FLEA MARKET PHOTOBOOKS: 29 / MAR / 2021
A Fotojob Book
by Gordon Catling
Focal Press: London, 1945
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen
As per its straight-talking title, wedding photography is the principal concern of this pocket guide. Closer scrutiny, however, betrays that wartime nuptials are its particular focus. Uniforms are more common that tailcoats among the grooms depicted. Throughout the book, the social conditions of the period inflect the narrative.
The photography for which tuition is given is aimed at the formal white wedding; no deviations are provided for register office settings or those outside of the Christian church. The opening words establish that wedding photography is not "a creative job in an artistic sense". Strategies for image-making are highly conventionalised, arranged around a given set of photographable ‘incidents’, from the arrival of the bridesmaids to the cutting of the cake. These are choreographed minute-by-minute through detailed spreadsheets and pictorial diagrams in the style of a military operation. The author, Gordon Catling, who at the time of writing was serving as a captain in the army, claims to have attended over 700 weddings as a professional photographer; he knows the drill. His comprehensive systems for success are shared, from how to secure a first paid job to templates of threatening letters for when clients do not cough up.
Potential problems are outlined in detail, including dealing with brides who are not "facially flawless" and grooms in crumpled suits. Issue is taken with the practices of a hypothetical photographer who stays his hand until the married couple are roaring with laughter. What might be valued as spontaneous and authentic in our own time is "grotesque and vulgar" in another. A series of sample photographs, in the form of an eight-page black-and-white insert, gives object lessons in how to and how not to undertake the task. One example included as far from ideal stands out as the one in which the bride appears to be having the best time; she gleefully necks champagne like there is no tomorrow. Despite the dominant formality, the author also tackles situations that might seem surprising for the era, such as a bride who will not be photographed without her pet dog in tow.
Judicious shooting of only reliable and saleable scenes was imperative in an age when the expense of every exposure had to be carefully counted. Only two plates are to be used on the arrival of the bride to the church, for example, and just one on the couple as they leave. The discussion of equipment is particularly telling on the costs of consumables. In 1945 most cameras were unobtainable or only available at much inflated prices. Electricity provision was also not standardised; photographers are advised to carry a range of 2- and 3-pin plugs as "no two houses have the same type of fittings". These are ceremonies for straitened times, although the expectation that the job is about money and not love is clear. Wedding photographers are frequently positioned at the bottom of a professional hierarchy, admonished for delivering predictable results at high prices. For those purposes, the guide still stands. In drumming up business, the wedding photographer must remember that "etiquette ordains that the bride’s people are responsible for the photographer’s account"; they must be tapped directly. The techniques of "the market-square huckster" are to be avoided, but the issue of £.s.d. must be addressed by the practitioner who is businessman as much as craftsman.
Other aspects of etiquette are also outlined. Catling advises against disposing of spent flashbulbs between tombstones in the churchyard. Although it was by then considered acceptable by most clergy to photograph the ceremony, we are told that "to “flash” in church would be inexcusably out of place". Fraternising with ‘padres’ in order to drum up trade, however, is not unseemly; neither is paying church caretakers commission for recommendations. An appropriate ‘camera manner’ of tact, deportment and dress is detailed. Cutaway coat, morning trousers and topper convey the correct message: "a baggy pair of flannel trousers, and a stained mackintosh, are no advertisement for you or for the profession". Today’s diverse wedding celebrations in a range of informal settings with blended families and same sex partners could not be comfortably contained within Fotojob Books’ regulated remit. Their publications, they assert, "go to the point" and "stick to practical matters". They avoid"theoretical speculations and high-brow subtleties". Unfortunately, they also sustain and reinforce norms.