Estelle Chhor

Estelle Chhor

The mad day

by Estelle Chhor (France)

As a wedding photographer, we are asked to show people all at their best. We must magnify happy and formal moments. However, a documentary approach allows us to thumb our nose at visual adequacies, relaying funny moments and comical thing we see during the day. This is why I chose to tell the story of a wedding day emphasizing a humourous point of vue.

Portfolio from the Wedding Photojournalism workshop with Franck Boutonnet, March 2015.

Written review by ANDREAS J. HIRSCH,
Independent curator, writer and photographer

The decision to focus on the humorous aspects of a wedding day seems like a simple and tricky one at the same time. Simple since it offers a clear selection filter in the photography and editing process and also since it allows to go beyond the current mainstream cliché of wedding photography while still staying on the sympathetic side. Tricky since those moments demand to be well observed and captured without leaving quality standards behind. Estelle has clearly mastered both aspects of this challenge, which I would also have expected from the hi-end wedding photography she shows on her website.

Most of the eight photographs in this set display good work with composition and with depth of field. They show a nice play with visual correspondances between foreground and background and catch the “decisive moments” of the most humane comic. Two images somehow fall out from the general aesthetics of the set: Number 5, which nicely shows a great moment, but lacks the visual clarity of the others. Number 8 which somehow corresponds only to image number 3, but without the nice work with light, colours and composition we find there. So 5 and 8 for me weaken the quality of the entire set and I would take them out. I understand that they might seem necessary to support the narrative, but they don’t really do, which brings me to my the second of only two points of critique.

Weddings, as all rituals, follow a certain script that might vary depending on culture and religious rite, but it still is a script. When photographing such a ritual – which includes not only the ceremony of matrimony itself, but goes further back and forth in time – we are observers of that scripted action unfolding. As all scripts also this one has its highlights, key points and moments when the action culminates. There is tension building up to the very moment when the “yes”-words are spoken and there is a different mood afterwards that shows in the faces and the scenes. There are the groups around the bride and the groom, which are separate at first and then mingle. And there are moments for the couple alone in the midst of all the action.

Surely a small set of eight images to cover all that seems to be quite a challenge. But still I would demand from wedding photography, even and especially when it breaks free from the corset of commercial conventions, that certain key moments are covered. I understand that this demand might collide with the focus on the humorous moments that Estelle has chosen, but still feel that a somehow more balanced selection of photographs would be desirable. Maybe the focus on the humorous moments could be less strict and still serve as a key characteristic of the entire series. If the narrative of the wedding script is not really supported I personally would see this as “impressions from a wedding”, but not as “wedding photography” in the strict sense, but maybe this was not the goal in the workshop.

Variations of the colour red go like a “read thread” through most of the images in the set. It gives this set despite its clear character of reportage a certain element of conceptual thinking, a quality of the artificial that allows the authenticity to come forward even stronger. A wedding is a staged event in itself, like a theatre play with many amateur actors. And at the same time it is pure and often uncontrollable display of emotions. These images convey a calm and peaceful, clearly joyous atmosphere, with this element of the humorous that Estelle decided to be her guide. It is good to have more than one binding element that helps form a common feel to the entire set of photographs, one – like this “red thread” – that is visually strong, helps convey a certain mood and also adds to the funny side.

Estelle’s set of photographs to me shows a wonderful and artful way of creating strong and sympathetic wedding photography that brings you into immediate contact with the people shown without knowing them. It is courageous since not everybody from the families will be entirly happy with the “funny moments” shown, but I am sure that in the end everybody will feel to have been treated well. I congratulate Estelle on her strong and sensible photographic work and would only recommend a slightly more strict edit and work with narration.

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