Gondola Newlyweds 01

Gondola Newlyweds 01309
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One Essay Response

  1. nicole.nathan says:

    I do. Or, do I? Alone—perhaps for the first time as a married couple—the newlyweds in Rachel Tanur’s “Gondola Newlyweds 01,” sit with their faces turned away from each other and the viewer. A photograph always has an unseen context and an inherent ambiguity (Berger 1982), but the ambiguity in Tanur’s image seems almost intentional. We cannot see the couple’s expressions or what they are looking at, so our interpretations are left to the photograph’s content and composition, as well as our own experiences. While Tanur’s representation of a just-married couple captures the same themes of rite-of-passage and transformation present in my image of a baptism, the effects are visually and emotionally quite different.
    Just as snapshots of a baptism become rituals in conversion narratives, wedding photos allow couples to relive the day. According to Susan Sontag, photography is an addicting aesthetic consumerism because it confirms reality and enhances experience (1977). As part of a billion-dollar industry, professional wedding photographers often adhere to a culturally-set repertoire of staged shots that become a ritual of their own and powerfully shape the couple’s memories of their union. As a visual sociologist and likely a passerby, Tanur disrupts these conventions. From her removed position, Tanur’s lens captures a private moment away from the public expectations of the ritual.
    As rituals, weddings are cultural traditions expressed through shared symbols. The groom’s dark suit indicates a formal occasion. The bride’s white dress is symbolic of purity. The flower in her hair signifies new life and fertility, their expected next life course as a couple. Like the converts, the newlyweds are transformed. The Venetian gondola suggests a Roman Catholic ceremony that joins them as one. While converting was an individual decision, my image was filled with other figures and a sense of the divine. In contrast, the wedding ceremony asks for the consent of the church and their families. Yet in the image, the couple is alone. After the revelry, the newlyweds leave their loved ones behind. Although they will likely depend on their families, they are also embarking on this journey on their own. Here, Tanur invites us to reflect not on the cultural traditions, but on the universality of marriage. Berger’s observation is key: “[the] choice is not between photographing x and y: but between photographing at x moment or at y moment” (2001:217). The moment captured here is not a wedding photo. It is of the start of a marriage. My image of the converts catches them on the cusp, eagerly awaiting to be immersed and reborn. However, we encounter this couple after their transformation. Not as they recite “I do”, but as they are asking themselves, “now what do we do?”.
    In choosing a close crop of the couple, with their faces turned from both the viewer and each other, Tanur’s answer conveys unease. The brightness and wide space of my image captures the converts’ relationship with an invisible divine being. Here, apart from the radiant white dress, the saturated colors and tight composition indicate a less certain relationship with the person seated next to them. With backs toward their former lives, the couple dominates the frame. We cannot see where they are going, just like they cannot see what lies in their future. Nor can we see the gondolier, but with his iconic hat in the back of the vessel, we assume someone is guiding their passage. As Catholics, they may have faith in a higher power to set them on the right course. But for now, they seem adrift on dark waters.
    Facing the light with the future ahead, and setting sail together suggests a new beginning. And yet, the two stare in opposite directions, indicating that although the ritual is over, the transformation has only begun. Like any couple, they will retain their identities, and may ultimately—like their gaze indicates—choose different directions, or they may steer down the same course together.