Eric’s Note: This guest blog post is by Robert Larson, a talented documentary photographer based out of Los Angeles. He recently got married (congrats man!) and also documented his own wedding– groomside. If you have ever been curious how it would be like to document your own wedding, check out the article that Robert put together.
Robert: My wife and I got married recently, and no sooner did we choose a venue than people start asking “who is going to shoot your wedding?”. My go-to response was to say that I will take the pictures myself, and also hand off cameras to some of our more creative guests to shoot whatever they wanted. It was funny to me because this answer always made the asker a little stressed out; inevitably I’d be told that I’ll probably regret not hiring a professional.
Of course it was only a half joke – we did hire a photographer, but five months earlier I began a new photo series about Jenny which really did require that I take my own pictures during our big day (in order to finish the series). Hiring a photographer was no problem since there is only one that I trust enough to shoot our wedding – his name is Rinzi Ruiz.
My first introduction to photography was in 2005 at Santa Monica College here in California. The basic photography class at S.M.C. required students to shoot 35mm color slide film on a manual single lens reflex camera (SLR). As far as SMC was concerned, black and white developing and printing was a more advanced program – one that I did not get around to taking.
This first class hooked me, and although I didn’t continue taking additional courses at that time… the new addiction slide film led to a maxed out credit card within about 14 months. Since then, I’ve been shooting digital. It’s been a great ride; but after almost 8 years I’ve begun feeling bummed out and uninspired. A fresh start was sounding very nice.
In January of this year (2013), for multiple reasons, I decided to go back to school. My wife and I now live on the east side of Los Angeles, near Pasadena City College. PCC has the reputation of being an extremely good community college, and after looking into their photography program, I was immediately sold – black and white developing and printing is offered as the basic photography course.
Before the class began, I gave myself a personal project to complete during the course of this semester. The project was like a love letter; a study of Jenny, and of our new life together. Each time the teacher gave out a new assignment, environmental portrait or objects of value for example, I’d make Jenny the focus of the images in one way or another.
The timing here was perfect; our wedding was on April 13th and the final project for the class was due two weeks later. The series was nearly complete, all it needed was a closer – Jenny marries Robby. The decision to take pictures at our wedding ended up being one of the best ones I’ve ever made… photographically speaking.
On the big day, I used a trusty Pentax K1000 with Ilford HP5 Plus 400 and pushed the film one stop to 800iso. The only time I didn’t have the camera shouldered was during the ceremony itself. Although it was a fantasy of mine to take a photograph of Jenny walking down the isle on her father’s arm… I just couldn’t help but want that moment all to myself.
As for the other images, I figured: What photographer could possible know your bride or your loved ones better than you? This must be an difficult theory to grasp, because I heard the same comment at least a dozen times: “Are you working?! Put the camera down and go enjoy yourself; that’s what your wedding photographer is for!”.
To me, this is a statement that clearly separates those who are of one mindset, and those of another. Photography is not just work, it’s a passion. Putting the camera down would have resulted in regrets. Putting the camera down would have caused my brain to think about photography. Actually having the camera helped me enjoy myself because I could take pictures as I saw them.
The result was a short series of images that are my own – taken during one of the most important moments of my life. A few of the images would have been impossible for Rinzi or any other photographer to capture because the bride is not in love with them – it isn’t their moment and it isn’t personal. Any photographer worth their salt can capture a mood or document an event; some like Rinzi can do it extremely well. But no amount of talent can break through a person’s comfort zone quite like intimacy can.
So in closing, I have two bits of advice:
1. If feel you passionate about photography, hire the best wedding photographer possible, but then consider taking pictures of your own. It’s not a competition, the fact is that you’ll both get extremely different images.
2. Lastly: Try to marry a man or woman who understands this passion of yours well enough to actually tolerate your photo-nerdiness during one of the most important days of their life. Because that right there is a very good sign of things to come.
Robert Larson began working as a small town newspaper photographer in 2007 while learning his craft and thinking about a future as a documentary photographer. In subsequent years, he traveled the world, volunteering abroad with non-profit organizations such as Mercy Ships, The Red Cross and J/P HRO. It wasn’t until after documenting the death of his grandfather in 2009, that he decided to focus on photographic essays and story telling – rather than single images.
Robert was born in Dallas, Texas and adopted by a wonderful family in Los Angeles, California. On January 12th 2010, he began a personal project called Waiting for Haiti with the goal of persistently documenting Haitian society. Though it was initially a self funded project, Waiting for Haiti has now received multiple grants and is on track to become a life long pursuit.