Lauren: In the Photos

Now tilt your chin down... more... a little more... there!

Jeannie G

“Make sure to hold your flowers like this,” the saleswoman said, clasping my hands together and bringing them down to waist-height. “Otherwise your neck will be too tense.” She raised my imaginary bouquet until it was in front of my chest. “See the strain in your neck? You don’t want that in your photos.”

Before I could explain that I might not even have flowers, she’d whisked them away to shift me into a new pose. “Stand up straight. Now slowly bend your right leg and bring it in front of the left.” She stood, waiting, until I obliged. It was like doing yoga, except I was wearing a wedding dress. “Keep it coming…stop! That’s it. Look how lovely the dress falls. It’s very flattering in the photos.”

“I’ll have to remember that,” I said.

She smiled; another bride schooled, another photography disaster avoided. It hadn’t crossed my mind that I’d need an arsenal of poses on my wedding day, lest all of my photos showcase my rippling Hulk-like neck tendons. We selected our photographer because he described himself as a “fly on the wall,” fit our budget, and had a collection of five-star reviews. But it seems that I’d overlooked the key question: Could he make me look like Gisele in the photos?

The deeper we ventured into planning, the more obvious it became that yes, your wedding is a big party, but it’s also a photo shoot. The BIGGEST PHOTO SHOOT OF YOUR LIFE. Everyone had tips on how to achieve visual perfection, even the college student who sold us Jared’s suit.

“If your dress is ivory, we suggest that the groom wear an ivory shirt. A stark white shirt can make your dress look dirty in the photos.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“It’s what they tell us to say,” the salesman said. “Just in case people get mad.”

To test the theory, I went home and held up a white shirt in front of my ivory dress. Hmm. The contrast was more pronounced than I would have expected. Maybe this guy was onto something. Jared and I spent a rather unpleasant fifteen minutes at David Jones holding up shirts and asking each other “Is this ivory?” before giving up and eventually buying the one from the suit shop that was clearly labeled as such. Once the shirt joined my dress in the closet, I wondered if it would look weird to have the groomsmen in white. Maybe they should wear ivory too?

I didn’t have much time to think about it because the jeweler distracted me with talk of shiny things. She strongly suggested that I get my engagement ring re-plated three weeks before the wedding, then put it away in a box until the very second I walked down the aisle. “Otherwise, it’ll get dull and won’t match the band, which looks horrible in the photos.”

My neck tendons bulged when she said that, and I had to make a concerted effort to lower my imaginary flowers. Horrible? Nobody wants horrible on their wedding day. It seemed like a strong adjective; strong enough to make me consider locking my ring away like fine china.

It was then I realized that I’d been sucked in: Points, WIC.

Photos are important to me, and I’ve always loved them. I miss the days when you had to pick up your pictures from the one-hour photo (because to wait any longer would have been torture), then flip through to see what you’d captured. Those pictures were a grab bag of cringe-worthy double chins, thumbs over lenses, unflattering poses, and the inevitable diamonds in the rough that made you sigh, Oh that’s a good one. Before the world went instant, we looked at the camera, said cheese, and hoped for the best. We never expected perfection; back then, we were prepared for imperfection.

I’d separate the good pictures from the bad and put them in carefully selected frames, the kind that displayed multiple photos at once. I hung those frames on my real walls, not virtual ones, and every time I looked at them I remembered what it felt like to be in that place, with those people. All of my frames contained pictures of people or places, not carefully positioned objects. If any of us were elegantly posed, it was by accident.

I don’t frame photos anymore. I share them, I like them, and if they’re really special I make them my desktop background. Photos have become a tool, a way to craft our virtual identities. In that respect, it makes sense that we’d also want to craft the photos themselves, to make each image look like the one that came in the frame. It reminds me of an Alec Sulkin quote that gives me the creeps: “I don’t live. I picture other people watching me live, and I pose.” It suggests that what happens is not as relevant as what the photos say happened.

My mom wore a spotless ivory dress on her wedding day; my dad’s bell-bottomed suit was so white he glowed. In their aging wedding album, there are no pictures of rings, table settings, or the groomsmen in their matching socks. My mom is not contorting her body to present her best angle, nor does she appear to be worried about the way her flowers make her neck look. The album isn’t an intentional curation of images; it’s the entire roll of film.

Pictures of the details can be captivating; I’ve certainly gone down the rabbit hole of strangers’ wedding photos while planning (another weird side effect of the digital age). But the details are where we have to be careful, because the details are where we can get lost. It becomes too easy to agonize over white vs. ivory and to do things “for the photos,” when those details have nothing to do with why we hired a photographer. We hired a professional to capture the day, not construct it. As long as the photos come back showing us getting married, I’m going to call it a win.

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