The wedding ritual: a photographer's journey to capturing practice

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Bogle, Sean Leonard
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Vaal University of Technology
The study explores an alternative approach to Christian wedding photography that draws on the ritualistic narrative of the wedding as “social drama” (Turner.1974:54). Wedding photographers of the past have captured and illustrated the wedding story, with key moments, in a logical order reflecting a timeline showing the day’s events. The goal of the study is to investigates beyond the identified key moments and timeline of the Christian wedding so as to create awareness and develop understanding of the ritual and its phases and in turn, use this as a source to inspire, initiate and develop a method for the capture and production of the Christian wedding narrative in a new visual way. ‘Traditional’ Christian wedding photographers, brides-to-be and grooms-to-be are exposed and influenced by wedding photography styles of the past (which depict staged, static and controlled visual moments) or visual references from glossy magazines which place emphasis on branding, fashion-styled imagery and advertising, and lead to a romanticised and glamorised vision of possibility. The full Christian wedding narrative ritual is lost in visual representations that contain only a few glamorised and romanticised moments. This dissertation argues that the emotional, atmospheric and narrative moments of transformation of the couple on the day can be captured visually. The main research question of this study asks how one can use photography to capture that visual atmosphere and emotional underpinning of the various stages of the marriage ritual so that these images can be seen as trigger mechanisms for memories of the event. The study firstly engages with the Christian wedding as a ritual. Following Turner’s (Deflem 1991:3) conceptualisation of the four phases of a ritual (breach, crisis, liminal space and reintegration) the dissertation divides the wedding into these four phases. It also argues that the post-wedding events (the reception) follow the same trajectory, and present Turner’s (1974) liminoid dynamics. Working from several transformation narratives that use this approach, critical descriptive words that capture the narrative, the emotion and the atmosphere of the transformation are collected and clustered into categories. Following this, a tentative shooting schedule is proposed for each cluster/category. A method for the analysis of the photographs emerging from the testing of each cluster’s shooting schedule is determined, using Barrett’s subdivisions (Barrett 2006:65). The framework, composed of clusters, shooting schedule and analytical frame, is then tested on random appropriate photographs. The main body of work then applies the framework to 7 Christian weddings, and examples from each ritual phase are described and analysed to determine whether the photographs can be seen to capture the narrative events, the emotions and the atmosphere of each phase. The study argues that this is an effective alternative approach to Christian wedding photography practice. The study set out to develop an understanding of ritual and its various phases filled with emotion, atmosphere and life-changing practices. The wedding ritual identified followed a similar, if not the same path, of action of a life changing event and could be linked to the ritual and its four phases as per Turner’s discoveries and methodologies. Through literature of peoples’ life-changing experiences a databank of words describing the various phases of the ritual by means of emotion, atmosphere and meaning were identified and put into clusters of similar characteristics. These clusters, totalling seven, are representative of the four phases in the ritual that were used as a brief for the researcher/photographer. Barrett’s picture categories allowed one to decipher and develop a shooting schedule using these clusters with collective themes as briefs. The shooting schedule, which was speculative in design, was a method to illustrate the descriptor visually. Barrett’s methods supported the analysis and assessment of visuals captured in the field of the study of the Christian wedding. The visuals could be linked to descriptors and clusters which, in turn, could be linked to various phases in the ritual. The shooting schedule tested developed a visual capture framework (ritualised approach) which displayed images with a complete narrative filled with emotion and meaning, of the ritual in all four phases of the Christian wedding.
M. Tech. (Department of Visual Arts and Design: Photography, Faculty of Human Sciences), Vaal University of Technology.
Christian wedding, Photography, Wedding photography, Wedding ritual