10 Questions with Photographer, Terry Gruber

AS REPORTED BY MARIA MCBRIDE

 

TERRY GRUBER IS AN INTERNATIONALLY ADMIRED LEADER IN CONTEMPORARY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY WHO HAS BEEN WIDELY HONORED BY HIS PEERS.  HE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST REPORTAGE PHOTOGRAPHERS TO BRING A FASHIONABLE, SPIRITED EYE TO THE TYPICALLY STAID OR CHEESY WORLD OF WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY. THE CLASSIC BRIDAL PORTRAIT HAS NEVER BEEN THE SAME. 

HONORS: BEST OF THE KNOT, BEST OF CITISEARCH, MODERN BRIDE TRENDSETTER AWARD BOOKS: THE ART OF CELEBRATION, LIGHT X DESIGN: TWENTY YEARS OF LIGHTING

 

1)  WHEN DID YOU FIRST PICK UP A CAMERA PROFESSIONALLY AND WHY DID YOU PURSUE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY?

I HAD A SERIES OF AMATEUR CAMERAS STARTING WITH A BOX CAMERA AT EIGHT YEARS OLD.  IT WASN’T UNTIL I WAS A SENIOR IN HIGH SCHOOL THAT I ACQUIRED A NIKKORMAT IN MIAMI ON MY HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR PROJECT TO MAKE A SHORT ANIMATED FILM FOR A PSYCHIATRIST.  I PHOTOGRAPHED THE STREET LIFE AND BANYAN TREES IN COCONUT GROVE AND SOLD PRINTS TO PHOTO ENTHUSIASTS ON WEEKENDS. WEDDING INVITATIONS STARTED COMING IMMEDIATELY AFTER COLLEGE.  THE LAST THING I WANTED TO GIVE A FRIEND FOR A WEDDING GIFT WAS A REGENCY PATTERNED PLATE FROM THEIR REGISTRY, SO I BROUGHT MY LEICA M4 CAMERA AND SHOT PHOTOS AND MADE A FEW SERIES OF PRINTS AND BOUND THEM.  AFTER THE SECOND WEDDING I REALIZED THAT THE PHOTOGRAPHERS THAT WERE SHOOTING WEDDINGS WERE ONLY INTERESTED IN POSED FAMILY PICTURES AND THE “PIX SIX."

     1. BRIDE AND DAD DOWN AISLE    

    2. WEDDING KISS

    3. FIRST DANCE

    4. DANCE WITH DAD

    5. BOUQUET TOSS

    6. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD

WHILE THE PHOTOGRAPHER STOOD WATCHING OR WAS ON ONE OF HIS MANY BREAKS SPONTANEOUS AND EPIC MOMENTS WERE BEING MISSED THAT RELATED TO THE YOUTHFUL ENERGY IN THE ROOM.  THE BRIDE AND GROOM RECEIVING PRIVATE TOASTS, DRINKING SHOTS, GETTING GROUP HUGS, DANCING WITH THE FLOWER GIRL, CONGA LINES, THE LIST WAS LONG.  TAKING THOSE PHOTOS GAVE ME A RAISON D'ÊTREI WAS THE SELF-APPOINTED CO-PHOTOGRAPHER.  I DID THIS PASSIONATELY AND WITHOUT A CLIENT AT EVERY WEDDING I WAS AN INVITED GUEST UNTIL A COLLEGE FRIEND ASKED ME IF I WOULD BE THEIR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER.  THAT WAS MY FIRST PROFESSIONAL GIG UNTIL THERE WAS ANOTHER, AND ANOTHER. I DOUBLED MY FEE WITH EACH OUTING BUT NO ONE SEEMED TO NOTICE.  I BOUGHT MORE EQUIPMENT, HIRED MY GIRLFRIEND TO ASSIST ME, AND SOON I WAS NO LONGER SHOOTING FRIENDS FOR FUN BUT MOSTLY STRANGERS PROFESSIONALLY.

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2) YOUR VAST PORTFOLIO OF WORK IS MEMORABLE, I REMEMBER AN EARLY SERIES OF PHOTOS YOU TOOK OF GUESTS UNDERWATER IN EVENING CLOTHES, WAS THIS YOUR FIRST WEDDING PHOTO THAT TOOK THE WORLD BY STORM?  WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE REACTION?   HOW DO YOU STAGE DIRECT SPONTANEITY? 

YES.  THAT PHOTO WENT VIRAL BEFORE THERE WAS AN INTERNET.  IT WAS THE MOST POPULAR POSTCARD I PRODUCED WITH GO-CARDS - THE FREE POSTCARDS THAT WERE GIVEAWAYS AT RACKS INSIDE OF RESTAURANTS. WE HAD THREE PRINTING OF 40,000 OF IT.  THEN IT WAS INCLUDED IN MY BOOK GETTING MARRIED (30 POSTCARDS).  THE UNDERWATER PICTURE WAS THE PERFECT STORM OF PRE-VISUALIZING AND PRE-PLANNING.  I KNEW THAT A POOL PARTY WAS PLANNED AT RECEPTION SPACE, FLOWERFIELD IN ST JAMES, LONG ISLAND, AS THE REGGAE INSPIRED AFTER PARTY.  I RENTED THE UNDERWATER CAMERA, BROUGHT MY MASK AND SNORKEL, LOADED THE CAMERA, AND SET UP THE UNDERWATER FLASH HOURS BEFORE THE RECEPTION AND HID IT UNDER A TOWEL AND BATHING SUIT.  AT MIDNIGHT THE DJ ANNOUNCED THAT THE AFTER PARTY WAS IN THE POOL ROOM STARTING IMMEDIATELY OUT ON BOB MARLEY A CONGA LINE FORMED AND THE ENTIRE WEDDING PARTY AND GUESTS DANCED IN A LONG LINE INTO THE POOL AREA AND ONE-BY-ONE JUMPED INTO THE WATER IN THEIR OUTFITS.  I SNAPPED A FEW SHOTS OF THE JUMPS AND DUCKED BEHIND A PALM AND JUMPED INTO MY SWIMSUIT GRABBED MY MASK SNORKEL AND CAMERA AND LIGHTING ASSISTANT WITH A SECOND FLASH AND STARTED SHOOTING.  I WOULD SURFACE ASK THE GROOM AND FRIENDS TO SUBMERGE AND SHOOT A FEW PHOTOS.  IT WAS EXHAUSTING.  THE PHOTO GOT GREAT REACTIONS AND BECAME SIGNATURE PHOTO SPONTANEITY SYMBOLIC OF BEING “READY FOR ANYTHING.”  NO, I WASN’T SURPRISED BY THE APPEAL OF THESE PHOTOS.  WHEN YOU SEE AN IMAGE JUMP OFF OF A CONTACT SHEET AS IF THERE WAS NO OTHER IMAGE ON THE SHEET YOU CAN BE PRETTY SURE THAT IS A WINNER.  I ALWAYS USE A SMILE TO STAGE DIRECT SPONTANEITY IT INSTILLS INSTANT CONFIDENCE THAT WHATEVER YOU ASK OF THEM WILL LOOK AMAZING AND NOT CHEESY.

3) WHICH PHOTOGRAPHERS HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND WHY?

FOR THE MOMENT CAPTURED: ALFRED EISENSTADT AND CARTIER-BRESSON

FOR “THE VISION CREATED”: AVEDON, O. WINSTON LINK

FOR SHEER BEAUTY AND LIGHTING: GEORGE HURRELL & CECIL BEATON

4) B&W OR COLOR?  WHEN, WHERE AND WHY?  WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CAMERA?

MY FAVORITES:  ALWAYS LEICA, BLACK AND WHITE FILM, THE STREETS OF PARIS AND AT DUSK BECAUSE THE LIGHT IS SO BEAUTIFUL. AND PHOTOS WITH GRAIN - PLEASE.

 

5) I STARTED PAYING ATTENTION, WRITING AND WORKING ABOUT WEDDINGS WHEN LADY DI GOT MARRIED, SINCE THEN WE HAVE WITNESSED MANY CHANGES IN WEDDING TRADITIONS AND EXPERIENCES. AS SOMEONE WHO HAS LIKELY ATTENDED MORE WEDDINGS THAN THE MOST POPULAR RABBI IN NEW YORK CITY, WHAT ARE THE MOST NOTABLE CHANGES IN REAL WEDDINGS YOU’VE ADMIRED OR ABHORRED IN THE LAST 15 YEARS?   FEEL FREE TO VENT AND RAVE.

BEST NEW WEDDING TRENDS I ADMIRE: 

  • MORE CREATIVE LIGHTING DESIGN.  
  • PROFESSIONAL & DEFT PLANNERS WITH A VELVET TOUCH, INNER STRENGTH, AND DIPLOMACY! 
  • THE FIRST LOOK (IN ORDER TO SHOOT FAMILY GROUPS WITH LESS TIME PRESSURE BEFORE THE WEDDING). 
  • THE AFTER PARTY WHEN LOOSE MOST OF THE ADULTS AND COUPLES LET LOOSE.
  • THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE GARTER TOSS! 
  • NO MORE INDIVIDUAL TABLE PICTURES OR ANNOYING VIDEOGRAPHERS WITH 500-WATT LIGHTS.

MY LEAST FAVORITE TRENDS OR THINGS I HATE, BUT NOT NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER:  

  • PHOTOSHOP ACTION DRIVEN IMAGES THAT ARE WASHED OUT AND SUN STRUCK.  
  • THE INVASION OF GUEST PHOTOGRAPHERS AND GUEST VIDEOGRAPHERS.  
  • THE FIVE HOUR STYLED-ON-LOCATION ENGAGEMENT SHOOT.  
  • VIDEOGRAPHERS USING DSLR STILL CAMERAS THAT STAND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DANCE FLOOR ON A TRIPOD BLOCKING GUESTS SO PEOPLE ASSUME THEY ARE PART OF OUR PHOTO CREW.  
  • LASERS FOR THE BRIDE’S PROCESSIONAL, AT THE FIRST DANCE.  
  • SHOE PORN.  
  • BRIDES STRESSING OVER THEIR DIY PLACE CARDS.   
  • AND FINALLY, THE EVER GROWING NUMBER OF CLIENTS ON EACH WEDDING - COUNT THEM:  IT USED TO BE TWO: THE BRIDE AND HER MOM.  NOW ADD IN THE GROOM, THE GROOM’S MOM, GROOM’S DAD, THE PLANNER, THE FLORIST, THE CATERER, THE VENUE, THE CAKE DESIGNER, THE BAND, THE HARPIST, THE DJ AND THE LIMO DRIVER - EACH OF THEM REQUESTING YOU TO SEND THEM PHOTOS.

 

6) I TYPICALLY THINK OF YOU AS THE PHOTOGRAPHER WHO DROVE THE INTEREST A JOURNALISTIC STYLE OF WEDDING DOCUMENTATION, YOU WERE KIND OF LIKE THE ROCK AND ROLL BACKSTAGE PHOTOGRAPHER WHO PRECEDED THE GLAMA-RAZZI TREND RATHER THAN A CLASSIC PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER SO YOUR STUNNING GROUP PORTRAITS OF WEDDING GUESTS WHICH MUST BE A FEAT OF DIRECTION, LIGHTING AND PATIENCE AND WHICH REFLECT BACK ON A GOLDEN AGE OF GLAMOUR AND CIRCUMSTANCE SURPRISED ME.    HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO COMPOSE THESE SHOTS?  ARE THESE THE MOST COMPLICATED PICTURES TO EXECUTE OR DO THEY JUST LOOK THAT WAY?

HERE’S THE THING.  AT A WEDDING I MIGHT TAKE 3,000 DIGITAL PHOTOS AND NOT ONE OF THEM HAS EVERY PERSON THAT ATTENDED IN IT.  WITH THE BANQUET PHOTO I CAN COME TO A WEDDING TAKE ONE PHOTO AND ACCOMPLISH THAT.  THAT IS WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THEM.  IT COMPLETES THE JOB.   I PREFER EACH GROUP SHOT (BANQUET PHOTO) TO LOOK LIKE AN INSTANT CLASSIC.  THAT TAKES A TON OF PREPARATION AND UNDER 5 MINUTES OF DIRECTION.   THE 12X20 WOODEN ANTIQUE CAMERA NEEDS TO BE SET UP ABOUT 10 FEET HIGH ON A WOODEN TRIPOD, FINE FOCUSED, FROM FRONT TO BACK AND LOCKED DOWN.  THE FLASHBULBS (USUALLY 8 OF THEM) NEED WIRED.  THE CAMERA IS USUALLY IN A CORNER OF THE RECEPTION ROOM OR AT THE BOTTOM OF A HILLSIDE IF OUTSIDE.  IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE ABOUT 4 PEOPLE HELP MOVING FOLKS INTO FRAME OF THE PHOTO.  THEN IT’S A QUICK TALK VIA MICROPHONE OR MEGAPHONE TO GET EVERYONE TO UNDERSTAND THAT IF THEY CAN’T SEE THE LENS (BLOCKED BY SOMEONE IN FRONT OF THEM) THAT THEY WON’T BE SEEN IN THE PHOTO. AND LASTLY DIRECT THEM TO FREEZE FOR THE 1.5-SECOND EXPOSURE AND SHOOT. 

7)  FAVORITE WEDDING LOCATION? 

I FEEL WEDDING LOCATIONS ARE OVERRATED.  I’LL TAKE AN ATTRACTIVE FUN LOVING COUPLE WITH WARM FRIENDS AND FAMILY AT A GYMNASIUM OVER A TWO STIFF FAMILIES AT A CASTLE IN EUROPE. 

8) MOST OUTRAGEOUS IMAGE?

THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS PICTURES DO NOT GET SHARED ESPECIALLY THE CELEBRITY KIND. 

9) ARE PRINTED PHOTO ALBUMS STILL RELEVANT?  WHAT SORT OF IMAGE PRESERVATION IS REQUESTED MOST BY YOUR BRIDES?

ALBUMS ARE VERY RELEVANT TO THE BIBLIOPHILES, THE BOOK READERS AND THE ART COLLECTORS - NOT OF MUCH VALUE TO THE INCESSANT SCREEN WATCHERS, KINDLE OWNERS, AND GAME PLAYERS.  EARLY ON PEOPLE WANTED THEIR NEGATIVES, THEN THE CD, THEN THE DVD, THE HARD DRIVE AND NOW THE FLASH DRIVE OR IMAGES ON THE CLOUD. IRONICALLY A WEDDING SHOT IN 1990 AND WHERE THE COUPLE HAS THE NEGATIVES IS MORE VIABLE THAN A WEDDING SHOT IN 2005 WITH 5 CD’S THAT CAN’T BE READ.

10) DO YOU FIND THAT WEDDINGS AND WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS ARE ON THE FRONT LINE OF ARCHIVING SOCIAL CUSTOMS AND ANTHROPOLOGICAL FASHION STATEMENTS OR WILL FUTURE PHOTOGRAPHERS BE CROWD SOURCED AND THE ROLE OF A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER BECOME OBSOLETE?

WE, WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS, REMAIN ON THE FRONT LINE OF ARCHIVING SOCIAL CUSTOMS BUT IT APPEARS WE ARE MOVING SLOWLY, BUT INEXORABLY TOWARDS PHONE CAMERA CROWD SOURCING.  THERE ARE MORE AND MORE WEDDINGS THAT HAVE NO PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER SHOOTING IT.  THESE WEDDINGS HAVE NO ONE POINT OF VIEW OR STORYLINE. DIY HAS MOVED ON FROM FLORALS TO PHOTOGRAPHY.  REMEMBER IN THE EARLY DAYS DISPOSABLE FILM CAMERAS WERE PLACED ON EVERY TABLE WHERE THE GUESTS WERE ASKED TO SHOOT PICTURES AND THEN HAND THEM IN AT THE END OF THE NIGHT?  THIS HAS BEEN IN THE CONVERSATION FOR 25 YEARS.  IPHONES ARE JUST A BETTER DEVICE.   SEVEN YEARS AGO I CONSIDERED INVESTING IN A TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPED BY AN MIT GRAD THAT ALLOWED EVERYONE AT A WEDDING TO QUICKLY DOWNLOAD THEIR PHOTOS FROM AN EVENT INTO ONE DEVICE FOR THE COUPLE.  WHAT KILLED THAT WAS THE IPHONE.  PEOPLE STOPPED BRINGING CAMERAS WITH MEDIA CARDS TO WEDDINGS AND THE DEVICE DIDN’T HAVE A QUICK SOLUTION FOR PHONE PHOTOS WITHOUT COMPROMISING PRIVACY.