Arts Magazine: Until Death Do Us Part

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

Until Death Do Us Part: Photographs by six Minnesota artists restore uniqueness to the wedding ceremony

Three days after the ceremony, my great aunt and uncle traveled some 75 miles to the city to pose for their wedding portrait. It must have been a hot day: the bride's organdy dress is crumpled and dirty, and the groom resolutely stares at the camera, perspiration accumulating on his staunch forehead. A painted backdrop of a bucolic sense belies the obvious inconveniences posed by the weather. The standard look of wedded bliss, in this instance, is absent, replaced on both faces by a knowing disappointment.

This type of wedding photograph, in which emotions or even the weather can be deciphered, is now practically extinct, as contemporary couples opt for posed and planned documentation of the big day. In fact, the wedding script is often acted out for the camera: The husband may kiss the wife; the happy couple cut the cake; the groom removes the garter; the bride throws her bouquet. So what if the musicians stop playing just before the bride walks down the aisle or if the ring won't fit a puffy finger; or if the groom hesitates a little too long before he says, "I do." The wedding album will attest to that generic "perfect day" for years to come.

For six photographers, whose work is on display in the Minnesota Gallery from October 20 until December 1, 1991, weddings are more than America's favorite ritual-they are unique pieces of theatre, in which emotions and expectations are on a collision course with human fallibility. Brides grimace, an uncle makes advances, the groom is drunk in the exhibition "Until Death Do Us Part," a selection of wedding photographs by Will Agar, John Gregor, Sue Kyllönen, Peter Latner, Mark Luinenburg and Diana Watters.

Appropriately, the idea for such an exhibition came about at a wedding. John Gregor and Diana Watters, photographers who had known each other as students at the University of Minnesota, met at the wedding of a mutual friend. They started talking about weddings as the perfect opportunity for the photojournalist. "All the human interaction happens in a short period of time," explains Watters. "You've got stress, tension, joy, discovery, two families trying to get to know each other. It's a heyday for a photographer."

Watters and Gregor had both photographed weddings before, Gregor as the offical "wedding photographer" and both as unofficial artists in search of more unusual images. They know of four other photographers who were also interested in weddings. Gregor and Watters, functioning as curators, assembled a group of images and applied for The Largest Jury in the World exhibition, administered through the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP). The proposal was first reviewed by MAEP's artists panel in the fall of 1990. Selected as one of eight finalists, the proposal was presented at MAEP's annual meeting. The 200 artists in attendance (the Largest Jury in the World) selected it for an exhibition.

The tension between the roles of wedding photographer and a photojournalist in search of images is best balanced, says John Gregor, by different formats. "I often will shoot the more formal poses with color. The black and white [film] I reserve for those moments that might be considered less than perfect."

Gregor's search for weddings to photograph has led him to answer ads in the paper and to follow up on an invitation he received in a bar to attend a wedding. Peter Latner, on the other hand, actually placed a want ad in a monthly magazine. His plea for weddings to photograph was answered by a couple in Dalbo. Latner's images of this small country wedding serve as respectful social commentary, and are resonant of another country wedding, photographed in 1954 by Frank Agar. (His son, Will Agar, is represented in the exhibition.) Frank Agar's dreamy and romantic images, reprinted in the exhibition's accompanying catalog, bespeak of a place and time in America when weddings were less encumbered by hype and industry.

Images by Will Agar, Luinenburg, Gregor, Watters and Kyllönen document situations that, in total, can restore specificity to the celebrations. Diana Watters's images from a wedding in Dike, Iowa, provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the wedding players. Rather than photograph the cutting of the cake, Watters went for that moment just before, when mother, bride and groom discuss how the deed will be done. John Gregor's photograph of a young woman in a hotel room with pre-wedding jitters is matched by Mark Luinenburg's picture of a starstruck, post-ceremony bride. Both Sue Kyllonen and Will Agar have captured intimate moments: Agar photographed the passing of sweet nothings between bride and groom and Kyllönen went to the dressing room for a back-lit shot of the bride buttoning her wedding dress.

Both Gregor and Watterss insist that these images are more than a candid camera at work. Indeed, they serve as documentation, a kind of photojournalism that reports the wedding as it is, not as it might be. The photographs in "Until Death Do Us Part" restore uniqueness to the universality of human experience, rituals and ceremony.

Until Death Do Us Part" will be on view in the Minnesota Gallery from October 20 until December 1, 1991. The exhibition opens Saturday, October 19, 1991 as part of Loading Dock Live!5 a multi-arts extravaganza, from 8 p.m. until midnight.

Financial support for the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program includes grants from the Jerome Foundation, Inc., and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and a departmental allocation from The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which receives a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, whose funds are appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature. Special thanks to Procolor for its assistance with "Until Death Do Us Part."

Citation: Kira Obolensky, "Until Death Do Us Part: Photographs by six Minnesota artists restore uniqueness to the wedding ceremony," Arts14, no. 10 (October 1991): 18-19.