There’s no doubt about it; the photographer has caught us in the middle of something.
We were in the flat downstairs waiting for Tony and Maria’s babysitter, stuck in traffic, to arrive. They’re one of those couples that gets a babysitter, which means they are one of those couples I still see.
“Do you have your wedding photos back yet?” I said.
“No, not yet.” said Maria. “But you can have a look at the book of proofs, it’s on the coffee table.”
I picked it up – a big glossy paperback – and lost myself in the pages while Kelly and Maria talked about something I didn’t fully register. I love photos and photo albums, whether they’re mine or someone else’s, and soon the voices were tuned down to a background hum as I flicked from thumbnail to thumbnail, my white wine, quite forgotten, slowly getting warm.
It had been such a lovely day, the day Tony and Maria married – a glorious sunny, dry day at that point in the summer when it still looked like there wouldn’t be a summer at all. And everything had been perfect - the venue was gorgeous, the little chapel cool and unshowy, the light, golden and unobscured by clouds, was any photographer’s dream. And Tony and Maria had picked an excellent photographer (“he’s won awards”, Maria told me, magic words I’ve used myself in the past about anything from films to wine and sausages to persuade people that I have good taste). He brought out the sunshine and the colours in a way I could only envy, and turning the pages was like reading a book I wished I’d written.
Going from page to page it fleshed out the parts of the day I hadn’t seen, those parts that appear in every wedding album unknown to most of the guests, the bit of the iceberg beneath the surface. Here’s the bride, getting ready. Here are the big laughing smiles of the bridesmaids, mainly excited and possibly slightly envious about their friend’s adventure. Here’s the groom, pacing. Even though a photo is a frozen moment, you still know he’s pacing, in his head at least if nowhere else. Here are the couple in the grounds, that bit I didn’t even realise was happening because they were gone for ages and there were canapés and I was talking to one of the groom’s several fantastic uncles. It was a wedding of uncles: all of them huge characters, all settled in America, big dry bearlike men, antiques dealers and businessmen.
It also enhanced the bits I remembered. The traditional Bavarian costumes of the bride’s family – which had somehow seemed surreal when we were all on a coach heading for the venue, but which seemed perfectly natural by the time we were all standing in the grounds of the church, the deed done, united by our glee that we had watched something so right and natural. It also captured what I’m told is a German tradition – the guests holding out a huge white sheet like a banner, a bold heart in the middle of it, and the couple cutting it out with scissors before passing through it together. I loved that; no carrying over the threshold here, but walking together, united by the heart, to another, better place.
By halfway through the book the couple were wed, and the official photos had been taken. They had kissed in doorways, and held each other tenderly, looked at the camera, looked away, looked at each other. I remembered my own wedding, so short on official photographs, and I remembered that feeling that came shortly after getting married, the odd combination of everything has changed and why has nothing changed? the prettiest and most delicate shellshock. I saw that on their faces too, even if they didn’t, and it made me smile.
From that point onwards the speed of my page turning went up a gear, unworthily perhaps, because I was looking for myself.
I have a rare talent for dodging the camera at weddings. I am usually at the back of the group shot, behind someone. I am not at the main table for the wedding breakfast. You won’t find me on the dancefloor. I would be an easy person to write out of history, if you invite me to your wedding and we end up falling out. So I wasn’t expecting to find myself, and I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t at first. It was a very glam version of Where’s Wally?, this haystack of people I was hidden in. But I knew I’d be there somewhere: “Our photographer was under strict instructions to get a photo of every single guest.” Maria had said, and I knew he’d manage it because even though I am an elusive subject, Maria is not a woman you disobey.
I finally found myself right at the end of the book – no surprises there, as I must have been one of the last people he needed to take. In one photo I am holding forth, and in the other I’m pulling some kind of face while eating a roll stuffed with delicious pork from the hog roast. In a way, although I didn’t like the photos, I had to hand it to the photographer that he’d captured me showing off and eating, because that means he had pretty much captured me and so no further pictures were required. My soul had been sucked into the lens and there it was, in those two images. I looked at them and decided it could have been worse – they were black and white, and my suit was new and my hair was freshly cut, and it wasn’t as if I’d ever have to see these pictures anyway. And then, on the previous page, I see what I had previously missed: the photographer has caught us in the middle of something.
It’s rare for me to see a picture of me and my wife. I am the photographer and she is the subject, roles we agreed many years ago and which she bears with exceptional grace. In the last few years she’s shown an increasing enthusiasm for taking pictures herself, spurred on by me, and I have found that I’m a less reluctant subject than I used to be. But we don’t have much family, between us, and those we do have don’t take pictures, and nor do many of our friends, so finding an image of the two of us in one place is something which almost never happens. Seeing one, out of context, in an album that is all about another couple entirely, was rather an out of body experience.
The photographer has caught us, just the two of us, when we didn’t think anyone was looking. The picture was taken in that moment just before or just after a kiss; I don’t know which, and looking at it I realise I’ll never work it out, like an impossible game of spot the ball, even though the ball can only be in one of two places. Her hand is on my elbow, a mixture of affection and protection, and we are looking at each other like grown-ups do, but also a little bit like kids. This picture, too, is in black and white, like my wedding photos were all those years ago. In my hand is another bloody pork roll; there really is no escape from food, it seems.
After that the babysitter arrived, we went out for dinner and wound up in a beer garden. It wasn’t a vintage evening, if I remember rightly: I wasn’t on form, and not all my showing off worked. The evening caught me like the photographer caught me, eating and holding forth, and sometimes that isn’t the right way to behave. I knew I was annoying my wife, because some nights I do, but somehow it didn’t matter because in the back of my mind I was still thinking about that image.
Photos invent memories: I’ll never know what that kiss was or how it happened, whether she did it to shut me up, whether we were sharing a moment of recollection or I was getting on her nerves, whether we were still sober or drunker than we should have been. And now it won’t matter, because the memory is created and all those things are irrelevant.
The day Tony and Maria got married was such a lovely day, and all these things happened. The bride and groom passed through a heart shaped hole in the middle of a sheet. The priest told surprisingly good jokes and told us that the Prime Minister’s father had been married in the church we were standing in that sunny afternoon. The jazz band played, kids threw giant Connect Four tokens across the lawn like frisbees and the photographer caught me and my wife, about to kiss or only just having kissed, and – months later - I saw the picture and knew that, ten years on, I could still feel like the only married man in the world.