Looking back over all the weddings I have been lucky enough to witness, both as photographer or guest, the most memorably uplifting ones are those that flowed with joy. The Debbie Downer who sometimes shows up to turn the party down, she arrives as the plus one to Mr Perfectionism. And to quote Ze Frank – “Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes, but he’s a bit of an asshole and no one invites him to their pool parties.” So how do they end up crashing a wedding?
Social media has made our lives very performative, and the addictive natures of our devices means it’s pretty difficult to avoid the steady stream of perfect lives and moments, everything all beautifully lit, perfectly arranged and sprinkled with avocados, #instagoodness & #blessed (vom). We know it’s all heavily curated, that scene was actually photographed fifty times, sprinkled with tears of frustration, and someone has a sore neck from the weird head angle. We know this but it still seeps in under our logical brain to undermine our sense of worth and connection. Everyone does it.. gosh I do it. Maybe I should start sharing some photos of my working desk covered in half drunk cups of tea, ancient toast crumbs and notes that make no sense. #ikillsucculents #whatdoesmakestrindedmean?
Studies have shown that perfectionism disproportionately affects women. We are socialised from a young age to be rule followers and people pleasers, this pressure leading more and more of us towards anxiety and depression. Following the exact rules of what a ‘perfect wedding’ should look like can easily send the most steely-minded down the path to anxiety and throw open the doors to the aforementioned wedding crashers Mr P and his +1 DD. And here’s the thing, after attending many, many weddings – of all the wonderful people you will have at your wedding, hardly anyone cares what a ‘perfect wedding’ looks like. All they care about is how happy you are, and after that emotional & social need is met the rest is purely physical. Is there good and abundant food, plentiful liquid refreshment, and is there a comfortable place to relax, dance and catch up? The rest is window dressing. Beautiful window dressing, but no-one goes home complaining about the colours of the flowers (and if they do, they are seriously not worth worrying about).
Of course a lot of pleasure can be had in creating and enjoying an aesthetically pleasing event. My wonderful sister in law has had a wedding scrap book since she was a little girl, she had the time of her life planning and pulling off her spectacular wedding. The whole thing brought her immense joy and we were all thrilled to share in that happy beauty. That’s the key, does it bring joy? Is that joy spreading outwards? Awesome, then continue as you were!
But if you are feeling your joy evaporate in the face of competing wedding and life pinterest boards, it’s time to hit the brakes. Delegate. Set fire to that beast of a craft project that seemed like a good idea at the time but now haunts your dreams and made your fingers bleed (hint – if it’s going to take 75 hours of work and people will look at it for 15 minutes.. here, use my flame thrower), invite your friends around to watch it burn while you drink beers and cackle at the bonkersness of weddings. And now, like RIGHT NOW – delete any and all ‘thinspiration’ that may have snuck into view. F*** dieting to fit into a wedding dress, or pressuring others do the same to fit a narrow version of beauty. You are beautiful. You are beloved because of who you are and all the great things you do. As the wonderful, gorgeous Tess Holliday says, @effyourbeautystandards!
Being a human is being imperfect. Loving someone is loving their imperfections. Enjoying your wedding day means focussing on the important bits – the love – and laughing into the wind together.
The first time I met Vicky & Tim was a typically rainy post-work evening, we cosied up in a Shoreditch pub to talk weddings. Except we didn’t talk weddings, over crisps and London Pride we meandered through politics, Quakerism, protest and the power of direct action, social justice and feminism and when I couldn’t possibly love them any further it turned out that they too were massive board game nerds. By this time I didn’t really care if I shot their wedding, I just wanted to come and hang out with them and play Catan.
They met at an anti-war demonstration in Trafalgar Square while still Uni students, and have been marching shoulder to shoulder ever since. Being Quakers, they held their ceremony and celebratory tea and cake at the Westminster Friends Meeting House, only a very short stroll from Trafalgar Square. I was thrilled they were up for popping out for a quick re-enactment shoot of their first meeting, while the meeting house was buzzing with friends and family pulling flowers and final cake touches together. Trafalgar Square was silly and funny and the thronging tourists treated them like the fabulous celebrities they are meant to be. They already had the placards at home from the previous week’s Pride Parade and they could not have been anymore appropriate. Did I mention that I completely love these two?
Quaker ceremonies are very unique in that they are not structured or lead by a celebrant in a traditional sense. Everyone gathers for quiet contemplation and anyone can speak when they feel ready. There are no pictures, the focus is just on being present with the couple. Interspersed with periods of reflection; poetry, song, wonderful anecdotes, and again and again, deeply felt expressions of affection and respect for Vicky and Tim. Listening to a wide cross section of their favourite humans, especially the young men, articulating heartfelt love without the crutch of copious wedding booze, makes you realise what a beautiful and rare thing it is to be so openly loving with each other. We could all do with a bit more of that in our lives.
The ceremony is concluded with everyone (including the photographer!) signing a beautiful poster sized certificate, and then gathering for tea and cake. I really loved the moment when Vicky and Tim cut the cake and then worked together to slice it up and hand it out to their friends, a simple gesture that managed to say a lot. The guests then rolled their sleeves up to wash the tea cups and brush the last cake crumbs away, then we all piled onto the classic red double decker bus heading East. Hackney City Farm was our destination, a beautiful, lushly rambling social enterprise bringing organic farming and environmental education to the heart of inner city London. It was the perfect London Summer afternoon to rambled about, meet the animals, catch up and be merry.
- Vicky’s mum Pam made ALL the clothing for the whole bridal party, including her own. What a legend!
- Vicky’s awesome Unicorn Doc Marten shoes, the glamorous wedding footwear that will take you from a demo to a wedding and onto the dancefloor. Shimmer right over those police kettles and farm yard puddles.
- Internal feminist nods of approval for the excellent speeches by all the women including Tim’s incredibly funny Best Woman.
I was really moved to be asked to photograph Cleo & Ed’s wedding. I photographed Cleo’s brother’s wedding a couple of years back and was great friends with their late father, the wonderful Mike aka Minimouse, co-conspirator, mentor and ESB drinking buddy. He was well remembered that day and everyone loudly agreed he would have most definitely approved of proceedings.
As we drove down the hill towards Peckham’s Asylum Chapel we could see those disturbingly yellowish storm clouds that gather right before an intense summer storm, and the heavens truly opened just as we arrived. But despite the wall of water and the dripping tin roof, everyone’s spirits were high and a beautiful ceremony commenced. After drinks under the portico we all decamped to Brixton East to drink, swap stories and share platters of food. I loved the two personalised home brews prepared especially for toasting the couple.. though someone may have been a bit liberal with the brewers yeast!
On a cold, February day with sleet on the wind, there is no where better to be than a cosy east London pub with your favourite people.
Nick & Leilee have a love for Hackney and a love for pubs, as do I! Their table setting’s were sweet little handmade signs of favourite pubs, totally an idea I will steal whenever the bearded one and I ever get round to doing the official thing. Everyone met in Stoke Newington’s Rose & Crown before heading over to the Town Hall for the ceremony, then a quick hustle over to the other side of Hackney to Clapton’s The Crooked Billet to warm up by the fire, drink, dance and be merry. The bunting, bouquet and boutonniere’s were all handmade by Leilee’s talented friends, and the gorgeous cake by Little Bear Cakery, another local Hackney supplier.
A super fun moment that made me laugh was the ‘First Shot’, a communal bottoming of hard liquor instead of the more traditional first dance shuffle. It was a good one to end on!