When my grandfather was first teaching me about photography, he told me about working at weddings every weekend as part of his photography business. Sometimes even two or three in one weekend. He told me how with a simple 35mm lens and an Olympus OMG he would run all over capturing the moments that people would collect in albums and show for years to come. He told me that doing that Photography work had taken something he “loved” and made it a “job.” After years in the industry, he didn't want to pick up the camera at family gatherings because he was tired of holding the camera. He said, “If you really love photography then don't become a photographer because it will ruin your love.”
I believed him. It is part of the reason why I decided to study Video production and film making. It was a way of working with visual media and cameras with out being a photographer. I have avoided doing weddings at almost all costs. Even when I could have easily gotten into filming and photographing weddings, I avoided it because I wanted to keep my love for photography intact, separate from work, to keep it sacred.
In the past year, I've shot 35 films in a dozen different countries. Picking up the camera to make a video is work. On average, it takes me between 60 and 100 hours of work for each video I do. But there is no doubt that I love it. Not because it isn't exhausting or because the weight of the equipment is so much lighter today. Not because the locations are exotic or the images and scenery captivating. No. I love it because it isn't about the camera, the images, or the photography. The technical stuff is all used to tell a great story. I wonder if Grandpa G knew when he told me about keeping work and love separate that it would lead me to this work? I doubt it.
I doubt that he knew 15 years later, I would be shooting a traditional Ivorian wedding. As I shot this joyous and unique celebration, the memories of Grandpa G were very close. Nor do I think that he thought back then that his photography lessons would get me here. I am certain that this wedding was like none he had ever photographed.
But the stories he told me of the energy needed to direct and position people in each photo took on a new meaning as I tried to do that same thing in a foreign language. His advice on how to position people all while making them comfortable, moving their hands to avoid “sausage fingers,” and adjusting the tilt of their head ever so slightly to catch the light in just the right way was used a thousand times if I used it once. The lesson that “Film is cheap. Keep pushing the trigger until you get it right,” kept me shooting all day long. At every moment, I was on my toes looking for the right shot because he had said, “Each image should tell a story. Scenery is beautiful but put people in the shot to give it character.”
Now as I look at the finished and edited photos, seeing the smiles and thinking of how these images will be shared, and the stories that will be told along with those images, I can't thank Grandpa G. enough for what he gave me. He didn't teach me how to make photographs.
He taught me how to tell stories.