To Have, to Hold, to Record: The Aesthetics of Wedding Videography*

27 Mar

Weddings around the world are celebrated as milestones not only for the couple and their families, but also as veritable cultural, social and religious occasions that necessitate documentation. In the days before written communication came to be, people relied on word-of-mouth to hear accounts of such gatherings.

Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride (The Arnolfini Marriage) by Jan Van Eyck

As centuries wore on and human civilizations advanced, art styles like portraiture were employed to commemorate the union of two individuals. Such commissions, however, had a long production time, taking anywhere from three months to two years before completion (Weiss 1-2).

With the advent of photography, studio portraits became the rage for newlyweds. Advancements in technology, however, have made it possible to photograph couples not only in a studio, but right during the ceremony itself. Recent years have seen an upgrade of wedding coverage from on-site photography to on-site videography.

In the early days of wedding videography, the bride and groom were fortunate if either of them had a relative with a video camera or camcorder. The latter was then given the task of documenting the wedding, from the preparations to the ceremony proper and the reception. As might be expected from someone with little or no training in videography, however, the quality of such footage was erratic.

When events planning firms started offering videography into their wedding packages, the final outputs were mere footages of the whole event. There was little non-linear editing, and only sound effects and text labels broke the monotony. At this point in the history of the medium, wedding videos could only be obtained from the videographer days or weeks after the event.

The advent of modern wedding videography revolutionized events coverage the world over. Besides the standard whole-event footage, couples now have the option to avail of their own prenuptial (commonly referred to as “prenup”) and/or same-day edit video. Each video takes anywhere from five to ten minutes, as agreed upon by the videographer and his clients.

Hong Kong, China --- Couple have wedding photos taken in Starbucks on Duddell Street, Central, Hong Kong. Image by © Catherine Karnow/Corbis.

The prenup video is shot weeks or months before the wedding, and may feature only the couple or members of their immediate family. Same-day edits, meanwhile, refer to audio-visual presentations of the wedding (including the preparations and the early part of the reception) which the videographer will edit on-the-spot and present before the reception draws to a close.

For Bill Gaff (Merfeld n.p.) of Human Story Films, recent revamps in the practice of wedding videography have the best of both worlds, with “the intimacy of documentary style plus the poetry of the cinematic style”.

Chris Watson of Watson Videography considers these developments “more revolution than evolution” (Merfeld n.p.), likening their effect on the classic documentary style of videography to the effect of photojournalism on “straight” photography.

Despite these new formats in videography, practitioners still swear by certain motifs to complete the wedding video. Filipino videographer Jason Magbanua shared in an interview: “The conventions I really watch out for would be the priceless, unrepeatable moments – the groom’s reaction as the bride approaches, enters the church and approaches the aisle. Of course, the entrance of the bride herself, the reaction of the parents, of the people around her – these are the unrepeatable things that I want to be caught on film.”

WEDDING VIDEOGRAPHY AS ART

For the first level of analysis, let us explore the concepts, constructs and components that abound in the perceptions and practices of wedding videography to determine whether or not it may be construed as art. To do this, we will first review – and subsequently juxtapose wedding videography with – three broad definitions or facets of art as summated by Barry Hartley Slater (n.p.): art as representation, expression and form.

 

Representation

This view of art, promoted by Plato and adapted onto the late 18th century, emphasized the mimetic relationship between art and nature. This connoted that artistic outputs – be it poetry, song, movement, or visual art – were “artificial” and contrived, worthy to be deemed aesthetic only if they draw attention away from their contrivedness by effectively mimicking what exists “naturally” in nature.

Wedding videos, be they prenuptial or ceremony coverage, are at most only five to ten minutes long. To extend the total running time of the output would be to go against the premise of modern wedding videography, which is to zero in on minute details to show and not tell the bigger picture of the ceremony.

Close up of elegant high heeled shoes. Image by © Kyle Monk/Blend Images/Corbis.

Thus, the videos rely heavily on figurative shots. These include the couple sharing a laugh while holding hands, close-ups of the wedding rings, the groom’s shoes and intricate features of the bride’s gown, tightly edited montages of guests, situationers of the church and the reception venue.

By focusing only on fragments of the pre-wedding and actual wedding footage for the final cut, videographers showcase important elements of the couple’s relationship and marriage rites through deliberate visual synecdoche.

 Expression

Not all of Plato’s contemporaries, however, agreed with the representation theory of art. The Aristotelian viewpoint supposes a cathartic aspect to the production of art. With his imagination and tools at hand, the artisan is able to stretch his artistic wingspan as a means to self-expression and, to some extent, self-actualization.

In the case of wedding videography, however, it is not so much the videographer who undergoes catharsis, but his subjects – the couple who commissioned the coverage. For prenup wedding videos, the bride and the groom “perform” as lovers before the camera – looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, locking one another in a tight embrace, sharing a tender kiss, etc.

Bride & Groom. Image by © Fiona Conrad/Corbis.

Such performances may be either or a combination of the following: their natural gestures of affection towards one another, or the result of a conscious effort to mimic (here we see representation at work once more) what two people in love should  look like, as suggested or dictated by what they have seen from books, movies and daily interaction with other people.

It is perhaps the emotional fulfillment and anticipation of immersing themselves into the reel and real role of being each other’s lifetime partner that provide catharsis for the bride and groom.

The second aspect of wedding videography as an expressive art is the role of audience response. Magbanua, who has been in the events coverage business for twelve years, is a firm believer in the emotional pull of wedding videos.

He says, “A decade ago, [wedding videography] was all cheese – a throw-away kind of thing that people get just because everybody else got it. It’s different when you’re affected and when you’re part of it – as a friend, a family member, or, you know, the couple itself. And that’s kind of obvious.

“But when people who have nothing to do with the wedding, people who are complete strangers to the couple, people like students in college or high school, get moved by this – you’ve made something special. So I think that defines the thing that I do as art. I make no assumptions, but if art is something that has the capability to touch something inside of a person on a different level, I suppose that is what we’re doing.”

Form

Events coverage, particularly modern wedding videography, borrows many conventions and techniques from filmmaking; this is true not only for its documentary aspect but also for its more creative facets.

Magbanua stressed that besides the poignant footages of the subjects, excellent cinematography is key to a good wedding video.  But while anyone with a gadget capable of video recording can shoot footage of a wedding, not everyone can effectively videograph it.

In his memoir Notes from a Retired Wedding Videographer, CFA Weiss stresses the distinction between an amateur and a professional videographer. He characterized amateurs as non-artists “without the passion and eye for creation”, whose works are “often lame and impotent – thereby more so providing a video record of their own professional inadequacies or mistaken choice of spend-thrift wedding planners than a media-worthy video record of a special event” (3).

Bride and bridegroom smiling cheek to cheek. Image by © Aid/amanaimages/Corbis.

Weiss added that a professional does not just rely on his experience, equipment or knowledge of the craft. Rather, he challenges himself every time by adjusting to the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of each event coverage.

“The actual professional documentary style moves in sync with the happy couple throughout their day, capturing the little details as well as the big picture, and is unafraid of using a little artistic motion (not all shoulder shots) – for in the end, that’s what life is all about: motion,” he said.

 

 AESTHETIC VALUE

Having established wedding videography as art vis-à-vis the three broad definitions of representation, expression and form, let us now look into its aesthetic value for the second level of analysis.

When deciding whether or not to buy into the marketed necessity of wedding videography, soon-to-be-wed couples practice what Monroe Beardsley dubs the “point of view” terminology (121).

This selective association entails breaking free from external considerations (such as budget constraints versus the recommendations of the wedding planner) with the purpose of drawing attention to the set of considerations they wish to prioritize and underline (such as the importance of sticking to the budget versus the compulsion to document the wedding for posterity).

Beardsley (122) expounds thus: “I ask myself what I am doing in adopting a particular point of view, and acting toward an object in a way that is appropriate to that point of view; and, so far as I can see, it consists in searching out a corresponding value in the object, to discover whether any of it is present. Sometimes it is to go farther: to cash in on that value, to realize it, to avail myself of it.”

Portrait of newly wed couple holding balloons at wedding reception. Image by © Matthias Ritzmann/Corbis.

More than presenting additional financial concerns, deciding whether or not to commission a wedding video requires the couple to weigh in on the importance of the latter’s aesthetic and functional gratification.

There is a school of thought in aesthetics that espouses functionalism as the root of aesthetic gratification. This variant is known as the “reduction thesis”, and was made popular in 1941 when Herbert Read posed this philosophical question: “We have produced a chair which is strong and comfortable, but is it a work of art?”

To this, he replied, yes – the chair’s perfect fulfillment of its function as something firm and easy to rest on made it art. “Fitness for function,” Read added, “is the modern definition of the eternal quality we call beauty, and this fitness for function is the inevitable result of an economy directed to use and not to profit (qtd. in Hansson).”

From a functionalist perspective, wedding videos appeal not only to the couple’s fancy, but also serves two particular purposes for two distinct audiences: to preserve the participants’ memories of the event and to acquaint those who were absent with what went on in the ceremony (Cubitt 5).

Couples too will someday be able to share their wedding videos with their children. Furthermore, it will help them remember loved ones who are no longer with them. Matt Pines of Life Video, an Ohio-based events coverage company, recalled the story of a bride whose grandmother passed on shortly after the ceremony.

According to Pines, she was initially hesitant to pay the price of the videography services. After her grandmother’s death, however, she told him “the quality has gone on and the price has been forgotten (“Lasting Memories” 169).”

In the case of wedding videography, we see aesthetic dualism at work as its artful form serves to complement its purpose of encapsulating memories. The function of documenting a milestone in the lives of a couple and the optimal use of film elements like mise-en-scene, editing and cinematography combine to make modern videography more engaging – and, to some extent, more effective in its function – than the simpler, chronologically linear videography style of yesteryears.

Sometime after the ceremony, most videographers upload their works in video sharing sites like Youtube or Vimeo. This online presence also serves different purposes for the different parties involved.

For the videographer, keeping an online repository of finished outputs is an effective marketing tool: it provides potential customers access to his body of work, and is an immediate and accessible feedback platform for what he does, what he has done, and what he still can do.

Wedding party. Image by © Matthias Ritzmann/Corbis.

For the wedded couple, web uploads make for easy sharing with loved ones and friends the world over, especially those who were not present during the actual ceremony.

For the broader online audience, the internet becomes a venue for them to view the intimate moments of strangers, share in their joy, or simply widen their appreciation for and perception of what wedding videography could be.

To conclude, modern wedding videography is both documentary and artistic. This newly invigorated branch of art is unique in that it zeroes in on both the universality and uniqueness of a particular couple’s wedding experience. This marriage of the personal and of the universal bridges instead of divides form and function, combining the best of both worlds to emerge on its own as a distinct and dynamic art form.

Works cited

 Beardsley, Monroe. “The Aesthetic Point of View.” Contextualizing Aesthetics: From Plato to Lyotard. Eds. Gene Blocker and Jennifer Jeffers. Canada: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999.

Cubitt, Sean. “Videography: The Helical Scan.” Videography: Video Media as Art and Culture. Hong Kong: Macmillan, 1993. Print.

Hansson, Sven Ove. “Aesthetic Functionalism.” Contemporary Aesthetics 3: n. pag. 17 Oct. 2005. Ann Arbor: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library. Print.

“Lasting Memories.” Cincinatti Wedding. Winter 2003: 168-169. Print.

Magbanua, Jason. Personal interview. 23 Mar. 2012.

Merfeld, Elizabeth Avery. “Meet the New Doc.” EventDV: the authority for event videographers 21.1-12 (2008): n.p. Print.

Slater, Barry Hartley. “Aesthetics.” Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy (2003): n. pag. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.

Weiss, C.F.A. Notes of a Retired Wedding Videographer: From Proposal to Reception. Bloomington: Author House, 2006. Print.

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Disclaimer: T’was submitted as a final requirement for Philosophy 181 (Aesthetics) under Prof. Perseville Mendoza.

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