Dorothea Lange and Jack Delano

Do you remember a time when photography was your way of experiencing and explaining the world?

This week’s series was inspired by Annie Leibovitz and the FSA Photographers of the Great Depression. The articled asked some challenging questions.

Is it possible to do the work that we are moved to create while we are doing commissioned work? What if we started looking at lists and schedules and the routine of shooting wedding after wedding as an opportunity rather than a hindrance to creativity? What if the shooting script expanded our creative options rather than limiting them?

The FSA required its photographers “to be more than an artist, more than an adequate mechanic. He must be something of a sociologist, something of an economist; he must be a good deal of wangler, equally at home with a hostess or a farmer’s wife; he must have a healthy nose for news coupled with a thorough skepticism of biased information; and more than anything else, he must have a basic understanding for the meaning of his story. This, as far as possible, the script should provide.”

An FSA photographer, however, could not rely solely on the shooting script. The photographers were also required to read everything from the daily news and “usual books” but also anything which “may have a bearing on the problems of the region they are engaged in covering.” The FSA photographer was expected to be thoroughly prepared and educated before ever taking a single photograph. (Excerpted from The F.S.A. Photographer, 1935?)

There is a common misconception that documentary photographers simply capture the world as it unfolds before them. This way of thinking unfairly emphasizes luck and “being in the right place at the right time.” The job of a documentary photographer does not entail simply waiting for moments worth photographing. In reality the more prepared you are, the more planning you do, and the better your “shooting script,” the more likely it is that you will be in a position to capture not just the expected, planned moments but also the unexpected, extraordinary moments.

Preparedness gives you freedom; the freedom to experiment, to take risks, to capture moments in between in unexpected and extraordinary ways. Preparedness also gives you the freedom to shoot for yourself while fulfilling your duty to your client. Being prepared and knowing your “script” means that you can see opportunities in the moments in between to push your creative boundaries.

Of course lists and requests from clients can go overboard. Your skills as sociologist and psychologist come into play in managing your clients’ expectations. While the FSA sent its photographers out with lists and scripts and kept detailed records of what was captured and what was missed, Roy Stryker considered these scripts simply to be guidelines. He knew some things would be photographically impossible to achieve. The FSA also was not closed-off to the idea that something better or more perfect to the central project might cross their photographers’ paths. They trusted their photographers to capture these moments as well. In our job as wedding photographers, we must inspire our clients to have that kind of trust in us.

My mind was whirling as I left the Symposium. All of the panelists had touched in some way on the importance of feeding your creative soul – not just in your side projects and personal work – but in the work you do that pays the bills!

So many times I have heard wedding and portrait photographers lament about the lack of time to do personal work, or the grind of shooting the same thing weekend after weekend. We know the script. We have our “must shoot” lists.

But what would happen if we challenged ourselves to look beyond the scripted, beyond the expected? What can we accomplish when our perceived negatives become assets instead of liabilities?

Written by Jessica Del Vecchio
Jessica is a portrait and wedding photographer based in Washington, DC where she started her business in 2003. When she’s not focused on commissioned work, she likes to play with old cameras, b&w film and alternative printing processes. Jessica also volunteers her time and photography skills to Bread for the City and Operation:LoveReunited. If you can’t find her on a non-working day, chances are she’s in one of DC’s many museums and galleries.

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