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The Cute Dystopia of Wedding Photography

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Weddings: They're not just for girls! To keep this week from getting too bride-centric, we've recruited a recently-married New York City gentlemen to offer advice to the future husbands among us. Welcome to his column, Confessions of an Anonymous Groom.


Image via stevendpolo/Flickr

Somewhere in 2008, wedding photography took a drastic turn toward the infantile. This trend happened to coincide with my own wedding which, naturally, I desired to have photographed. I gave this trend a lot of thought then and still think about it now. In regards to this surge of washed-out color and balloons, my thoughts are, generally, "What the fuck?"

The hallmarks of this cute wedding photography are immediately apparent. In brief, cute wedding photography includes but is not limited to:

· Large pink balloons
· Figures shot from afar so they occupy a bottom corner with a washed out sky. In urban situations, the sky is sometimes substituted with a wall, which serves the same compositional purpose.
· Swing sets
· Puppies
· A shot of the groom and the bride's calves, ankles and feet. The groom often is wearing brightly colored socks.
· The couple pictures with their backs turned toward the camera. Often sitting on a dock, sometimes on a swing set.
· You know what? Just go visit Max Wanger's website. He is the Cute Wedding Photography King. (New York Magazine, start your profile engines now.) If Sufjan Stevens was a wedding photographer, he/d be Max Wanger, the Atget for the juvenile at heart.
Those who subscribe philosophically to this aesthetic generally also subscribe RSS-ly to a vaguely defined but discrete set of cute blogs. The blogs on which these photographs find most purchase vary in the particulars—some are for Mormons, some are for Moms, many are for Mormon moms—but they are united in some important ways. The blogs, it seems to me, and the bloggers who buy into them mistake infantilization for youthful playfulness. Hence the puppies, balloons and swing sets. But perhaps their most important unifying characteristic is their dogmatic belief that cuteness is the ultimate goal, the supreme rubric by which all is judged. Cuteness is nibbana.

Clearly this philosophy raises a host of problematic implications, especially as it relates to photography, especially when it relates to wedding photography. If cuteness is the ultimate goal, a faithful record of reality will be sacrificed on its tender altar. Nothing is that cute that isn't false. Yet isn't one's wedding day the most important day of one's life, the reality of which one should want enshrined? I wanted to remember my wedding day, not an edited simulacrum of it, G-rated, precious and complete bullshit.

Many have called me cynical for my enduring hatred of this cult of cuteness but what could be more cynical than having so little faith in what is purportedly the happiest moment of ones life that, instead of allowing the lens to be a modulated but accurate recorder, one creates a fantasy diorama of made-up moments? And what could be more inappropriate that surrounding oneself with the trappings of childhood? Put down the puppy, release the balloon. You're an adult now. More than
ever.

When my wife and I got married, we waded through endless wedding blogs. Blogroll to blogroll to blogroll like wedding-addicted internet vagrants. And because these cute bloggers form—I hope!—a vocal minority, we were up to our tits in washed out images of cliché couples. Every wedding photographer had to at least pay homage to this saccharine charade. The light peeking from behind a couple as they kissed, the man—40 and bearded—holding an oversized balloon. Shoes on sand. Barefeet on beaches. A fucking swing set. The couples blurred together. Why wouldn't they? The moments were ground out of the same stuff, an assembly line of manufactured contrivance.

Ultimately and luckily for us, a friend, a photographer who has a fine art background and who specializes in capturing awkward, ambiguous and deeply human moments,
stepped in to photograph our wedding. One couldn't say the resulting photographs were cute, at least to an outsider. But they are to me for they remind me not of a mythic past but of one particular warm afternoon in August which was the happiest
day of my life.
· Dealing with Bad Advice on Your Wedding Day [Racked NY]
· All Weddings Week coverage [Racked NY]