Dear Abby: Would you please explain to me why today's brides still take formal bridal portraits?
To me, the "W-E" in "wedding" signifies a bride and groom sharing equally in earning a living, raising children and performing household functions. Shouldn't a wedding portrait be of the two people together? —SHIRLEY
Dear Shirley: Superstition may have something to do with it. It's supposed to be bad luck for the groom to see the bride's dress before the wedding, which is when the bridal portrait is usually taken. In years past, couples would pose together for their engagement picture, which was then published in the newspaper with their engagement announcement.
In the early 20th century, couples did have their wedding portrait taken together. I have a copy of my maternal grandparents' wedding picture in which my grandfather is sitting (formally dressed) and my grandmother is standing next to him in her wedding dress.
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After receiving your question, I called celebrity photographer Harry Langdon, and we had an interesting discussion. He explained that the rules for wedding photography are constantly evolving, reflecting the time in which they are taken and the culture of the couple involved.
He went on to describe a memorable photo shoot in which he was taking wedding pictures for a royal family. Not understanding the culture, Harry posed the bride standing in front of the groom, thinking it would symbolize the man's "power and protection of his wife." A security guard promptly pulled Harry aside and pointed out that in their country, women do not stand in front of the men — they stand behind them.
Another couple was the photogenic governor of a state I won't mention and his bride, a famous beauty. As he was posing them, Harry instructed the governor, "You sit here, and we'll have your bride stand behind you — the 'supportive woman behind the man' ..."
"No," she interrupted. "I'm going to be in front."
"No, wait," the governor interjected. "I'm the governor. I should be in front!"
The proceedings went downhill from there. The disagreement then turned to the lighting Harry was using. The bride was wearing heavy makeup, and after checking the lens, Harry said, "We'll need to change it because the man is usually darker in these pictures."
"Why?" asked the bride.
"Because the guys are out there, beating the bushes, hunting and gathering, supporting the family," answered Harry.
"What about us women? We're out there supporting the family, too!" she retorted.
It was a difficult session — and no, the marriage didn't last. —LAUGHING IN CALIFORNIA (AKA ABBY)