“I am not a wedding photographer,” says Newcastle-based photographer Ian Weldon. Instead, he prefers to call himself “a photographer that photographs weddings”.
With his debut exhibition taking place at the Martin Parr Foundation at the end of the month – coinciding with the launch of a new book co-published by the foundation and RRB PhotoBooks – Ian’s new series, simultaneously titled I am Not A Wedding Photographer, is by no doubt set to shine some light on the traditional genre.
It all started when Ian began his career capturing weddings to make a living – which he recalls as the “bottom rung photography jobs”. While he pursued other photography projects on the side, he admits that he really had no idea what he was doing at the time. Little did he know that later on he would turn his lens on the ceremony of marriage in a completely new and honest manner – or perhaps he did. “I think that understanding the ideas of photography and trying to apply that to a genre that is so intrenched in tradition and popular aesthetic helped me to forge a path,” Ian tells It’s Nice That. “It became a challenge to break with convention and focus on the idea, and weddings became it’s own project in that sense.”
This rebellious nature and documentary-style spirit is what defines his aesthetic. Weldon describes it as a “consequence” of his study and practice, but really it’s the antithesis to the commercial money-jobs we’re all too familiar with. “I see so many wedding photographers chasing a popular aesthetic that every wedding they photograph looks exactly the same – and that’s not something I’m interested in doing.”
So by actively seeking the real moments – like last-minute ironing, mouths being stuffed with canapés and quick cigarette breaks before the big reveal – and “approaching each wedding completely open” with no preconceived idea of how it should look, that’s how Ian gets his shots. He continues: “I just react to the people and the surroundings and go along with the flow of the day.” And by doing so, this means he can get closer to what’s happening, both physically and emotionally.
Throughout the series, Ian has captured actual weddings where he was hired to photograph. This includes weddings in back yards in the mining villages of Co. Durham, as well as mansions in the Hollywood Hills – “and almost all of the couples said that they didn’t want a wedding photographer at their wedding,” says Ian. “No matter the budget, all were only interested in having the reality of the day photographed.”
It’s important to note that Ian has nothing against wedding photography – “it’s a business and to be financially successful you have to play that game” – yet what it lacks is the freedom to be creative. Up until recently, Ian was a lecturer on photography history and taught beginner photography, meaning that he didn’t have to solely rely on an income from shooting weddings. “It’s unfortunate that once you start to chase numbers you have to give up some creative control along the way,” which, and I’m sure most creatives would agree, Ian wasn’t prepared to do.
Wedding photographer or not, Ian has nestled himself into the genre distinctively, which he seems rather happy about. “I find it refreshing that in a time where most people live vicariously through their own social media channels, that there are still those who are confident enough to have me come and do my thing,” he says. “And long may it continue, as I don’t think there is a real document of weddings in our time.”