It was a soft, sunny day, early June 1947. Not too hot, not yet perishing dead air and dripping humidity of the midwest. The boys were back from the wars. No more rationing. Plentiful gas and shiny new cars. Economy was booming. Korea and Cold War just blips on the horizon. Life relaxed and starting over.
Weddings were happening, weddings, weddings and more weddings and the seeds of the fortunate baby boom generation. Photography, (previously hard to get due to metals rationing), was becoming an important part of everyday family life and the establishing of new families.
My examples come from the wedding of a classical harpist and a popular radio news caster. The photographer: a personal friend, photojournalist for a large midwest newspaper. (Notice that some newspapers are currently firing their entire photo staff in favor of “public submitted” snapshots.) The results: an unprecedented leather album of 25 8x10s, printed on creamy toned black and white paper from no longer existing negatives of some smaller format camera than the ubiquitous 4×5 Speed Graphic. Chosen from how many shots we do not know.
And as you’ll see, the images definitely have nascent aspects of how we work now.
Looking for Angled Light
The subjects are bravely (recklessly?) posed in full sun – something we’d rarely do now, especially for a formal portrait. But the chosen angle gives dimension and shadow, and causes the background to go darker and make the couple stand out. Today we’d probably use a large scrim like the California Sunbounce to diffuse the light or else add a touch of fill flash to open the eyes. Without contemporary equipment, note how the angled light is full on to the groom’s dark morning suit, but sliding from a 45 degree angle on the bride’s dress. This helps to even out the contrast and record details, something we would do today. Look also at very modern-seeming posing and expressions. Simple, relaxed, genuine posing of hands and bodies. A very contemporary turn of heads, looking away from the camera. No grinning smiles. Wow to the bouquet.
Advantage of Natural Light
The photographer recognized how existing light, in this case back light, enhances mood. By refusing to fill back light with flash and by allowing the shadows to fall dark with little details, we later day viewers are captivated by quiet solemnity of the prayer. At the time, inclusion of the window frame would probably have been considered a serious fault. Now we recognize how an element such as this adds to the feeling that the camera is an unseen observer to a very private moment.
Scene Setter Views
Crowd pictures which we value now were uncommon for weddings 65 years ago. I’m often asked to restore old wedding books for 50th anniversaries, and I rarely see even church service pictures that show the overall sanctuary. This image is a bit of joyful history. We marvel at the fabrics, the styles. Hats and shoes are as interesting and representative of lifestyle then as they are now. Does this image make you think back fondly about a grandmother or great grandmother?
Unplanned, Unposed Candids
Until recently, even within the watershed Monte Zucker era, most so-called candids were tightly orchestrated, coached and sometimes fully posed to look spur of the moment. Backs of heads were a no-no. The most startling to me is the audacity to include an odd gesture, which would have been seen as unmannerly or denigrating – definitely off limits. This image is one of my favorites, because the groom’s ear-pulling gesture is something quite individual I remember about him. For me, a very personal and emotional tie to the past.