There is that moment in the bridal room, after the bridesmaids have put on their rouge and fixed that one last curl that won’t stay, when the bride is down to her unmentionables, and I as a photographer have to look for her cue as to what I should do in that moment. Does she want me to drop the camera until the dress is safely over her head and covering her lady-parts, or does she want me to keep snapping?
I look at the bride. She either has made eye contact with me and is giving me a scared deer caught in headlights look, an angry “don’t you dare” look, or an “oh yeah, she’s a photographer” look. If it’s the first two, I put up my hands and tell her I wouldn’t dream of snapping until she’s covered, and not to worry her pretty little mind. If she gives me the other look, though, I know the next words out of her mouth will be, “Can you get some sexy pictures of me really quick?”
Not that she’ll totally get down and start giving me crazed o-faces and running her hands up her legs or anything like if this were a private session, but she may just stop and take a very deep breath and give that magical exhalation of comfort, knowing, and nearly virginistic pause. Perhaps she is wearing a bustier, complete with thigh high stockings. Her hair is done in curls, pinned with a few gentile calla lillies, makeup perfectly applied.
There, in front of an ornate antique mirror, she takes a look at her beautiful form and soft womanly features and takes another deep breath. In less than 20 minutes she’ll make her grand entrance to see her groom at the altar, but she wants this moment to be frozen in time so that she may look back on herself just before she was the bride.
Give me this moment to look through my lens and catch that exhaled breath. I’m nothing but the recorder of a delicate in-between moment. Those in the room will have the memory of this bride taking pause before donning her dress. But it is the photo that will allow the bride to see the elegance that is her nearly naked form just before taking her vows.
Does the photo later become a secret gift for her groom? Does it remain tucked away and rarely looked upon? This is the part I don’t know, because I sure won’t be bringing it up again. I’ve no reason to, and some moments are too private to share. Photography brings private moments to the surface whenever they need to be rediscovered or fall naturally together in recalled memories.
To be a part of the moment in the first place is always an honor. And to know that when she gives me that look, she shows me trust with her most precious of precious intimate things: the image of herself, so delicate and vulnerable in her state of undress. Knowing that I may be the only person besides her and her husband who will ever see this photograph in this lifetime makes it all the more special.
At the same time, there is history in photographs. Eventually the bride and groom will pass on, and I the photographer will be gone too. Children born to the couple will grow and have children of their own. Memory boxes, where secrets like wedding day boudoir photos are kept will be found, and there in that box will be someone’s great grandmother, seventy five years ago. There is a stunning young bride who couldn’t possibly be old enough to have generations reflected in her gentile and innocent eyes, she is there. Thirty minutes from being kissed, twenty minutes from her walk down the aisle, ten minutes before one last prayer and kiss from mom, five minutes from fixing that damn wayward curl, one minute before putting on that long silken gown that fit so, so right in the boutique. Perhaps in that box are the dried and decayed remnants of the calla lillies she wore in her hair that day, perhaps a pearl from her dress, perhaps even her veil.
And whoever is looking through the box may pick up and examine the veil and smell her faint perfume. Careful not to damage it, the person gently lifts the veil and sees a lifetime through its tiny holes. The young woman in the photograph is even more shockingly beautiful in a way that surely she herself could never have ever seen. A photograph like that can sometimes be the kind that is like a stew that’s been cooking on the stove all day long. Seasoned.
The perspective is always different from the other side of the veil, but from this end of the lens too.