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Wedding documentation

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Tuesday, Oct 18, 2005

At the wedding I attended this past weekend, I was amazed at how m any people felt obliged to record it. Maybe this is nothing new, but it seemed to me that more people had videocameras and digital cameras and phone cameras to snap picture after picture after picture of this event, despite the fact that a professional had been hired for that very purpose. I suppose the official photoographer produces the official history and the volunteers produce a kind of social history of the event, countering the formal, preconcieved boilerplate narrative most professional photographers are commissioned to produce with moments of spontaneity, capturing random, ad hoc things and perhaps drawing out more personality from the subjects chosen. But are the guest/photographers taking pictures for their own collections or on the wedding party’s behalf? Whose memories are they securing and documenting, their own or those of the bride and groom? Who will look at these pictures, if anyone? This may seem like an absurd question, but I’m not someone who takes pictures of anything, so I don’t really know. It seems like they should be for the bride and groom, to give them a bottom-up view of the ceremony at which they were always at the center, getting sort of a distorted view. Some weddings are like a film whose cameras are the bride and groom (usually they are thought of as the stars of the movie, maybe this metaphor isn’t going to work), so everything is arranged so that they see it correctly. Guests, who haven’t seen the shooting script, are taking behind-the-scenes footage, that might be interesting in a making-of-documentary sort of way; it would make for interesting bonus material on the wedding DVD.


But I suspect guests are taking photos for their own private purposes, to remember it for themselves, a covert and subversive way to make themselves the stars of the affair rather than the betrothed, to make their own point of view compete with that of the wedding party,to make their perspective the relevant one in remembering the thing. Ideally at a wedding you are able to project yourself into the point of view of the couple and inhabit the love they presumably feel and are trying to envelop and unite all the assembled guests with. By empathizing and believing in this love, guests can help to reinforce it, and it makes the wedding ceremony make more sense even at the interpersonal level for the couple—so despite what I argued yesterday, the ceremony can serve something other than an institutional function. It can draw on the good faith of the guests to solidify the foundation of the couple’s love for each other.


But the flashes firing and the cameras rolling suggest a failure of empathy to me. If anything they are more concerned with filming than making the imaginative effort to understand what the couple is assenting to, and are reinforcing the surveillance aspect of weddings, evincing the threat the couple should be faithful to each other not because it is inherent to the relationship’s momentum but because everyone’s watching, everyone is documenting what you do, and your transgressions will not go unnoticed. The institutionnal nature of weddings, the state function of marriage is reasserted—marriage elevates the personal affair into everyone’s business, as the otherwise insane redundancy of cameras reminds the couple. The guests assembled are not their to understand, then, but to police the couple, to let them know that they will be carefully scrutinized indeed.

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