Weddings are evidently his forte, but Ian Weldon insists he is not a wedding photographer. Trading choreographed group shots and staged portraits for the unexpected, timing (and no doubt a dose of luck) is of the essence – but the reward is priceless.
Last minute preparations, unfortunate accidents and unflattering angles take centre stage as Weldon throws the standard rulebook for wedding shots far out of the window. His unconventional collection of work is travelling from his native Newcastle upon Tyne to Bristol, where it’ll be the focus of an exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation as well as a book co-published by the MPF and RRB PhotoBooks.
Weldon is frank about why he first got into photography. “I thought it would make me look cool,” he admits to CR. “Somewhat idiotic, but a way in is a way in. After scratching around for a couple of years I realised that I was as unfulfilled as I had been before photography. It was around this time that I had to make some sort of decision about what I actually wanted. Being 38 years-old I thought it was time. I was becoming interested in photography history and that helped me to look at photographers, and photography differently.”
“Photographers like Martin [Parr], who I previously didn’t understand, started to make sense and the possibilities of photography started to reveal itself,” he explains. Since then, he’s been invited to bring vitality and character to wedding days across the UK and beyond. The year before last, he travelled to LA to capture Steven Yeun’s wedding – known to many as Glenn from The Walking Dead.
Weldon’s work now has found more of a laidback rhythm compared to his first wedding job, which went “franticly, to say the least. Not really knowing what I was doing and trying to live up to the perceived expectation was exhausting. When I wasn’t organising people into crudely executed group shots, I was running around, blasting through every moment, in the hope I didn’t miss anything. You could probably play that wedding back like a stop motion movie.”
Nonetheless, his photography owes itself to a little bit of chaos – whether behind the lens or in front of it. “I can’t recall anything particularly disastrous. Even the most drunken of wedding guests show some restraint, mostly. There have been the usual arguments, scuffles, a cake was kicked off a table once, a car crashed into a courtyard water feature but nothing of real note,” he says. “It’s just people partying and I like a good party.”
Aware that his style goes against the grain, he’s not selective about the weddings he photographs, but he’ll only go into it if he’s confident that it’s what the couple truly wants. “There’s not much point in me photographing a wedding for a couple who require an abundance of group shots and bridal portraits, or editorial style images of their table settings,” he explains. “There are many other photographers that are better at doing that than I am. If I’m expected to work from a shot list then I’m not being hired for me and, ultimately, I’ll be doing the couple a disservice.”
As such, nobody ever really ends up disappointed that they’re not left with a classic wedding photo album. “I doubt that anyone wanting their wedding to be depicted as fairytale would hire me as their photographer. I’m completely upfront about what I do, and the couple will have seen a good selection of photographs. I think I’ve got the communication aspect right and I think that’s key in my approach. We’re all on the same page before I even take a deposit,” he says. “The couples that hire me know what they want, and almost all of them tell me they don’t want a wedding photographer at their wedding.”
Weldon is adamant that he’s not a wedding photographer, however he is becoming an important figure in illustrating that it’s possible to bridge the gap between ‘commercial’ work and art. “I think the perception of what wedding photography is, is changing anyway,” he reflects. “More ex-photojournalists are entering the field and they are bringing a certain amount of credibility with them. When I started wedding photography was still perceived as the bottom rung of the ladder. The industry will always be driven by current trends and aesthetics, but I’m just doing my own thing and hopefully that will always be an alternative to whatever is popular.”
It’s this instinct and sense of independence that likely resonates with Martin Parr, whose role in Weldon’s career has grown from a distant influential figure into a serious endorser of his work. The legendary street photographer first heard of Weldon during a lecture in Barcelona, where attendees recommended that Parr should look him up. Soon after, he reached out to Weldon, and from there their collaborative relationship grew.
“Martin changed what I perceived photography to be and in turn that had a profound effect on me as a human being, for the better. I have accumulated many accolades as a wedding photographer over the years but to have Martin take an interest in my work, to be as supportive as he has been over this last year, to give me a solo show at the Foundation and co-publish my book, it’s the greatest of compliments.”
“If you look at his blurb, Ian plugs this line about NOT being a wedding photographer,” says Martin Parr of his work. “I know what he means, but this clever strapline is deceptive as he the most real wedding photographer I have ever encountered.”