When you’re the new kid in school, you always start off playing by the rules. If the uniform dictates you wear your tie a certain length, you get out a ruler and you measure that tie. If school starts at 9am, you get there ten minutes before the bell rings. If you have a maths test, you bring in a compass, two scientific calculators (in case the first one doesn’t work) and five black pens (in case there’s some sort of pen apocalypse and the first four explode in your backpack).
Why do you do these things? Because you want to make a good impression. When you’re just starting out, it’s hard to know what the tolerance level is. How much can you get away with? Is it a strict school or can you get away with Bunsen burning someone’s pencil case?
That’s kind of what wedding photography is like – aside from the Bunsen burners (there’s enough hairspray in most brides’ hair to create a pyrotechnic show that rivals an infamous Michael Jackson Pepsi advert). What I’m talking about is that when I first started out as a wedding photographer, I tiptoed around weddings like I was trying not to wake my parents after a night out. My presence would only be vaguely noticeable at the faint sound of a shutter click. I was overly polite to the brides and grooms and toned down the personality. I even refused any drinks from the wedding party.
But then, just like finding your place at school, I found my place in wedding photography. I started to bring out my personality, and it kind of became my signature. I took pleasure in making people laugh, even if that meant dishing out a little bit of well-meaning British banter. And I started accepting a glass of champagne during the speeches. Of course, I’ve been offered more, but despite an evil eye from a busy-body bridesmaid who frowns upon me touching one drop of alcohol, I know when to stop. A time-crafted penchant for gin has gifted me with an innate knowledge of my alcohol limits.
The same couldn’t be said for some of the guests I’ve photographed. Or even the staff. In fact, I’ve seen some very questionable DJs in my time, who seem to drink all night on an empty stomach. At least I’m usually treated to a meal before the real festivities begin, but these guys don’t even touch a slice of cake. I have to applaud them – most of the time they’ll complete a three or four hour set fuelled by nothing but beer and the raw hope that one day they’ll get out of wedding DJing. And somehow, after the night is over, they seem to arrive home safely (if any police officers are reading this, I’m not naming names. Wedding industry code and all that).
The point is that these guys don’t get criticised for drinking. Maybe it’s because they arrive when all the guests are drunk. No one notices the one sober person in the room. Or maybe it’s because they stand behind a desk all night, their only interactions being with people shouting requests at them: “COME ON EILEEN!” “GANGNAM STYLE!” “MACARENA!”
The worst behaviour I’ve seen was actually from a man of the cloth, tut tut. A vicar got so trollied on sacramental wine before the service that he told a young ring bearer that Beelzebub would appear in his room at night and eat his hands if he dropped the rings. A risky approach, but no rings were dropped and apparently years later that boy still has the fear of God in him. Which makes me think – did the alcohol make the vicar perform a better job? Maybe. I’m certainly not going to drink enough to threaten the devil on innocent kids, but would a small flute of bubbly hurt in loosening my creative flow? Only one way to find out *drinks enthusiastically*.
But seriously, the next time a bridesmaid comes up to me and questions why I’m drinking after the best man has just handed me a thimbleful of sloe gin, you better believe that I’ll be cutting her head off in all the group shots. Although I might seem jolly, I’m not going to be cajoled into drinking any more than is appropriate. And as I know myself better than anyone (aside from my darling wife), I decide what is appropriate for me.
I’m sure that if God wasn’t busy puppeteering British politics then he would probably smite everyone mentioned in this blog post for touching the hard stuff on a day as holy as a wedding day – and that vicar would probably burst into flames if he ever set foot in a church again. But prime ministers need divine intervention, vicars need to marry people, and we all need to lighten up when it comes to wedding photographers having a polite swig.