MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's go back to the subject of weddings. We talked about that Saturday Night Live skit earlier, but all joking aside, a wedding is one of the most important days in someone's life. For most couples, a photographer has become an essential part of the day because whether it's a friend doing the honors, or a professional, that is the way you'll remember the big day for years to come. And let's face it, there are standards we're used to seeing, the groom lifting his bride, the bride looking off wistfully into the distance. But what if the happy couple is a bride and a bride or a groom and a groom? That's where Kathryn Hamm and Thea Dodds come in. They are the authors of the new book "Capturing Love: The Art of Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography." The book offers tips for photographing same-sex weddings and suggests that those tips might freshen up the portfolios of mixed gender weddings also. Kathryn Hamm joins us now in our Washington, D.C. studios and Thea Dodds is with us from New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord, New Hampshire. Welcome to you both, thank you so much for joining us.
KATHRYN HAMM: Thanks.
THEA DODDS: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Thea, I'm going to start with you, because you've been photographing same-sex weddings for about 10 years now and you've overall been doing professional photography for 20. And the idea for the book in part came out of your observations on the job. Can you just tell us about the first same-sex wedding that you shot and how it alerted you to the fact that there could be differences between gay and straight weddings?
DODDS: Well, it was 2005 that I got a call from a same-sex couple in Massachusetts. I approached their wedding just like I would any other wedding, and what I found was that there were certain things that occurred at their wedding I had never seen at a straight wedding before. The first being that there was no wedding gown. Usually the wedding gown is a big centerpiece of the day. There was also no groom. The first time they kissed was the first time they had kissed before their parents and their extended family. And they had a lot of anxiety about that moment. Usually you have couples who are very comfortable displaying their affection on their wedding day, and normally you have couples who are of a different height, different strengths, etc., which makes posing them a lot easier, honestly. It's just what I'm used to.
MARTIN: And so that got you to Kathryn. Kathryn, you're not a photographer...
MARTIN: ...But you're a consultant on same-sex weddings, and you run the boutique and resource website gayweddings.com. So how did the two of you get together?
HAMM: Right, well, Thea had submitted a real wedding for me to run on my site. And this first image we have, which is actually in the book - couple of brides sitting on the back of this red truck, it was breathtaking. And because of our working together to publish that, when Thea had had this experience and recognized something really important, which is that weddings are changing and photography education needs to change too - that all of these pose books, which have been written for opposite sex couples, recognizing that there needed to be a resource for same-sex couples, and there was nothing out there. So she gave me a call and we had this conversation, and that's when the light bulb went off for me, recognizing that this would be a really important resource. That not only that photographers needed it, but that additionally, same-sex couples need it.
MARTIN: Thea, one of things that I read in the book that I haven't even thought of was something that you raised around the question of location. I mean, we often see couples in public places. They might have a wedding in a place of worship or indoors, and then they might go someplace else to take some pictures - at the beach or something like that. And you were saying that you might have to be concerned about public reaction or safety...
DODDS: ...Safety. Yes, absolutely.
MARTIN: People might not be as welcoming as you would like them to be. And so you need to think about that.
DODDS: Yeah, and I must say - you know, I live in a conservative state of New Hampshire and I have never had any problems with any of my same-sex couples. I've always had, you know, the people who drive by and honk their horn in support. But in making this book, we did hear some stories going the opposite route.
HAMM: There's a couple that came up from North Carolina because they can't legally marry there. So they wanted to come to a city nearby where they could marry legally, that would be Washington, D.C. - marriage equality is recognized. And the couple was doing a session out on a street, and a man walked by and harassed the couple, and threatened the photographer to break her stuff - her camera equipment. I have never heard an example of this for a straight couple. And this would be something that most photographers - it wouldn't occur to them to think that making the simple request of asking a couple to cuddle, even, but a same-sex couple to cuddle in a public place, could be a problem that would engender a negative reaction from people walking by.
But the other thing that's really important, and I've learned a lot from Thea about this, a photographer must help a couple feel comfortable, to really bring out their authentic selves. And if you ask a same-sex couple - and in particular, we see this with two grooms who might be a bit older, they came out long ago - it is a much more awkward proposition to ask them to be affectionate in public because they came up in a time when they were much more marginalized. So there are two parts to that, which is, one, protecting the couple and making sure that nothing bad happens in that context, but the second is understanding that there might be a couple that might have a limiting reaction and it might interfere with the trust that the photographer needs to build with the couple.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask you something else Kathryn, which is why - you were saying that when Thea called you to say, you know, I think we should kind of talk about this. People had been submitting photos to your site for a while and a lot of them were good but they weren't great. Why is that?
HAMM: Right. So I think some of it is, again, thinking back to these pose books, where a photographer takes a picture and - or, I'm sorry, looks at the picture of a couple and then out in the field tries to put them into that relationship, if you're used to looking at a male-female combination and then you plug-and-play that on a same-sex couple, there are going to be some elements of gender expression, one's masculinity or femininity that may not convey in that situation. And we don't always think about the ways in which these poses and how we traditionally see people, perhaps in a position of some power, that might be more present for some straight couples but not all couples.
MARTIN: Yeah, like the woman's being carried away. Like she's being picked up or carried somewhere...or she's supposed to look vaguely reluctant, which I've always wondered like, why is she looking reluctant, like why - you don't see the picture of the guy trying to escape with her holding onto his tails, or something, like, that you don't see. What's up with that?
HAMM: And there's so many of these things that are leftovers from, you know, weddings are somewhat out of time and place. A lot of straight couples don't fit the stereotype that photographers like me are trying to put them into to make images that are beautiful and that look like the wedding images that we, you know, we respond to.
MARTIN: Well, that was what I was going to ask you, Thea. Are there things that you have learned about shooting same-sex weddings that have actually freshened up the way you shoot mixed gender weddings?
DODDS: Absolutely and the biggest thing is just trying to meet a couple where they are, trying to figure out what is the dynamic of their relationship, and how can I photograph them in a way that will represent that. Because, in the end, I want to hand over wedding artwork, not just wedding photography. In this day and age anybody can pick up a camera and take a picture. I want to give somebody something that goes above and beyond that. And I think you do that by having a relationship with the people you're photographing and figuring out how to best represent them.
MARTIN: Kathryn, you're not a photographer as we mentioned but is there something that you can pass on in the course of just looking at the totality of your work as a consultant to same-sex weddings or that you learned in working on this book that you can pass on to somebody, who perhaps is just going to have a friend photograph the big day?
HAMM: Sure, well, the first thing I would say is be careful before you ask any friend to photograph your big day, because photographing weddings is not easy work, and as Thea likes to say, the wedding is not a time to practice this. Because it is really hard, it is really hard work and it's important work. So I would encourage couples to think about what take-aways they want have from their big days and if they do imagine having some really special photography or a special gallery of images, they need to think about that in the planning process.
MARTIN: Does each of you have a favorite image in the book? Thea, I'll start with you and then Kathryn, I'll ask you. Thea, what's your favorite image?
DODDS: Yeah, my favorite image is by Tammy Watson. It's in the engagement section, and it's this beautiful silhouette of two men holding hands on a hillside. And it's very dramatic at sunset in the desert, amazing, you know, pinks and purples in the sky. But this - when I saw this photo, it was a lightbulb moment for me because it's two men, they're connected, they both look very strong, they look very masculine. Often, I end up feminizing one person and masculinizing the other and not intentionally, it's just because that's my background. So it's fascinating to see that photo, lightbulb moment, this is what I want to go after.
HAMM: One of my favorites is called "The Kiss." It's by Scene One Photography, out from southern California. It has the picture of two grooms facing each other but all you see are their shoes. They have pants that are different-colored but complementary in tone. They each have polka dots on their socks. What's really neat about this image, beyond that the framing is just absolutely gorgeous, is that one of the gentlemen is standing tippy-toe. So I love this because it tells a traditional story of romance and it plays on some of the heterosexual storylines, but this is very clearly, in my mind, essentially two man having a kiss just off-screen - very arresting.
MARTIN: All right, great. Kathryn Hamm is president of gayweddings.com. She is coauthor of "Capturing Love: The Art of Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography." Thea Dodds is a professional photographer and the other coauthor of "Capturing Love." Thank you so much for speaking with us.
HAMM: Thanks for having us.
DODDS: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Coming up, R&B diva Chrisette Michele is back with a new album after taking some time off to get a new perspective on life.
CHRISETTE MICHELE: I'm in the best space, emotionally and physically, that I've ever been. I took some time away from any type of media where I just felt like I would have to explain myself and took some time to not explain myself to anybody except myself.
MARTIN: We'll talk about why she is better, and her new album by that name. That's next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.