The Wedding Photographer

1.

I probably should keep this to myself but it is a story I have to tell. In order to assure that I do not offend this friend of mine who is the subject of my story, I will disguise his name and refer to him as Giovanni, or Gio (I have given him this name because it sounds similar to that of his favorite artist Caravaggio). If you, Giovanni, happen to read what I have written here, I hope you will understand that I worship at the altar of literature like you worship at the altar of photography. I must feed these literary spirits with stories that need to be told, just like you must take pictures. It would be a sin for me to remain silent.


2.

Giovanni is an artist whose medium is photography. He only takes photographs of his various body parts, which others and I have always thought to be a vain preoccupation. But like I said, he is an artist and some artists have vain predispositions. Unlike a lot of artists, Giovanni’s work has been published in various art magazines and he has had a few gallery shows in which he managed to sell a few things. However, Giovanni is still yet unable to escape from the ravages of that damming stereotype that haunts most artists- he is a starving artist. He starves more than any artist I know simply because he is fully committed to his craft and refuses to do anything else for pay.

At night Giovanni wonders the city streets with his camera under his arm like a gun that he will use to keep himself safe. He sits in bucolic cafes and writes in paper journals about his philosophy of art. He writes like a man who is writing a great philosophical treatise on the nature of the artist. From what I have read of his philosophy, I gather that Gio believes that the only thing an artist should pre-occupy him/herself with is the mystery of life. No television, movies, newspapers, books, friends, lovers or theatre should ever occupy more of an artist’s mind than the mystery of life itself. Since Gio feels as if he himself is the greatest mystery of all- “he himself” is his main subject. By pointing the lens of his camera upon his body, he is interrogating the nature of his material reality. He is asking the question, “What does it mean to be me?” and trying to make sense out of something that is impermanent (subject to the ravages of time) and unexplainable. This he believes is the ultimate purpose of his art.

This may also be the reason why he is poor. I try to explain to Giovanni that we are no longer living in Caravaggio’s time where an artist could be completely dedicated to his craft and still earn a meager living. We are aging men living in an age of technology, which demands that we learn how to compromise. Not many people are interested in buying photographs of an arm, foot, face, nipple, underarm, nose, eye, strand of hair, mouth and toe- I try to explain to him. However, he refuses to listen to reason. Gio is convinced that when he is long departed from this cruel world his work will greatly increase in value. “People will want a piece of me when I have crossed over into that other realm from which no one ever comes back,” he often explains. For now, Gio believes that living for his art is more meaningful than earning a living doing something he does not really want to do. But I understand that survival in our modern world costs money- so as a concerned friend, I was able to connect Giovanni with a gig as a wedding photographer.


3.

The wedding was a good opportunity for Gio to make a few extra dollars, $375 to be exact. I knew that he desperately needed the money to pay his rent, buy some food and get a creditor off his back. I was also hopeful that this one gig as a wedding photographer could lean Giovanni towards other opportunities in the profession.

Instead, this may have been the final gig that Giovanni will ever get as a wedding photographer. Giovanni not only failed to get dressed up for the wedding (he wore a black t-shirt with a Salvador Dali print on it of three naked women dangling above a table) but he also managed to take photos of only himself during the entire wedding. He snapped photos of himself besides the bride and groom, besides various guests, in front of the Torah and with the Rabi (it was a Jewish wedding). He even took photographs of himself wearing nothing but his boxer shorts in the bathroom. At one point towards the end of the celebration, the bride’s father caught on to what Giovanni was doing. He approached Gio and pointed out that Giovanni was taking photographs of himself. The father of the bride became enraged and Gio yelled back, “I am a true artist and I do not compromise my artistic vision for anyone!”  There was a few seconds of silence between them. The father of the bride was confused and caught off guard by Giovanni’s strange response. “But you have been hired as a wedding photographer?” the father replied. “Well then, I quit!” Gio screamed and walked out.

“How could you put me in such a situation?” was what I heard Giovanni drunkenly repeating on my answering machine later that evening. I knew something went terrible wrong. When I called him back he was drunk and enraged. I explained that I was only trying to help him out. “You have humiliated me not helped me! How could you? You know that I am an artist…. not a fucking wedding photographer!” Gio yelled. He repeated the word artist several times. “Okay Gio, but you need to eat, pay your rent and we live in a time that even the artist has to martyr themselves if they want to remain alive.” Giovanni then hung up on me.


4.

I have probably made the mistake of making this too personal already. If I were absolutely certain that Giovanni would never read what I have written here I would tell you more. Some things are so sacred that not even the sword of a writer’s pen should offer these pieces of information up to the altar of literature. Like my grandmother often said in response to my constant need to say too much about myself, “some things are better left unsaid, my little babushka.” I will tell you this- I have not seen Giovanni in over three months and we have not spoken since that belligerent phone call. I have heard from a mutual friend that Giovanni no longer wants to speak with me. He is locked away in his studio, taking continuous pictures of himself, which he tapes all over his brick walls. He has only been seen in public once, and at that time I am told he looked frighteningly pale and thin. Even though I have written here about one man’s private madness, there is no question in my mind that Giovanni is right about one thing. Years after Gio is dead his photos will be studied by art historians, shown in galleries around the world and collected by the rich (such is the absurd nature of the world in which we live). It is my hope, that at this future time, what I have written here will be of some help.

22 thoughts on “The Wedding Photographer

  1. Said this before, will say it again- you are a GENIUS! I am always expecting your writing to eventually hit a point where it can no longer get better. For over a year I have been reading your work and every time I wonder is this it? But with (almost) every new thing your write I am amazed. You just keep getting better. So please, keep on getting better………………

    1. Thank you Michelle for these very flattering words! Jeeeze. I hope that I can continue to meet your expectations. I plan on continuing to live and write and whatever comes up or out is what I will publish on this blog. I’m not really trying to get better…..just more honest. Hopefully my writing will continue to keep you entertained but I make no promises. Feel free to let me know if I am getting really bad.

  2. Ha! This makes me feel better. We asked a friend to take photographs at our wedding reception with our camera and he managed to take two spools of blank photos (yes, it was that long ago). At least he tried. I can just, um, picture this couple’s reaction to their wedding album.

    Thanks for your visit to my blog.

  3. How I missed the brilliance of your writing for so long? I can’t bear to think of all the good stuff I haven’t read. What a find. It has made my day to read this. Adding you to my reader right now….

  4. See. I am so impressed I can’t form coherent sentences. I meant ‘How have I missed’…I think. It’s been a long day. I have been subjected to fairy bread and every CD ever released by The Wiggles. All day I tried to think of ways to make myself temporarily deaf but I couldn’t escape the acute jolliness of ‘Hot Potato.’ I am listening to Nick Cave to recover.

    1. No worries, I can not form coherent sentences either. I have been studying sentence structure (compound sentences, complex sentences, simple sentences) but I still do not get it. But Nick Cave is someone that I do get and love and I am glad that you also use him as a form of recovery.

  5. Theatre of the Absurd is one of my favourites forms of drama! I performed Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ with my best friend Louise in highschool and we were voted most absurd (a great honour among thieves!). Existential angst is my speciality – and yours by the look of things.

    1. I only wish I could of been in high school with you to see this play. You were five steps ahead of me because in high school all I new about was tennis, girls, suffering and marijuana. Somehow I managed to avoid reading a single book until after I graduated from college and then I started dating this beautiful young lady who was a reader. She introduced me to Jack Kerouac. Virgina Woolf. Franz Kafka. Joyce. Beckett. I was not introduced to the existentialists until I was 26 and it was then that I dropped out of society, spent the next five or so years working odd jobs and spending most of my time reading. I guess all that reading paid off- because now you have given me the honor of being a specialist of existential angst. Nice.

      1. It certainly did pay off for you. I remember the teachers videoed our performance – all we did was sit around doing nothing, because the play is about nothing – I’d love to get a hold of that tape but somehow doubt it is still around. We went to a small school but it was a school that loved drama/plays.

  6. Oh that was a wonderful piece of writing. As a photographer myself, I can associate but only somewhat with Gio. I have been an artist through one medium or another all my life, and though I too believe that art has to be a pure medium of self expression and aesthetics, yet we have to balance on the rope and use our expertise in commercial assignments. many great artists have done that. Whether it was Kafka or Mozart or even Leonardo Da Vinci – and that is where a true artists is separated from the crowd, wherein you can still incorporate your artistic vision, your messages and hide them in what you “have to do” – something Vinci managed quite successfully!

  7. I like your interpretation Sumedh. Yes, it is all about finding balance but in our modern world where maximizing profits is the main motivation for most people it is challenging to stay focused on making art. However, I like you, believe it can be done. Simplicity and patience I think are the key and avoiding going to any one extreme. I think Mozart and Kafka had a hard time finding this balance, they suffered so much to achieve it- but in the end they left behind some wonderful art. It was the Russian theorist, Bahktin, who said the struggle for the artist is to be in art and life at the same time.

  8. Very true.
    But I would only slightly differ in my opinion from Bahktin’s because I personally find it to be damaging to the psyche if one separates life from art – life itself is a piece of art, a collaborative piece of art in a way. True, on the whole there may be many parts of this piece which we may not be find beautiful or pleasing, but they are the expressions of the “artists”, the people living and responding to whatever circumstances they have been disposed into. I say I slightly differ from Bahktin because he has said something which is true too – IF one takes life and art to be separate, then indeed it is a big struggle. But this struggle is different from what you said about Mozart or Kafka’s suffering – one may face circumstances which are terrifying even to imagine, yet one’s reaction to them determine whether we find it a struggle or not. Without suffering, the emotional and cathartic depth in art would always be found lacking.

    After all, it is all inherent in our perception, how we choose to interpret it. And the moment we look at life not being separate from art (or vice versa), then the balance gets struck of its own accord – then even to survive, this endless absurd struggle to stay alive in itself can become an art, treading along which we can continue to leave our creative footprints.

    Anyhow, I have no idea how comprehensible I am at the moment – my head is frozen and I would have to come back after a few hours to see if anything I said just now makes any sense.

  9. Makes perfect sense what you say and I think this is a nice ideal to strive for. I guess it just gets more complicated when the artist actually wants to make their living from their work. Then it is a bit challenging to blend life with art and so many artists struggle to combine the two- so they do not have to work at jobs which have nothing to do with their passion.

    This struggle, to be able to dedicate one’s self completely to art without having to work a separate job (to sell out), is I believe the main struggle of the artist in society today. This struggle may create “the tension” that the artist then uses to make good art (this is where I agree with Bahktin). It is the heroes journey I suppose but what you say about making art and life one is a nice ideal when you subtract the economic factors from the equation. Your perspective reminds me of Oscar Wilde who said that the artists greatest work of art is how they live their life.

    I also find it refreshing to hear you talk about making the choice to perceive life in ways that bring together art and life as not separate from one another. In the end how we experience the world is based in how we think about the world and it is nice to hear you reference this truth in such an elegant way. It is also a nice reminder for me. Thanks.

  10. Aw, but I think he did live his life to the fullest … living his principles as an artist. As a wedding caricature artist, I have also went through a lot in life. I may not be earning so much but I am indeed happy and contented with my life and on the things that I do. But I have not gone to that point of sacrificing my survival just to remain an artist. I guess I’m not that brave as Gio was.

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