An open letter to vicars

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An open letter to vicars

 – or, ‘Are you there God, it’s me, the photographer?’

Dear Vicar,

I am writing an open letter to Vicars. Not all Vicars, I hasten to add, but unfortunately it’s becoming such a regular occurrence, that I feel compelled to write to all those that it applies.

You do not have to be religious to understand the depths of human spirit that a Church ceremony invokes. I have been in some ceremonies as a photographer where I have felt the incredible amount of love lift from the congregation, it is almost palpable. In others, the singing and the sermon have genuinely moved me to the point of tears. I get it. The power of a Church ceremony still holds true to this day. I understand why it is important to those who believe in God. For a lot of families, the couple are getting married in a Church they have attended since birth and it goes back for generations. For some it is more than just a Church wedding. It is something so special it is difficult to put into words.

Having a great reputation locally means that I have been lucky enough to photograph the ceremony of the daughter of a Vicar, which included a sermon from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who I have a massive amount of respect for.

Most recently, I photographed a beautiful ceremony where the Vicar was the Father of the Groom. It has been a privilege to photograph couples with children, without children, with both parents, where one parent is absent or has sadly passed away. There is nothing quite like the significance of the moment when a Mother walks her daughter down the aisle.

Being a photographer fills me with huge amounts of gratitude for human life. I feel at my most humble when photographing a wedding. I see lives playing out in front of me, memories being made. It is this magnitude of human spirit and love that makes my choice of career worthwhile. When my daughter looks back at my own wedding photographs I see the magic dancing in her eyes, “Is that YOU?!” *giggling* “Is that DADDY?!”. They mean so much to me, to her and to her future children. Photographs are made of magic.

Susan Sontag, a famous philosopher on photography, says the camera exerts a kind of,

“mechanical genesis”.

Photographs are not just pieces of paper or digital files. They are little worlds for future generations to explore.

Unfortunately not everyone sees it that way.

There is a story that goes round, told by Vicars, that there was once a photographer who climbed over pews during a ceremony to get “their” shots. There was a videographer who stopped the ceremony in order to get into a better position. A photographer flashed (their camera) in the Vicars face and made them forget their words. There is a photographer who ran up and down the aisle with no care in the world for the actual ceremony. There is a photographer who leaned so far in during the ring shot they nearly fell over. I have to agree with those Vicars here. That photographer is a massive douchebag.

But I am not that photographer.

I am the photographer who turns up early to greet you, shake your hand and ask where is a reasonable place to stand (usually to one side, not centrally in view).

I am the photographer who doesn’t need to be told not to use flash inside (despite the horrific orange lighting and dark walls).

I am the photographer who dresses respectively and wears rubber soled shoes so as to remain quiet.

I am the photographer who daren’t move a muscle (or even breathe) throughout the entire ceremony.

I am the photographer who is polite and respectful at all times, no matter what your attitude to me is like.

I am the photographer who wont bring bags of equipment to clog up the aisles or what space there is. I’ll only bring the bare essentials of kit.

I am the photographer who has a silent camera shutter and knows how to switch it on. You can barely hear me.

I am the photographer who will keep the memory of this service, this church and your sermon alive for generations.

Don’t get me wrong, I love an unplugged wedding. I think if everyone had their iPhones, iPad’s and Dslr’s out during the ceremony it would be a massive distraction for the couple and I tend to agree with the Vicars here. However, one professional photographer is not going to make people bat an eyelid.

There is an increasing number of Vicars who, upon learning that I am the photographer become downright rude, which is personally upsetting. I am not just a photographer; I am an educated respectful member of society; a Mother, a daughter, a sister – I am a person. The attitude by some is simply disrespectful. I should not feel persecuted for attempting to do a good job for what my couples have paid thousands of pounds for me to do.

Quite often photographers are completely banned from taking any photographs from the moment the couple enter the Church to the moment they leave. If there was some historical significance to this, if this was a standard kept up and down the country or, perhaps, if it was inscribed into stone, then maybe, just maybe I could fathom why this was necessary.

Recently a Vicar banned me from using my camera during the ceremony at all. I asked if it was OK to take a couple of photographs from the back during a hymn, since her reason was that the camera ‘clicks’ (I have a silent shutter) put her off. However, this wasn’t allowed and of course, out of respect I stowed my camera and did not take one photograph for the full hour. Once outside the church and during the confetti throwing, the same Vicar took her iPad and stood in front of me. I have always been taught that respect is reciprocal.

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Once in a ceremony, I was parked to the side of the Church with a sideways view of the couple. The couple had asked me to take a photograph of an elderly Aunt who was performing a reading at the lectern. In order to not get the back of her head I walked 5 steps to get the photograph, silently with my rubber shoes, not one person looked at me as they were all transfixed by the Aunt who they were in awe of,  as she was delivering her reading so well despite her ill health. I managed to get one click (silent shutter). The Vicar stopped the reading and demanded I walk back to position before she continued. People obviously noticed me then. It was highly embarrassing for everyone. The Aunt passed away 6 weeks later. I am so glad I got that one silent click.

I have countless stories. Mostly, sadly, of rudeness.

However, there are some great ones too and one in particular.  There is Vicar who I regularly see called Father Julian. He turns up about 5 minutes before the ceremony smoking a pipe. He tells me to “do what I want”. Of course I am still completely respectful and hide myself into a position where no one can really see me, I don’t use flash and I switch my silent shutter on. He gives a fantastic sermon with his great booming voice and captivates everyone. His services, I have been told, are always full. He is friendly, approachable and encapsulates all that is great about a Church wedding, the kind that sends tingles up my arms.

When attendance at church is at an all time decline with numbers falling below one million for weekly attendance, it is those Vicars who embrace modern times; who demand respect, but who themselves are respectful, who will continue to draw in the crowds.

To those Vicars who have rudely barked at me, glared at me and banned photography completely and arbitrarily, I ask you to think again. Not all photographers are the devil. Most are normal respectful people who are keen to keep the peace. Give us a chance.

Yours respectfully,

The Photographer.

 

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Showing 17 comments
  • Lesley Burdett

    Bloody awesome Clare. Respectfully from another of ‘those’ photographers.

    • Clare Adams

      Thank you Lesley.

  • Sarah London

    Something I’d have loved to have written myself only it would never have sounded so eloquent. Luckily most of my experiences with churches have been great, but I do shoot very few church weddings. However I hear these stories almost every week from other photographers across the country and because of these experiences I know MANY photographers who now simply turn down wedding enquiries with a church ceremony because they don’t want to have deal with these situations.
    I’d like to add many registrars in non religious ceremonies aren’t much better either ….. but that’s a whole other letter 😉
    Very well said xx

    • Clare Adams

      Thank you, Sarah. Yes, I agree, that is most definitely another letter! 😉

  • Jon

    Brilliant Clare. This should be sent to the Church of England to be passed onto all of the diocese so that some sort of president is set. After all, the wedding industry is a big part of the churches income.

    Well put

    • Clare Adams

      Thank you, Jon. I do hope it initiates something that will be good for both sides.

  • Canon Mark Soady

    As one of the Vicars photographed amy I comment. I started out my ministry allowing total freedom for photographers, but it is unfortunately some photographers themselves who have spoilt it.
    1.The photographer who asked me to move because I was in his way when conducting the service
    2.The photographer who I found lying on the floor between the bride & Groom and me taking photos from that position.
    Mark A Church in Wales Vicar

    PS Lovely photos!

    • Clare Adams

      Hi Mark,

      Thank you for commenting, I completely understand how that would put you off, that is just unacceptable behaviour from someone who calls themselves a professional. I understand why you’d be put off from allowing “total freedom”. I wonder if there is a way for you to suss out the professionals from the not-so, a form to give out, or from our side, some kind of ‘body’ we photographers could join where three Vicar’s can give recommendations for us to be on it. That way you have some way of knowing that professional meets a certain standard?

      For what it’s worth, my local clergymen and women are all wonderful.

  • Mark Nortcliffe

    This is so well written. It is unfortunate when a handful spoil it for the rest of us. I would hope no one goes out of their way to be disrespectful but I’m sure it happens. Its just an education and an understanding or each others role being played out as part of the bigger picture. Clare you have expressed what so many of us would like to say and so eloquently.

  • Dean Robson

    Wow, you have an amazing writing skill! You have summed it up and put into words the feelings of probably all professional photographers in the land. You’ve done it fairly and with dignity. Well said! I’ve had so many pre-ceremony run ins with rude and unwelcoming vicars (mainly CofE), I always make a point of being extra friendly and polite, and when possible will thank them after the ceremony (even though they didn’t show the same respect to me). I’m not religious, but I do wonder what their God would think about how his/her employees/servants are handling his PR, I guess they will find out at their final appraisal 😉

  • Nick Hamilton

    As a Vicar, I cannot think of a single wedding where I’ve had an issue with a photographer (now baptism services on the otherhand… i’ll come to that in a moment) As you say, I always greet the photographer and they usually ask me where they can stand and I simply say anywhere discrete. I hope I have always come across as reasonable. At the singing of the register i do say that we will do mock ups once the actual signings are complete so that part of the service can be completed efficiently. I’m not quite sure what i’d do if some of those things mentioned above happened.

    I don’t know what it is about baptism services, unlike weddings, these are part of our main regular sunday services with many regular church members, some of who I know do not wish to be photographed and not only do half the visitors sit there with ipads, etc out, families don’t seem to grasp that it is a service of worship and whilst we happily do as many mock ups of the baptism after the service as requested, it feels to many that a photographer moving about isn’t quite right.

  • alistair jones

    brilliant!

  • Pauline Bicknell

    Love this ❤️ I always seek to work constructively with every photographer at weddings I conduct but sadly this doesn’t always happen. Will point photographers to this article so they understand better both perspectives. Thank you for your insights and communicating them so well. I’m just sad that distance means you’re unlikely to conduct a wedding I’m officiating at.

  • Diana Golding

    Excellent – said it for all of us – thank you very much.

  • Joanne

    Your letter was a huge comfort to me, as like you, I too take all of the steps you take to ensure that I am as unobtrusive as possible, and yet I have experienced some very poor treatment. One vicar insisted myself and my husband were not even allowed inside the church. I was astonished since I was always raised under the assumption the Gods house was open to all. The father of the groom intervened on that occasion and we were allowed in. Another admonished me for as he put it, ‘stealing two hours of the couples wedding day.’ I have been guarded by bellringers, asked by another vicar to deal with a heated argument between the groom and his mother (surely not my role!) and asked by another vicar to ask guests to wipe their feet before entering the church! My faith was restored by a charming Catholic Priest who not only welcomed me to his church but said he would say a prayer that my job that day would be easy, stress free and joyous! It is most unfortunate that unprofessional photographers have put us all in a situation where we cannot trust one another to do the job we love.

  • Laura Dalton

    I’m a vicar, you’d be welcome at my weddings!

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