A New York-based commercial, magazine, and fine art photographer, John Dolan is particularly renowned for his wedding photography. Over thirty-five years, his lens was present at more than 350 weddings, including those of celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Will Smith, Ben Stiller, to name a few. His latest book The Perfect Imperfect, published by Damiani, conveys a sense of the unexpected and captures some of the most intimate emotions stirred up on those special days.
John Dolan photographed a wedding ceremony for the first time when his brother was getting married in 1987. He recounts the event: “I was his best man. Our eldest brother, Fred, a Catholic priest, was performing his first ceremony. The three of us joked and teased nervously in the sacristy just before mass. During a lull, all went quiet and I looked over at Michael sitting under a window. This person with whom I shared a room for the first thirteen years of my life was about to walk down the aisle. He sat forward, poised, anxious to begin the proceedings. I raised my camera and only the altar boy noticed.”
That photo is included in Dolan’s new book: his brother is seated in the center, wearing a suit and a bow tie. His bright, white boutonniere contrasts with his somber, worried face. He is waiting with some trepidation for the bride to arrive and for the ceremony to begin. “Is this a good idea?,” “Is she coming?” Dolan skillfully captures these moments, which have been prepared and rehearsed, and yet are tense, subject to the unforeseeable.
Whatever the ceremony, the process is the same: the preparation, the vows, and the celebration that follows. And yet each of these events is unique, as are the people who are getting married, their entourage, the chosen venues. What interests John Dolan in the practice of wedding photography is that this highly symbolic event is a cauldron of emotions. With all the random little things, the wedding ceremony often takes on the appearance of organized mayhem.
This is where the wedding photographer can pluck all the living material he needs: “Weddings exist at the crossroads of everything I love to photograph: families, lovers, nervous people. I knew where I could find that intersection each weekend. The chaos of a bride’s house on a wedding day a photographer at wedding felt instantly familiar to me. Crowded bedrooms full of people in various states of undress was my normal morning growing up with five siblings. A camera is invisible in the middle of bedlam and that frees a photographer to record quietly.”
Dolan also looks for the fragility and imperfection at the heart of the ritual. As the celebrants are getting ready, he photographs the brides in their immaculate white dresses. Sometimes saintly, other times spectral, these women often appear pensive in the last moments of solitude—even as they are surrounded by people—before taking the plunge into the ceremony and a shared life.
Dolan also shows the dazzled looks of proud fathers who get emotional admiring the beauty of their daughters, whom they are about to deliver into the arms of another. The mothers run over the ceremony in their heads and wonder if they have forgotten anything. The bridesmaids, dressed up to the nines, prepare for their parade or gossip while scanning the room as if to pick out the singles. Meanwhile, the guys seem to carry on their bachelors’ party, roaring with laughter. The best man rehearses his speech at the last minute in the garden. And the indifference of the little flower girls as the bride and groom walk down the aisle is also very touching.
Then, as the young couple exchange vows, everything seems to relax, as if the union of the two lovers and their families had dissipated any doubts. With virtuosity, John Dolan captures the two spouses kissing and embracing. He plays with the light, with black and white, as well as the fabric of the veil, the dress, and the suit and tie: he makes the two lovers merge in sublime impressionist paintings, a promise of an eternal union.
By Marie d’Harcourt
Maris d’Harcourt is a writer at Blind Magazine and based in Paris.
John Dolan, The Perfect Imperfect. The Wedding Photographs of John Dolan, Damiani editions, 268 pages, 195 illustrations, 75€.
The choice of photographer is crucial to immortalise this unique moment. Spark assists the bride and groom in choosing the right photographer for their wedding day.