After we had photographed a four-day wedding in Guntur, India, the groom’s family invited us to their home to join them for lunch. Although we arrived rather exhausted, we were quite excited to talk with everyone (without our cameras) over some authentic home-cooked Indian food. The living room was painted with many bright colors, that seemingly shouldn’t work together, but somehow did. Random objects sat in glass shadow boxes mounted on the wall, each of which contained a story. Still glowing with pride from their son’s wedding, the parents pulled out old wedding albums.
My first thought was, It’s been awhile since I sat with family or friends passing around photographs. I kinda miss those days. I didn’t even realize those days had passed until this very moment. Sharing images is something that we now do in solitude.
The first album was from their daughter’s wedding that took place in 2003. The photographer shot every moment, almost like he/she was carelessly walking around with a finger on the trigger. The images were poorly composed and harshly lit with an on-camera flash. Pages upon pages of basically the same image filled the album. After looking very quickly through this book of photographs, I was handed a much smaller album with roughly 30 images. It was an album from 1977 of the parent’s wedding, which also took place in Guntur. I recall immediately holding my breath as I stared at the first photograph.
The stunning black-and-white image was not only perfect in its lighting, expression, and composition, but also in the way it told a story that captured a bit of the couple’s personality.
As I turned each page, I was increasingly overwhelmed with how beautiful the photographs were, and with how the images made me feel as though I had attended this wedding 30 years ago. I quietly asked my photographer colleague Lisa, “Why were the images from 1977 so much stronger than the more recent photographs?” She quickly responded fast and totally blunt, “Back then you had to be a photographer.” Her words left me speechless. Where have we gone as photographers, and am I on that path?
I often struggle with our digital photography era and find that the habit of rapid fire can keep me from dedicating the time that each image demands. I find that some of my favorite images are the ones that I took 12 years ago using velvia film with my medium format camera. I used to ask myself before every frame, “What do I see? What do I feel? How do my eyes move?, and What can I eliminate?” I remember carefully thinking about the subject and what type of film I needed to enhance the story of the image. As technology increases the need for pre-thought diminishes. Do I still ask these questions before pressing the shutter? Perhaps it is the nature of the digital medium that we tend to value each frame less. When digital had just emerged, one of my teachers told me he could spot digital shooters from a mile away. He would always say “they are the ones that don’t bend their knees anymore”. I did notice in many cases that he was right, the film shooter would still walk around the subject watching light, playing with angles before shooting, the digital shooter would just start shooting right away. I find myself guilty of this all the time and especially in that moment when I had 15,000 images between me and Lisa from our 2 weeks in India.
Recently a photographer friend reminded me of a quote from one of the masters of photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson, “We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole.”
Photography is such a beautiful means of capturing a moment in time using your own voice and perspective. You can tell a story in a single frame. Just one image can make a person laugh, cry or feel compassion – which gives photographers a very powerful tool. I am so grateful to have seen those albums side by side. Personally, it was a huge reminder to take a breath and slow down; a strong reminder to give a photograph the time it deserves.
About the Author
Kristi Odom has a background in travel and nature photography that she brings into destination wedding photography. She has photographed weddings around the world including Ethiopia, Australia, Ireland, Thailand, amongst other locations. Her adventurous side tends to come out in her shoots; may it be shooting a wedding in a blizzard, on top of a castle in Ireland, or along the edge of cliffs.
Kristi’s work has been seen in Times Square, RollingStone’s website, National Geographic’s website, Eco-Beautiful Weddings, United With Love, Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine, Kodak’s website, amongst others.