Research Notes: Looking at Wedding Pictures
It should come as no surprise that during the school year, I blog a lot about teaching, and in the summer, I blog a lot about writing. Because that’s where my head is.
Last night, I did a little research on the technology that made it possible to print pictures in newspapers and magazines.
In a nutshell: for a long time, it was very hard.
But it got me thinking about how easy it is now. Think about how addicting Tumblr and Facebook are. Think about how addicting it is to be able to Google whatever you want to look at. I mean seriously, how do we even stop ourselves? How do we not gorge ourselves visually every single day?
A short list of things I’ve wanted to see in the last few days.
- What it looked like on board the RMS Oceanic, whether the first-class promenade deck was enclosed or open to the air, what a first-class stateroom looked like, etc. Research for my novel.
- What Winnaretta Singer, the Princess Edmond de Polignac, looked like. Research for my novel.
- What fans thought of the Hannibal season 2 finale, so I spent an hour looking at their GIFs
- What this big-ass fancy house down the street from me looks like on the inside. As soon as the for sale sign went up, I Googled that shit up. Who doesn’t like to see the inside of big-ass fancy houses?
- Randomly, I Googled a woman I worked with 20 years ago and spent 30 minutes looking at her Instagram pictures. She’s on vacation right now in northern CA. She’s having a great time.
- What Kim and Kanye’s wedding looked like. I don’t even like them, and yet, I wanted to know what they wore and what decadent lengths they went to in staging their wedding event. Like the giant wall of flowers. Why do you need this when you can look out at the beautiful Italian landscape? I don’t understand.
That got me thinking. About pictures.
- About being able to TAKE a picture,
- about being able to SHARE a picture,
- and being able to SEE a picture.
- how we take this for granted.
Imagine it’s 1895. That’s the year Consuelo Vanderbilt married the Duke of Marlborough. Who cares, you say? Well, imagine what would happen if Paris Hilton married Prince Harry, what a monstrous pictorial orgasm that would be.
Okay, so you live in 1895 and you want to know about this wedding. A real Cinderella story. American girl becomes a princess—well, a duchess. What does she wear? What was it like? You could stand outside the church (as thousands did) or you could buy a newspaper, like the New York Times. But this is the best they could do, picture wise: engravings.
The lovely couple!
Her lovely bridesmaids.
The only photograph I could find of the wedding day was here:
It’s a news photo, but see, this picture couldn’t be shared. Because the newspapers couldn’t reproduce photographs yet.
The Society Portrait
The character I’m writing about was obsessed with society portraiture in all its incarnations and mediums. See these scrapbooks? They belonged to her. 89 volumes. That’s what they’re full of. Society coverage clipped from magazines and newspapers.
In times gone by, a young woman of means was painted (and then, in time, photographed) to commemorate her engagement, her wedding, the birth of her children, etc.
In times gone by, these pictures were hung on the wall in homes but also published in newspapers.
In times gone by, these were called the Society Pages or the women’s pages, but now they’re called the Style or Community pages.
A friend of mine who worked for a mid-sized city newspaper told me once that, when they moved their paper online, these pages received by far the most number of hits. This doesn’t surprise me at all.
It’s worth remembering that the reason Consuelo’s wedding was covered in the Times and so many other places is that she was rich and famous.
Billions of weddings have taken place on this earth and there’s nothing to remember them by except maybe a document with signatures or a name in a Bible or maybe one damn picture of two people standing stiffly for the camera. For posterity.
I have seen every picture of my parents’ wedding. There are maybe 15 total. When I was little, I used to look at them over and over again.
Those pictures were never published in any magazine or newspaper–except maybe the Peru Daily Tribune, my hometown paper. (I need to ask her.) For one day, my mother got to be a celebrity, a public figure, a taste of what Consuelo Vanderbilt experienced.
My mom’s wedding photos aren’t Google-able. But if they were, you’d probably look at them, wouldn’t you?
If there’d been Facebook in 1967, I’m sure she would have shared them.
In my hometown, there were two professional photographers: Mr. Fincher and Mr. Waltz. If you had money, you hired one of these fellas to take pictures at your event or to take a studio portrait which you’d submit to the local paper.
If you didn’t have money, as my family did not, you took pictures of your wedding yourself.
Today there are five photographers in Peru that come up on Google, but I’m sure that there are actually at least double or triple that number.
Today, even a person of modest means can hire someone to take super-amazing photos at their wedding, photos that look like something out of a magazine.
Because that’s the dream, right? To have our pictures look as good as a celebrity’s pictures. And thanks to how easy it is to take, share, and look at pictures these days, that’s exactly what happens. All the time.
Here’s my point
(And I think this idea needs to be an essay, not a blog post…)
People think that smartphones and the internet make us narcissistic and antisocial, but I disagree. We have always been addicted to information and images.
Today’s devices are only a different way to do what we have always done: look and look and look.