else — how does your husband feel about you keeping your last name? What about the children? You are having children, right? Tomorrow, right? What about his parents? What about your career? But here I go, lapsing back into resentment about others’ reactions and assumptions. Just like I did during the wedding planning, when I bristled over what people thought of our budget, our dessert choices, my dress. I see now that I’m part of the problem, too. I bought into placing value on these perceived barbs, which were really just words. How easily we get trapped in this virtual hall of mirrors. Right now I’m just concentrating on finding the most accurate reflection.

So. There’s that.

And there’s also the matter of the wedding photographs. Can I tell you a secret? We’ve actually had the link to an album one of our photographers made from pictures of our wedding for one whole week, and I have not been able to bring myself to click on it. I KNOW, RIGHT?? I am not sure what’s wrong with me. It’s not that I’m afraid that looking at these photos will, to wield what I believe is a phrase coined by Meg, shake off the glitter. It’s just… I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that whenever I think of clicking that damn link — which is often — my heart starts racing and I get into that old itchy, squirmy, incredibly tense mode that immediately descends upon me whenever I watch earnest and unsuspecting people get interviewed by comedians for satire. MUST FLEE ROOM NOW.

While I work up the nerve to actually look at my wedding photos, I’ve been working on figuring out where to draw the privacy line. I haven’t remained totally anonymous — a few photos of my face have crept onto this site, and I use my real first name, but still. None of my family and only a few of my friends know I have a blog, and I’d like to keep it that way. On the other hand, this blog has been blessed to remain a congenial gathering place with a small number of kind and intelligent readers, so posting photos here will feel like sharing with old friends. Yet on the other other hand, once I post my wedding photos they are out on the internet for anyone to look at. So like I said, I’m just trying to sort this all out.

You know what might help provide some clarity? A poll:

Tell me what you want, guys! Tell me what you want*** and I’ll make it happen. Because it’s not just about me here. It’s about you. All three of you.****

And with that, I’m off to corral my thoughts. I have already begun about a half-dozen jumbled stream-of-consciousness essays on various wedding-day topics, and now I actually have to, like, whip them into nice, decent, respectable posts. You know, the kind of posts you’d take home to mother.

Yeah, wish me luck with that endeavor.

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* I originally tweeted that there were merely three bottles of champagne in our fridge. I stand corrected.

** FINE! HERE! JESUS. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?!

*** What you really really want!

**** I’m just sayin’ though, I was talking to these readers, you know, and, and I don’t put enough emphasis on the readers sometimes. I was talking to a reader she was talkin’ ‘bout how there was so many posts in her RSS feed, she gotta drink coffee to stay awake, she gotta read like 9200 blogs back to back and ain’t nobody really try to find out, you know, what she feel and how she feel. You know what she told me? Check it out. She said OHHH, OH OH OH OH, she said she wants some Jezebel, some Huffington Post, a little LOLcats, we’ll definitely set this party off right.

our wedding role model

For most of my life I assumed that if I got married, certain things would happen a certain way. I assumed I’d get married in a church. I assumed I wouldn’t see my partner on the wedding day before the ceremony. I also assumed my partner wouldn’t see my dress until the moment I walked down the aisle. I assumed I wouldn’t talk to our guests before the ceremony. I held all these assumptions because I’d never seen a wedding done any differently.

Then, a year before we got engaged, the beau and I went to the wedding of two old friends. It was held in the backyard of an uncle’s house. Our friends hung out in the yard with us before the ceremony. There was a root beer float table. During the ceremony, us guests all held aloft our wine and champagne glasses, whooping and hollering our support. The catered dinner was all vegetarian, and it was one of the most delicious meals I had that year. During dinner there was an open mic, and people — in various states of drunkenness — wandered up to deliver spontaneous, teary speeches of love. After dinner there was tiramisu, lovingly made by an aunt, and a mariachi band played and we danced until our feet fell off. After we shut the backyard down, we hobbled (and wobbled) to a nearby bar and continued celebrating deep into the night.

Yeah. This was my wedding blog inspiration before I even knew there were wedding blogs.

But it wasn’t the little details that got me about this wedding, because I can’t even recall how it was decorated. And it wasn’t their deviance from wedding tradition that made it cool and fun. It was just them. Our friends managed to remain true to themselves, and that was reflected throughout the entire day. They felt comfortable and relaxed, so we felt comfortable and relaxed. If I squeeze my eyes shut and think really hard, I can recall that there were challenges that day — the disruption of the ceremony by a squalling child, the overbearing heat that made sweat trickle down my back, the raining ash from a nearby wildfire.* But when I think of their wedding, I don’t think of any of that. I just remember all the love.

The beau and I still remark to each other that that was the best wedding we’ve ever been too. The experience was like a lightbulb flickering on. It was a rebuttal to my assumptions about how to go about my wedding. It was a challenge to validate my reasoning for keeping or ditching certain traditions. And most importantly, it was a permission slip to do things the way that felt right to me, even if I’d never seen them done at a wedding before. It was permission to just be us, whatever that involved.

Since we got engaged, this has been the wedding we return to every time we’re trying to clarify our goals. This is the wedding we reference every time we’re trying to find the words to describe a specific feeling. And I feel so fortunate that we have our friends’ wedding to look up to as we go through the planning process — we’d feel adrift without it.

Do you have a wedding role model?

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* YES. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? What a nightmare.

on photography, part 3: ask and ye shall receive

So what was I saying about Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun? Ah yes. This would be what happens when you go to the Bay Area for one weekend and come back with not one, but two wedding photographers.*

Yeah. We have two wedding photographers. Because I am batshit insane. But that’s old news. We’re focusing on the new, here.

Meet Aaron Rosenblatt. Friend and photojournalist. When I first emailed him several weeks ago to tentatively ask what he would think about shooting our wedding, I wasn’t sure at first if he would even be able to come. I kind of thought it was a long shot, actually, considering that he’s been working on the East coast.

But now? It’s looking very, very likely.

Home on a furlough between newspaper jobs in Pittsburgh and New Hampshire, Aaron met us at a bar in San Francisco during Thanksgiving weekend. We had a few drinks, discussed the possibilities, went over the details, and worked out a little plan to get him back out to California next September. And I was very, very excited. Because Aaron takes pictures like these:

So yeah. Wow. Two photographers. I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have TWO PHOTOGRAPHERS. With such different styles! I cannot wait to see how each of them interprets our wedding day.

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* We didn’t uh, you know. Come back with them.

on photography, part two: seek and ye shall find

Above: engagement photos from Christina Richards.

So.

As I was saying, we got some wedding stuff done while we were in the Bay Area last weekend. More specifically, we hired our photographer.

Like my coworker said: “You went all the way to the Bay to hire a photographer?”

Yes, because she’s awesome. And sometimes awesomeness doesn’t just come to you. Sometimes, you have to go seek awesomeness out.

I found Christina Richards via a post on A Practical Wedding.* Usually I skim those sponsor posts fairly quickly, but something about Christina’s introduction made me sit up a little bit and take notice. I sat up even more when I looked at her website.**

I emailed Christina and asked if she was willing to travel.*** She wrote me back, like, right away. We emailed back and forth. We drove up to meet her last weekend over coffee.**** We hit it off pretty well. She’s sweet and relaxed and down-to-earth. She made my heart flutter a little bit when she asked if we’d be down with some black-and-white shots with her Holga.***** She totally got my random Kids in the Hall reference. I practically threw my checkbook at her to secure the date.

In short: she takes amazing photos and she’s affordable.

Her work feels studied, deliberate, yet ethereal. She has a knack for composition and balance. She’s got an eye for details that tell a story. And — well, I’ll just let you see for yourself:

NEXT UP: Surprise development, a.k.a. Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun.

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* I am going to have to email Meg and tell her that she totally ended up being the match-making fairy for our wedding photography elf.

** Though Meg had linked to Christina’s wedding website, through some kind of weird internet fluke I ended up on Christina’s main website. I finally figured out she had a wedding portfolio like, two weeks after I initially emailed her. I was simply that excited about her regular photos.

*** Her eagerness to travel was actually stated rather clearly on her wedding website, but again, I hadn’t even seen that. She must have thought I was nuts. “Dude, do you read?”

**** It was supposed to be wine, but the wine bar ruined that plan by closing, unannounced, for a private party. Jerks.

***** Uh yeah.

on photography, part 1: the search

I like photography. A lot. Not that you could gather that from my slowly growing collection of cameras and lenses.

Maybe it’s my fine arts degree talking, but I think of photography as a fine art. Not in the sense of carefully arranged, meticulously posed scenes. I like photography that challenges, that analyzes, that reflects. That searches. That doesn’t tell you the whole story. Photography that isn’t necessarily in focus. That isn’t necessarily pretty. That is just as much about space as it is about subject.

Are you getting the impression that photography is one of our wedding priorities yet?

Over the past few months I’ve looked around at some of the wedding photographers in Santa Barbara, but I didn’t take any of them seriously.* You’ve seen standard wedding photography, right? It seems like there’s some kind of script everyone must follow. There has to be a really shallow-focus shot of the bride’s shoes. There has to be a shot of the entire wedding party jumping — preferably on a beach. There has to be a shot of the happy couple, in a lush garden, gazing into each others’ eyes. There has to be a shot of them cutting the cake, and — surprise! Smearing frosting on each others’ faces.

All of this at a ridiculously inflated price, of course.

I didn’t want to hire a picture-taker, churning pre-approved images out of a wedding mill. I wanted our money to go to support a vendor who’s also an artist. Someone who’s committed to a unique aesthetic.** I’m not interested in filling out a list of must-have shots of must-have moments. I want to hand over the reins and say, here you go. The day is yours, too. Shoot it how you see fit, in whatever way you see fit.

The good thing? I think we found that person.

UP NEXT: I talk about this person.***

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* In retrospect, a large part of my problem is that I was looking at wedding photographers. All the blogs have advised me time and again: consider alternatives to “wedding” vendors! Yet occasionally I still fail at heeding this nugget of wisdom.

** I almost used “creative vision” here, but it kept making me smirk. I dunno. All those hours I spent on critique in class, and I still have a hard time talking about these things seriously.

*** Whoa, didn’t see THAT coming, now did you??