Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Gowns fit to be ... trashed?

For years, it was my impression that after a woman is married, she stores her wedding gown in a safe place, never to be touched or worn again until or unless a daughter of hers elects to use the same gown in her own nuptials. It was a time-honored tradition to respect the gown, to glorify it almost.

But that was then.

Today, there is a growing trend in which women want to get more bang for the bucks they lay out for this most costly "big day" wardrobe investment. And for more than a year, the Indy Meetup Photo Club (IMUPC) that I belong to has nurtured a niche photography style that caters to that interest. It's known as Trash the Dress (TTD) or Rock the Frock (RTF).

TTD/RTF entails a bride -- with or without other members of her bridal party -- again being photographed wearing their wedding day gowns, but now getting themselves and the gowns drenched, muddied, soaped and suds up and painted -- with removable/washable products if the owners want to hang onto the dresses afterward. In extreme cases of TTD/RTF, the finale shots have the gowns being torn asunder. And all of this in the name of adventure, drama, fun and art ... and getting extra mileage out of that great expense.

IMUPC held several demonstrations of this kind of art form Saturday as part of its booth at the annual Rocky Ripple Festival in Hohlt Park, just north of the Butler University campus in Indianapolis. The demonstrations were led by club member Carter Keith, owner of Once Upon a Gown Photography, a business that provides this kind of photography.

I was there to exhibit some of my work in the club's primary booth, but I strayed from there several times in the afternoon to observe and photograph the demonstrations, which Keith moved from one site to another in the park to give more people a chance to see it in action. At first, I approached it as an observer/documenter, shooting the shoot, as it were. Eventually, however, I took a more active role in the shots, enjoying the challenges -- some of them rooted in portraiture, of course. But on this high-traffic day in a small crowded park, the biggest challenge was finding even a single angle or perspective that could avoid, to the extent possible, the constant background clutter, which usually is a "no-no" in serious photography. But Keith was there to do public demonstrations, and having crowds look on and understand the "why" of all this was the whole point of the demos, so in some cases, we soldiered on and made backgrounds -- clutter and all -- part of the picture.

Leading off the post is a shot of two of the three models used in Saturday's demonstrations -- a flower girl (Arianna) and bride (Katie) from a real wedding in the not-too-distant past. I took this during the painting phase of the frock rocking. This angular and upward perspective was one option I would turn to periodically during the day to avoid background clutter. I liked it, but it has to be done sparingly to pull off the "different" effect. If you do too much of it, it gets old fast ... as well as annoying, even to me! The third model in these pictures, the bridesmaid in the green gown, is Peggy, daughter of Rhonda, another club member participating in the shoot. Rhonda has her own portrait business, Portraits by Rhonda.

To view a gallery of my TTD/RTF shots on the day, visit my online site at SmugMug.

Above and below: Shots from one of the first demos. Above shows something that photographers almost never do -- shoot portraits in open sunlight and/or force their subjects to look into the sun. But these were demos, and the objective was to be seen out in the open, and you can see from the shot above, there were plenty of people -- clutter -- in the vicinity. Below, Keith gets a sun-block assist from fellow club member Brandon Bowen. 

Above: The bridesmaid in a shot that proved her likeness was suitable for framing.

Above: Classic example of background clutter -- the portable restrooms, bright red-and-white Channel 13 logo emblazoned on a trash container and the pedestrian not realizing -- or caring -- about the reach of a camera lens. Photographer Rhonda Clark did her best to work around those while photographing Katie and Peggy on the park's swing set.

Above: When I started getting serious about my shots, this one of the bride, Katie, was among my first on the day.

Above and next three below: The drenching and sudsing of Arianna, the flower girl, concluding with a selective color treatment as she is doused with water from her flower basket.

Above: Bridesmaid applies soap to the bride. In the frames I'd taken immediately before this shot, I had noticed observers' faces in the background appearing in a large gap between the bride's face and the bridesmaid's arm. So when the bridesmaid leaned her arm closer to Katie's head, effectively blocking most of the observers' faces, I took this and a couple more shots.  

Above: A dousing of water, which apparently was cold based on Katie's reaction. Notice more of the background "clutter." On the plus side, it proves that people WERE noticing.

Above: Katie's turn in the tub, as Keith pours more water, and as more people -- in the background -- pay attention.

Above: Muted saturation and a slightly softer focus in this composition of Katie with her bouquet, one of my favorite shots of her on the day ... and without any background clutter!

Above: I went to selective color again on this shot of the flower girl when she started painting the bride's gown. She began by tracing some of the frock's appliques. 

Above: Early in the paint demo, TTD/RTF crew members tried to recruit some adult festival-goers to help splash paint onto the gown but got no takers. When the offer was extended to the younger crowd, they jumped at the opportunity. That got even more attention ... (note background observer). 

Above: One young paint recruit became a model for a shot or two, with Keith behind the camera. And for this shot, apparently I'm the background clutter! I tell you, it was virtually impossible to avoid.

Above and below: Two final views of the "canvas" after the paint demonstration.

Above: The water she was doused with didn't get warmer over time, so Katie bundled up between shots.

Above: Arianna douses Peggy with a pitcher of mud -- potting soil, actually -- during the final stage of the demonstration.

Above and below: My favorite shots of Peggy from the day's shoot, both taken after the round of mud ... and both, I think, suitable for framing.


  1. Terrrriffffic!!!!! And...WHO had more fun? Those taking part or those doing the photography???

  2. Very good question! Perhaps better left as rhetorical.

  3. I'm planning on doing a form of this in a wedding dress when I get married. I'm not going to trash THE DRESS though. I will probably find one used or try to find an inexpensive one online to trash.