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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery One: Travel Abstractions -- Unlimited Thought > Wedding portrait, Banyan Lake, Guilin, China, 2006
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Wedding portrait, Banyan Lake, Guilin, China, 2006

Guilin’s wedding photographers often bring their customers to the shores of this beautiful lake for bridal portraits. The lake is lined with willows, and an assortment of beautiful bridges connects it to other nearby lakes. I saw this couple patiently waiting on the approaches to one of those bridges for the photographer to stop fiddling with his assortment of cameras. I chose a vantage point that placed willows between them and my camera. I shot through this willow screen, creating an abstract and incongruous symbolic image. The bride is also abstracted by selective focusing, making her seem to be more an implied presence than a reality. The groom is in focus, and positioned within a break in the leaves. He seems to be pondering his future, while his happy bride appears to be a happy captive of her own dreams. I don’t think this couple would choose this image as a wedding picture – it probably does not conform to their expectations. However I did not make it for them. I made it for you, to demonstrate how abstraction can turn an image primarily intended as a commercial product into an expressively interpretive photograph.

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Phil Douglis11-Nov-2006 19:59
Thanks for this comment, Theodore. You are right about the groom. He may well be standing back while the photographer makes a picture of the bride by herself. We read into pictures whatever we want, so it is always important to consider the context if that is possible. And yes, I am coming to Malaysia for the first time next year. I wll be there for a couple of days, between visits to Singapore and China. My host will be the Malaysian graphic designer and pbase photographer, Celia Lim who like you, is of Chinese ancestry. You can see Celia's galleries at She is coordinating our visit -- I will be joined by my friend, pbase photographer Tim May ( ) Perhaps we can get together while we are there next September. It would be a pleasure to meet you.
Guest 11-Nov-2006 11:23
Interesting observation Jenene. I get what you're saying and for the most part agree. I'm a Malaysian of chinese ethnicity. Phil, it occurred to be that the groom was standing apart from his bride because the photographer might have been taking a "solo" picture of the bride. If you have the chance, do come to Malaysia. We've got a wonderful mix of cultures here - Malays, Indians and Chinese.
Phil Douglis13-Sep-2006 18:42
You are right, Jenene. This wedding is a formal event -- the costumes ordain it. However the wedding photographers are doing best to break the formality by setting the portrait in an informal garden. They will not succeed. No matter how hard they try to make it into a casual image, the costumes, posture and the chain bonding the bride to her husband will make it anything but.
JSWaters13-Sep-2006 18:07
Even though you've abstracted the happy couple by screening them with willows, everything about this image screams formality to me. The couple stand separately from one another, something I have trouble visualizing a newly married Western couple doing. Their wedding attire is indeed something we would see in the West, but almost fairy tale like with the groom dressed in white. (Knight in Shining Armor?) The bride anchors herself to her man by holding that chain - which evokes the long held Western belief that Asian women are somewhat subservient to their husbands. (Thank goodness times are changing!) The groom's stance seems to indicate a man very much in charge - the bride's is one of total acceptance of that fact.
Phil Douglis13-Jul-2006 04:33
You are right, Sun Han, about norms becoming symbols. Because I have abstracted this image to the degree I have, I have been able to trigger other imaginations to think about those symbols in fresh ways. Including, I hope, yourself.
Guest 10-Jul-2006 22:31
i have to admit Phil has a good intuition
about the cross culture issue here, all i want to say here is nothing but
a norm made into scrupulous analysis in the eyes of observers above

willow tree besides the pond is a norm, although you might associate it too weeping willow, chains, or famininity; western style wedding costume is also a norm in china, unless you carries with you a gaze of differentiation
Phil Douglis18-May-2006 20:56
Yes, so do I, Shirley. A huge chain is a powerful symbol of control. I wonder if the wedding photographers who asked them to pose with it realized what they were potentially conveying here.
Shirley Wang18-May-2006 19:47
I like the presence of the chain there.
Phil Douglis06-May-2006 00:29
Thanks, Cianni, for studying these comments. I regard the comments appearing beneath my images as important a training resource as the image itself.
Phil Douglis22-Apr-2006 18:12
Thanks, Jen, for the additional comment. Yes, it is an ironic image, and very true to life. For many people, marriage may bring a form of captivity in one way or another, and the chain certainly provides the metaphor. Note how she holds the chain -- almost unknowingly!
Jennifer Zhou22-Apr-2006 12:12
Right, right! the chain! Another layer of meaning which pulls this dreamy moment back to the reality. Very ironic and intellegent! :)) Thank you for pointing that out for me Phil! I missed out the word "captive" in your caption yesterday, which is very important!
Phil Douglis21-Apr-2006 17:25
Thanks, Jen, for seeing the dreams in those willows. I saw them too -- in the caption, I noted that the "happy bride appears to be a happy captive of her own dreams." It was the screen of willows that gives her that dream. As for the captive part, she is also incongruously hanging on to a huge chain that bonds her to a groom who stands apart from her here. So I see it as a dreamy moment on one level, but not without an ironic touch.
Jennifer Zhou21-Apr-2006 13:01
This picture is full of dreams and hopes, and you made all that happened with a layer of willows. Without this layer it would be just a wedding photo which only mean something to the couple, but here, it speaks to all of us, about the feels of falling in love, even blindly in love, it is such a dreamy mement. The spring willows symbolize a new life is able to begin just like this couple's.
Phil Douglis19-Apr-2006 00:50
Thanks for seeing that incongruity, Tim. A wedding is a cultural expression, and this image does indeed cut across cultural lines.
Tim May18-Apr-2006 21:06
The abstracting, for me, also plays with the interplay of the Westernizing of the Asian culture - this couple is clearly dressed in Western wedding garb - yet the view through the willow evokes Asia - cultural interplay in imagery.
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