the wedding photographer who caught martin parr’s eye
After Ian Weldon’s charming imagery came to Martin Parr’s attention, he soon found himself the subject of what might be the UK’s first ever wedding photography exhibition in a prestigious gallery.
Photography Ian Weldon
Ian Weldon is not a wedding photographer. Or at least, he is, but he’s not like the rest of them. If your heart desires symmetrical lines of guests against a photogenic backdrop divided down familial lines, or a bouquet of flowers flying through the air towards a cluster of outstretched hands, Ian is not your man. “Here is a photographer who shoots weddings as they really are: comical family occasions, with too much drink and wild things happening,” says Martin Parr, our utmost authority on witty documentary photography that captures the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of British society. “You may think, well, of course he would, but if you look at the award-winning wedding photographers they nearly all pander to normal schmaltz that is so dominant in the industry.”
Martin was first pointed in the direction of Ian’s images when giving a lecture to a room of wedding photographers, making a note of his name after his work was recommended. When he next visited Newcastle -- Ian’s home -- he reached out. Their conversation culminated in an exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation and an accompanying book. “We believe this is the first time a ‘wedding photographer’ has been exhibited in a ‘proper gallery’,” Martin adds.
I am not a wedding photographer refers to your unconventional approach. Can you tell us about how your style differs to classic wedding photography?
Ian: Wedding photography, by its nature, is commercial photography. There is a standard that is determined by the market and current trends. There is also a long history of tradition, of what’s expected from the photographer and what the couple should receive. Wedding photographers are running a business, and look to each wedding as promotion for their next job. If they are consistent in what they do, they can be relied upon to deliver the exacting photographs. That’s just how it is. Unfortunately there’s no real personality in that, there’s not much room for creativity. Photography has become an easy thing to practice and with automation, presets and trendy website designs, almost anyone can purchase the tools to proficiently photograph weddings, and they can get there in a relative short time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or wrong, it’s just the nature of wedding photography and it’s something that I’m not particularly interested in.
I’m going to a wedding with no preconceived idea on how I think it should look. I’m not going for ‘the shot’, I’m responding to the people and the situation and in doing so I feel I can get much closer, physically and emotionally. I’m approaching weddings as a photographer rather than a wedding photographer.
How did you get into it?
I started to photograph weddings to make money so I could pursue other photography projects. I didn’t really know what I was doing at that time and weddings were perceived as bottom-rung photography jobs. I shot a couple in the way it’s expected to be done: portraits, endless group shots, ordering people around, and I didn’t really enjoy that. I had started by this point to become more interested in photographic history, and was reading a lot. I think that understanding the ideas of photography and trying to apply that to a genre that is so entrenched in tradition and popular aesthetic helped me to forge a path. It became a challenge to break with convention and focus on the idea, and weddings became its own project in that sense.
What do you think of weddings and the institution of marriage?
I don’t really care much for tradition and institution. It’s not weddings that I’m interested in, it’s people, social situations and what I learn about myself from them. Ultimately I’m driven by the power of photography, my contribution to it, and how that will affect the perception of our time for future generations. It’s like a time machine, and if I can capture the reality and feeling of a wedding day then the photographs become priceless for the couples I work for.
Has your opinion changed much since you began photographing them?
Not really. When I started I was just shooting for anyone that would pay me. My approach was traditional, in a sense, and the images expected were traditional. It felt for the most part that the couples were getting married, just because. Just because it was expected. Just because that’s what you did, and that’s how it felt to me. Now however, shooting the way that I do, with honesty in how I approach a wedding, the couples that book me seem to be on the same page. Most find the whole institution a bit silly, and are not doing it for the charade. There is an authenticity to their connection, and who am I to argue. I’d like to think that I am offering a genuine alternative to what is on trend.
Your work emphasises the absurdity and chaos of a wedding day. Do you enjoy being part of this?
Life is absurd and full of chaos. Weddings, forcing a whole load of people together and telling them that they must enjoy themselves and behave, magnifies that. It’s that energy I enjoy. It makes for great photographs.
What's the most ridiculous situation you've ever been caught up in?
Even the most drunken of wedding guests show some restraint, mostly. There have been the usual arguments, scuffles -- a cake was kicked off a table once, and a car crashed into a courtyard water feature -- but nothing of real note. It’s just people partying, and I like a good party.
What do you think it is that people want when they seek out your particular style of photography?
Every couple I work with tell me that don’t want a wedding photographer at their wedding, so I just know that they are looking for something different. They almost all have an interest in photography, or art and understand the importance of real photographs over a contrived idea of how it should look. What I do isn’t for everyone, and I certainly don’t expect everyone to understand it. Most people don’t care and just want pretty pictures of their day. They’ll most likely never come in to contact with a photographer, or the need for photographs, again in their lives.
Is every wedding unique or do you find they largely play out the same?
It doesn’t really matter where the wedding is -- a back yard in County Durham or a mansion in the Hollywood Hills -- they all have the same format; prep, ceremony, dinner, speeches, cake cutting, first dance. Or some slight variation of this. The thing that makes them unique are the personalities. The personalities of the couple go into the planning and their relationship to their families and friends creates the mood. To apply a template to this, and to make them all look and feel the same is a shame to me. There’s a wealth of imagery in the individual nature of people.
What qualities and characteristics do you believe are key for the success of your wedding photography?
I find it refreshing that in a time, and a society, where people live their lives vicariously through social media channels, that there are those who are comfortable enough with themselves to allow me to just do my thing. It takes a lot of confidence. And long may that continue as I don’t really think there is a good document of weddings in our time.
What your favourite aspect of the job?
As much as I enjoy being at the wedding itself, it’s the photographs that are the most important. It’s exciting to see the emotion and feel of the day reveal itself in the edit and it’s also a huge pleasure to give that to the couple I’m working for. If they feel it, then my work is done.
Do you have a single image in this collection that means the most or stands out to you?
There are two that really stand out for me. The flower girl pulling a funny face while having her clothes adjusted. It’s the irreverence in her attitude, and the non-conventional nature of the photograph in the wedding setting.
The bride sitting with the couple kissing (like really going for it) in the background. This was a photograph that revealed itself after the fact and made me realise that there is more to a wedding than just the bride and groom.
Most importantly for these two photographs, there were both shot at the same wedding. It’s when my perspective of wedding photography shifted and my motivation to keep pursuing weddings changed from commercial gain, to create a body of work. I think it’s when I really became a photographer.
Photography Ian Weldon