CONVERSATION WITH THE FOUNDERS
RITUAL was founded in 2020 by John Dolan, Meredith Heuer, Holger Thoss, and Olya Vysotskaya.
Their conversation below took place over the course of several weeks at the height of the pandemic when weddings all around the world were on hold
and no one knew when
they’d be able to gather with their loved ones again.
How did you start photographing weddings?
As favors for friends, mostly. We were all working as full time photographers when we stumbled into it and were amazed by the range of emotion that unfolded in front of us. Right now the world is changing in such fast and unpredictable ways. None of us knows when we will next hear the words, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today,” or what the world might look like when we do. But we know that weddings will always serve to bring us together in rich and meaningful ways.
What do you like most about photographing weddings?
Weddings are the opposite of social distancing. They’re about the very real human need to connect and they help us to celebrate and affirm the things we hold most dear: family, faith, friendship, and the courage it takes to commit your life to something bigger than yourself. Somebody asked us recently if we ever cry at weddings, and the answer is: all the time! Weddings help us remember moments from our own life and rekindle hope for the future. You expect to feel joy at a wedding but it’s the solemnity that sneaks up on you. There’s an emotional complexity to weddings that endlessly fascinates and draws us in.
Why start a collective, and why now?
Collectives are a wonderful way for artists to commit themselves to a shared set of goals and ideals. We all aspire to create work that outlasts us and changes the way people see the world. When we photograph a wedding we’re not just taking pictures of an event. We see ourselves as storytellers who are bearing witness to an essential part of the human experience and we want the photographs to reflect that, to help deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and all the contradictory emotions that go along with it. For some time now we’ve been thinking about creating a space where we can share and explore that approach, not just with each other but with photographers from all around the world who, like us, see weddings as an amazing photographic opportunity and want to document them in a way that is as surprising and unexpected as it is honest and real.
How did you choose the name Ritual for your Collective?
A ritual is anything that marks time and makes the passage of it meaningful for us and for the people we love. Rituals have the power to comfort and nourish and to help us remember what’s important in life. David Brooks wrote recently in the New York Times that, “So great is our hunger for rituals that when we come upon one of the few remaining ones — weddings, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras — we tend to overload them and turn them into expensive bloated versions of themselves.” Not that we don’t love big weddings and marvel at the enormous amount of creativity and thought that goes into them. But the most compelling part of the story, for us, will always be the people.
Your manifesto talks about personal work being an “engine” for your commissioned work. What do you mean by that?
Commissioned work is what you get paid to do. Personal work is what enriches your heart, mind and soul. All of us with busy personal and professional lives know how hard it can be to make time for the things that have value only to us. But the freedom you feel when you’re doing something you love… the way you lose track of time and stop trying to control the outcome… this is critical to the artistic process and part of our manifesto is simply to help each other stay engaged and excited about the projects we undertake.
What advice would you give someone who’s looking to hire a photographer for their wedding?
The best advice we can offer is to hire someone for what they do and to trust them to do it. For brides and grooms who have spent months overseeing every detail of their wedding this probably isn’t the easiest advice to hear, but the truth is that weddings are filled with moments you never could have anticipated or prepared for. That’s why our second piece of advice is to hire someone you like because they are going to be with you when you’re at your most vulnerable, so it helps to like them as a person, not just as a photographer. We like to say you start out as strangers and end up as friends.
How do you suggest we find that person?
Excellent question! It’s part of the reason we founded this site, and our blog, “Doubletake”, because we want to help people understand why photographers make the choices they make. We all express ourselves in different artistic languages that can be appealing to some and confusing to others, so it helps to find a visual language that speaks to you. One of the greatest compliments we can get is when people tell us they didn’t want to hire a photographer for their wedding, and then they saw our work.
What’s the secret behind every great wedding photograph?
A great photograph is rarely ever planned or posed. It happens when the bride and groom allow themselves to surrender to the emotion of the day… when they relax, let go, and forget we’re even there.
Conversation was edited and abridged by Chase Bodine, whose 2019 wedding was photographed by Holger Thoss.