Storytelling: Photo Job Disasters
So when I discuss my career as a photographer, people are always asking me about the worst things that have happened. I suspect that secretly they're hoping for a tale of epic disaster, something like the groom not showing up, or the bride and groom fighting at the altar, or possibly even someone objecting in the middle of the ceremony, hollywood-style. But nothing on quite that scale has ever occurred. This is not to say that nothing untoward has ever occurred, however. On three separate occasions, someone has fainted during the ceremony, once even a coworker. But when the subject of jobs gone wrong comes up, I have the following stories to relate:
The Lonely BrideI arrived at the job expecting a typical wedding for my area. 3-7 attendants on a side, 100 to 300 guests. Typical wedding stuff.
I noticed that right away that the bride and groom were kind of simple. They didn't talk much, and what they did say wasn't very interesting or engaging. They only had 3 total attendants, 2 for him (brothers) and 1 for her. I'm thinking this is strange. I take the pictures, and she's got no family. I mean, no sisters, no brothers, no parents, no cousins, no personal attendant, nothing. In fact, it turns out she doesn't even have a friend. The bridesmaid is a relative of the groom's.
When the ceremony is starting, I'm staring at the church in amazement. There are maybe 16 guests. And all of them are sitting on the groom's side. (Obvious advice: Skip the whole bride's side, groom's side thing. If you get few guests, it looks like you're keeping score, if you get a lot, you'll have to seat wherever space is available anyway.)
Anyway, the ceremony is normal enough, and then they hit a few bars on the way to the reception, which is also normal for my area. But I'm already speculating about the reception. I mean, maybe their friends just don't like church ceremonies? But no, the reception is the same. They have a full hall, and food for at least 100 people. They have a DJ, a dance floor, and a big cake.
But no guests. There's literally less than 20 people in a setting where I'm expecting at least 5 times that. There's no critical mass, so they all just stand around. The DJ is practically in tears. I photograph everything I can think of. A portrait of every person there. Pictures of every decoration. I keep count of my shots until I know I have the barest minimum needed to fill the planned album, and then I flee. To this day, I wonder what the deal was. Did the bride run away from home to marry this guy, or what?
An Excuse to Boss the Clients AroundIt was a normal job. Couple from a family we've worked for before. Church we get along with fine. Standard setup. Pretty bride, handsome groom, nice and friendly. Heck, they've even decided to do the formal portaiture before the ceremony, which always earns lots of points with me. What could go wrong?
I'm sick. One of the problems with wedding photography is that unless you've got a photographer lined up to pinch hit, you've got to do the job unless you're in the hospital. So I gather my gear and go. But I feel bad. Really bad. I start the portaiture of the bride and groom, but I just keep feeling worse and worse. My stomach is roiling, and all the sudden, right up at the altar, I realize I'm about to puke. "Excuse me," I blurt to the bride and groom, "I'll be right back". And I start sprinting for the back of the church, where I know that there's some bathrooms just off the lobby. About halfway down the aisle, I realize I'm not likely to make it. I force myself to hold it (ew!) until I clear the carpet of the sanctuary and get to the marble floor of the lobby, and then I blow chunks all over the floor.
Standing there are all of the early-arriving guests. The bride's parents, the groom's parents, a few bridesmaids, groomsmen, and ushers. They're clearly lucky I didn't splatter their shoes. They stare at me in suprise and horror. I consider my options and straighten up.
"Hey," I say to everyone, "I'm really really sorry about this. But I'm the photographer, and I'm in the middle of photographing the bride and groom, and I feel terrible. I have to get back to work, and I'm sick as a dog, so I'm not sure if I can get everything done with the time I have. If someone could clean this up for me, that would be great."
And then I turned and went back in to the sanctuary. I didn't feel well for the rest of the day, but I did harbor a little secret amusement at having compelled complete strangers in formal clothing to clean up my vomit off a marble floor.
The Enemy EncampmentNot a wedding, but certainly a disaster. We were booked to photograph and videotape a concert. This came up from time to time, and my parents (photography is the family business) had a lot of experience doing this in small venues. They wanted me along because I was younger, and since the job was 3 hours away they figured they could all use the extra support for moving stuff around.
We arrive at the venue and start setting up. At first, everything seems cool. The people we talk to are reasonably friendly, relatively photogenic, and accomodating. The manager for the record label that's hired us explains the details of the job. They're to be 4 or 5 bands from the label performing, from about 8:30 to 1 in the morning. But as more and more people begin to show up, the real picture starts to become clear.
It's a white power label. All the bands do "white power rock" and all the attendees are white supremacists. My Mom, Dad and I put our heads together and try to decide what to do. Finally, we decide to forge ahead and record it. But it was weird. All my enthusiasm for doing a good job was just gone. I didn't want to conduct interviews, do portraits, play with lighting, I just wanted to get the hell away from these people and their hateful prejudices.
The worst part of the whole thing is that I think most of the young men involved were just deluded. They were polite and relatively friendly, but any inclination they had to act to better the world around them had been completely mischanneled. It was tragic. We got a lot of footage and left during the last band's set. I only remember one song, a ballad titled "While the Snow came down" apparently about the "tragedy" of the defeat of Nazi Germany on the Russian front.
My father made a deal with the label after the fact. We felt like the situation had been misrepresented, and that our existing arrangement didn't have any legitimacy. He said they could have the raw footage of the event if we could use the footage as well to make a documentary about the event. They agreed, and that's what we did.