Having been a wedding photographer for the past fifteen years, I’ve seen my fair share of white wedding dresses, but before focusing on weddings, I was fortunate enough to gain a little experience in the fashion industry, shooting for magazines, working backstage at fashion shows, and covering both London and Paris Fashion Weeks.
These early experiences in my career, paired with a broader interest in documentary photography, have meant that for a long time I’ve wanted to record the process of making a wedding dress, from the design stage through to the wedding day itself.
Fast forward to 2019, and my initial call with Emily and Lewis about their wedding photography, and Emily happened to mention that her mother would be making her wedding dress for her. Of course, I saw my opportunity and asked if they’d be interested in me documenting the process. It helped that both bride and groom are also incredibly creative and could see the potential in the project.
As well as shooting between 30-40 weddings each year, I like to do these kinds of personal projects from time to time. Previously I’ve made portraits of the longest-married couple at each wedding I shot that particular year, and I also did a project in which I photographed newly engaged couples, at one of the big wedding fairs in London.
I see these completely self-funded projects as a throwback to the type of projects I would do at art college. I feel it’s important to push myself creatively, with the shackles off from my normal wedding work, and I would encourage any professional photographers who may be reading this, to do the same.
From a technical point of view, I wanted to approach this particular project with an open mind, and with no preconceived ideas. I wanted the project to evolve naturally in response to what I was photographing, and experiment with a range of different cameras and techniques. My only constraints were that I wanted the project to be in black and white. I felt that this would bring cohesion to the series as a whole, and I knew I wanted to present the pictures in book form.
Much of the project was shot digitally (more about the cameras I used below) but I also wanted to return to shooting on film and printing in the darkroom. I shot on Ilford Delta 3200 so that there was a clear distinction between the digital images and the grain of analog film.
An important part of the project for me was the postproduction. The project, and indeed the wedding itself, were delayed by the COVID pandemic, and during my visits to photograph the dress being made, I realized what an interesting family history there was, and how this was made visible around the home. I wanted to include these elements to add context to the work, but also to get away from the strict linear/chronological way in which documentary photography is usually presented, and I wanted to embrace image manipulation too.
There are examples in the book of photomontage, photograms, and painting with developer solution.
Inspiration for the project came in many forms, from the documentary work of photographers like Eve Arnold and William Klein to the creativity of Nick Knight and his influential SHOWstudio website.
Eve Arnold was one of my very earliest influences. I’ve always been struck by her compassion, awareness, and sensitivity that comes through in her pictures, and having been lucky enough to have some of my work featured on SHOWstudio, I’ve always followed Nick Knight’s career closely, and have always been amazed by his willingness to experiment and push the medium of photography.
One of the initial triggers for the project however was seeing Nick Waplington’s “Working Process” exhibited at the Tate Gallery, in which Waplington had documented the preparation of Alexander McQueen’s Horn of Plenty fashion collection in 2009. I love the diversity of Waplington’s practice.
All the digital images in the book and the majority of shots from the wedding day were made on my Sony A9, but it seems to me that with the advancements in camera technology of late, has also come a kind of predictability. I wanted therefore to introduce an element of chance and serendipity back into the process, which I think goes hand in hand with the delayed gratification of shooting on film, using old lenses, and printing in the darkroom.
I shot with my grandfather’s old Zeiss Ikon SLR, which is the very first camera that introduced me to photography, and shot on a disposable camera and Polaroid.
I also wanted to make sure that I used my beautiful large format camera, a vintage Ansco 4×5, which I believe dates back to the 1950s. Working with large format is a slow process, and so there is only one very carefully staged image in the book. The negative has been drum scanned to extract as much detail and dynamic range from the negative as possible.
Book Design and Printing
I think it’s the ambition of every photographer to produce at least one book in their career, and I’m certainly no different! I had underestimated just how long it would take though, and it was a steep learning curve, but ultimately very rewarding when a double-page spread comes together.
I was clear from the outset that I didn’t want the book to resemble a wedding album. Instead, I wanted to take my cue from the photo books and artist monographs that I’ve collected over the years. The process began by making 6×4 inch prints of everything I’d shot, before either montaging images together in Photoshop or putting them straight into Pixellu’s Smart Albums design software.
Some images were eventually dropped from the final edit, before making an A4 size maquette, and Queensberry, who printed the book, very kindly made test prints that I was able to lay out across the floor, in order to work out the sequencing.
The final book is a 14×10 inch portrait format book, printed on Queensberry’s Tintoretto paper which has a beautiful watercolor texture to it.
About the author: David Weightman is a wedding photographer based in Surrey, UK. You can find more of his work on his website, Instagram, and Facebook.