May 23, 2013
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Why I Won't Shoot a Royal Wedding
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Royal weddings are like lotto wins - you wait a long time for your numbers to come up and then two sets come up one after another. 2011 is the Royal Wedding year and, yes, we all know about the main event on April 29th for the future King and Queen Consort, but today (9th March) its been announced that the support act will take place in Edinburgh on 30th July at Canongate Kirk.
Now most folks expect the support to be on before the main event, but this year its happening the other way round. What's interesting about the under-card is that they've decided to get married, not just in Edinburgh, but in Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh. While Zara Phillips, daughter of the Princess Royal, has a strong connection to Scotland through her mother and her mother's patronage (matronage??!) of the Scottish Rugby Union it's ironic that her beau, Mike Tindall is captain of the 2011 English Rugby team, who are due to win over/lose heavily to* Scotland at Twickenham this Sunday.
Canongate Kirk is a lovely church and churchyard on the Royal Mile and one that has a Royal history too, being founded by James VII of Scotland & England in 1688. Outside, it has a bronze statue of the poet Robert Fergusson marching down the Canongate and inside the grounds it has one of the oldest cemeteries in Edinburgh populated by weel-kent names such as Adam Smith ("The Wealth of Nations"), David Rizzio (murdered secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots) and Robert Fergusson himself. It was speculated for many weeks that they'd choose St Giles Cathedral and the fact that they haven't lends some weight to the suggestion that Zara is her own woman first and a minor Royal second. So while pomp and circumstance is being prepared for in Westminster what kind of wedding will take place in the Canongate? It might just be a real royal one.
Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh.
As a wedding photographer based in Edinburgh and touting for business, what are my chances of being their chosen snapper for the big day? Less chance than Scotland thumping England on Sunday by a 20 point margin that's for sure. Mere mortals choose their photographer based on style, price, availability, service, reputation, price, album, personality and price. I can't see Miss Phillips negotiating a £600 images-only deal with cash-back, can you? What about establishment credentials? The big Royals would always want to make sure their choosen shutter-jockey knew his game and was recognised by his peers as at the top of his profession. What about a rising star instead? A risk; perhaps one that could back-fire or could make a reputation for ever.
Who shot the pics for Charles and Di in 1981? One Lord Patrick Lichfield, a member of the family as well, so the whole thing was a homer and everyone relaxed once his name was in the frame. Lichfield was well established at the time, had a safe trigger finger and wouldn't have Diana swinging from any chandeliers at Buckingham Palace - even if she insisted. As yet no decisions on the snapper for the main event in April although Mario Testino did the engagement and usually the snapper offers a deal on both events!
OK, lets fantasise for a moment or two; my email pings in with a request to meet Zara and Mike to discuss the photography options. They like my style, the web site and the prices are in the ballpark. Would I turn down the meeting? No, of course not.
Lets say I'm asked to quote, would I now decline? No, of course not.
Lets say I'm offered the gig ... now that's the fantasy. Why would that be a fantasy? Well, here's why I won't shoort a Royal Wedding ...
A Royal Wedding doesn't have a lot of visible emotion or passion in it. Its a public display of convention and its primary role is to strengthen the longevity of the monarchy. Passion is for the bedroom and the bedroom isn't open for public business for the Royals. "The People" want to see her dress, her hair and jewellery, her elegance. They want to see him looking handsome, ever inch the Prince, a decorated hero. The magazine sales of Hello! and OK! will go through the roof with beautiful pictures of the happy couple smiling and, maybe, just maybe, a hint of a kiss. Oh, be still my beating heart! So ...
OK, a wedding isn't about the photographer; its a celebration of the passion, desire and hope for the future of two people in love and that has to come across in the images. Charles & Di got what Lichfield produced and what the big family and flunkys wanted; the safety of the bloodline preserved forever in silver halide, no need for passion reflected in the bride. And look what happened to them. Lichfield only had to set up the lighting and make sure the exposure was right; end of job. I'm sure he was involved in the printing too, but there was no danger to his reputation as a result of "shocking" pictures. For him too, this was his market and a market that grew over the years as successive European Royals turned to him as a safe pair of hands behind a safe shutter.
I got into wedding photography because it was exciting. Yes, exciting. There's a schedule and timeline going on the day that you can't mess with or stop, so you've got to be alive to opportunity and be instantly on your game when the opportunity is there. And you've got to creative. The couple expect it. And spontaneous. At a normal wedding.
For the Royals ... and I accept that Zara and Mike might have a different view ... the photographer is time-boxed and shots are planned to the second; there is little room for any individuality. Style has to be planned in, poses cleared in advance, lighting checked by lighting directors, make-up by artists, hair by dressers, background style by set stylists; OK everything ready? Smile, shoot... Next!
Now, don't let this sound like I'm dissing Testino - assuming he gets the main event - because he's strong enough to extert his style and influence and he's used to working with teams of professionals, but an everyday wedding photographer he's not. He won't be running from Westminster Abbey to Westminster Registry Office to squeeze in a £500, 1 hour gig of Mork & Mindy, before heading back to Buck House for the formals - but then I wouldn't do that either!
So finally; yes I'd be delighted to meet Zara and Mike and talk about what we could do together. Yes, I'd be delighted to throw my shutter in the ring with a quote for the work, but if its publicly consumable formals only, then I'd decline in favour of others who'd want that kind of work more than me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I have to have "creative freedom", but I am saying I want to shoot passion-filled images of a couple in love who are more concerned about that than what the Henry Hooray of the Daily Anguish might say about their day as a result of published "shocking" pictures. By choosing Canongate Kirk over St. Giles, Zara and Mike might just be telling the world that their wedding will be a wedding of a royal (small r) with a grounded view, who might, maybe, assert her desire to be seen as a happy couple in love - in which case I accept your commission with pleasure, M'aam.
* delete as appropriate. I may regret writing this, but Scotland do have a rep of beating the favourites whenever they're expected to lose, but usually that's only at Murrayfield.