I listened to two podcast episodes today, one which gave me a new perspective on photography as an art form and then a second which talked about why we baulk so heavily paying for handmade craft goods. Then, by weird coincidence I came home to a message from a wedding photographer friend. She’d received an enquiry for a wedding, and they’d written down as their budget that they’d like to pay “as little as possible”. I wanted to talk about art, and craftsmanship, and the 1000s of choices artists put into their work and how that translates in the wedding industry.
So the first podcast was about American landscape photographer called Ansel Adams. Honestly I am not particularly interested in landscape photography. Photography as an art? Yes! Landscapes? Meh. Together? Double meh. But I was driving and this is a good podcast so I listened to it, and what really struck me was the way subjectivity and artistic choice is so present in a work that purports to be objective and technical. Ansel Adams wanted to faithfully and accurately capture this amazing American view. Great. But there are 100 technical decisions that need to be made, from where the camera is positioned and which way it looks, to the mechanics of taking the photo and editing and processing and printing the photo. It honestly made me think of my lovely friend Sarah, who often takes pictures of my work that look like 19th century paintings. You could have the exact same wedding 100 times (perhaps in a “palm springs”esq time loop?) And 100 photographers would get completely different shots. And then they’d cut and edit them in their own styles. But of course, you can’t hire 100 wedding photographers, you can’t re do your wedding, and unlike a landscape if you get it wrong you can’t just go back tomorrow.
The second podcast was about a famous old quilt, but Tamar introduced the episode by talking about a quilt that she owns. I’m going to quote her here for a bit
And I’m standing in front of the most beautiful quilt I’ve ever seen. It’s white with green and teal interlocking rings, and it’s gripping me, and I’m doing everything I can to talk myself out of buying it. I mean, it’s expensive, it’s just a quilt. I can buy one anywhere without splurging. After all, it might get spilled on or loved a little too hard by our cat. And sure, it will look beautiful for a while, but inevitably I’ll stop seeing it.Tamar Avishai, The Lonely Palette Podcast
And of course, we do these mental gymnastics when it comes to usable art, that is, craft. This is the dilemma of being confronted by a world where cheap utilitarian machine-made objects reign supreme, and separate themselves from the aesthetic decisions of individual, talented hands. This quilt, I had to explain to myself, is expensive because it’s handmade. Someone took the time to stitch all those little stitches. Someone chose that specific pattern, in this case, the double wedding ring pattern, to tell a story, to infuse that otherwise banal fabric with meaning. Why is this any different than a painter with a canvas or a sculptor with a chisel, other than the fact that I get to actually touch it? And more than that, use it, smell it, infuse it with my smell, my story?
I’m from a quilting family, my mum quilts and I’ve dabbled (cutting up perfectly good fabric to make into patchwork drives me insane but I do love a whole cloth quilt and I really love making something from scraps) and it’s so touching to hear a quilt described with such love. It also made me think of my own work. Of the wedding dresses that I lovingly hand craft. Of course you can buy one off the rack, but those 1000 choices that make my work special, having a say in those choices and trusting me to make the small ones (how much fabric should I put into the skirt? Which of these threads will disappear into the fabric better? Should I hand overcast this hem or stitch it?) These are little decisions but they add up to something that you can see immediately has been made with love and care.
And so with all these thoughts swirling in my mind, I get home to a text from a dear friend. A friend who works hard to support her young family, who has been working on her craft for 6 years, who has expensive equipment and who puts so much of her loving gentle soul into her work. In the text is a screenshot of an enquiry for a wedding in 2022, and they’ve said they want to pay “as little as possible”.
Honestly, I can empathise a bit with this bride. Weddings ARE expensive at a time in life when most of us have little money. I get that. And we’re so so accustomed to, as Tamar puts it, “cheap utilitarian machine-made objects” but there’s no option for mass-produced wedding photography. You have to chose between very low quality or expensive. What you can’t do is expect artistry, the quality of craftsmanship, without paying for it.