Photographing people at essential moments in their lives, specifically at weddings, is working with strong emotions attached to aspects of love and family life. Those emotions, however, are not merely strong, but multi-layered with dreams, projections and expectations. The photographers commissioned for weddings have to handle all those layers of emotions, immortalizing a moment in life. It is their photographs that will later shape the memories of that day, rendering this event into a kind of idealized scenery and passing this on in the collective family memories.
Clement Renaut very well works with the delicate balances that are part of the challenges of wedding photography. In this set of seven photographs he covers all of the essential iconic scenes which are expected, since they are part of the "code" that defines weddings in our cultures. There is the setting of the church, that he renders into the scenery of a phantasy movie (image 1) and then implants the wedding couple into this scene (image 8). The church seems different between the two photographs, certainly due to them being taking at different times, but of course the world for the couple is different before and after the ceremony. Photographically image 1 is more interesting, there is a certain mysterious dynamic to it, you feel the atmosphere of that moment and the added phantasy-like qualities that seem to be contained here.
The priest and family are key actors in this play, well captured in strong and reduced photographs (images 5 and 3), while image 5 somehow falls out of the series in terms of composition, but the priest usually is acting isolated as he is not part of the family, so the difference seems quite befitting. Although maybe bringing the couple or some of the family into this might have helped connect it more harmoniously with the rest of the series.
Another iconic element in the code of a wedding is of course the couple sharing moments of privacy amidst all the guests. The "official" kiss as well as the way they are looking a each other during the ceremony (images 7 and 6) belong to this. Both are handled well by Clement, while the kiss again has this "movie look" to it, that somehow projects "average people" into the world of the movies and movie stars. The more personal photograph is the bride's glance at the groom (image 6), in fact only one of two photographs that give us a certain personal feeling about the people who got married. – I would desire more such images that make visible the personalities of the bride and groom and allow for silent guesses about the deeper character of their relationship. On the other hand, wedding photography is mainly for the couple, their families and friends – so all of them people who know them and not strangers like me looking at that portfolio.
Wedding photography is also about storytelling, of course telling a story with a well-know script. As with faerytales this story we want to hear again and again and we expect it to follow this script closely. Still, certain variations are welcome with such storytelling. Surely a set of seven photographs is somewhat limited for telling that story, but Clement very well included the important elements to make the story clearly readable.
There is one photograph in the series that clearly sticks out – in its formal qualities, its content and its references to art. The scene with the child (image 4) that in light and composition seems remindful of a Rembrandt and in the spontaneous capturing contains qualities of a photography like the street scenes of Jeff Wall or others. The photograph breaks open the strict and limited code of wedding photography, goes clearly beyond documentation as well as beyond the photographic rendering of phantasies. It exerts its qualities at the borderlines of "spontaneous" and "staged", while it seems to capture a spontaneous scene but gives it the qualities of a staged one. It tells you more about the complex web of emotions and relationships in a familiy than all the others in the series. And it may well be the one that the family hiring the photographer might not accept.
I would wish for a little more of such photographs that creatively work with the code of wedding photography and deconstruct it. But I admit that wedding photography is not about creating art but about meeting the wishes and needs of the couple and their families. And in this context Clement did a great job covering the key elements of the code of weddings and at the same time has been able to add a few more personal or even daring elements.