HIGH END, JEWISH, INDIAN, BAR MITZVAHS





A NON TYPICAL HIGH END WEDDING

Before William and Kate got married, we knew what to expect and the level it was to achieve.  There were tremendous protocols and traditions to be followed to the letter.

I might add the blocking (where to stand) and acting was superb with hundreds maybe thousands on the sidelines opening the right doors, and guiding the actors. It was  spectacular open book test, all chance of failure had been removed. It was stunning, very expensive and the entire country came forth as stand-ins and minor role players.

The costuming for this play was exceptionally beautiful, colorful, perfection and for the men nothing is better than the military dress red suits with all the medals worn for which our Tennessee Sharpshooters loved during our war of independence.  Yet a little bizarre at times because we in the West focused not as much as the cerebral part of the wedding but what they wore.  Every one who is in the dress business in England was in couture Valhalla that day. 

Who will ever forget the hat Princess Beatrice of York wore at Prince William and Kate Middleton‘s royal wedding. It was a show stopper. Had she worn a commode on her head it wouldn't draw that much attention.  Some of the hats could have been used as a commode.  It looked like a commode that was fuming.

Don’t get me wrong she is beautiful, delicate yet exotic, I fell in love with her, and eyes that light in the night, but the hat still looks like a toilet. 

Several from the Royal Astronomy Society thought perhaps it was used to summon aliens from another world. So it's the details that make a wedding different.  And thats what makes them all different and thats what you get paid for. Weddings as traditional as they may seem, are all different. There is something that sets each one of them apart.

By the way like in all fairy tales, and this one went out of the box, the story has a happy ending.  The hat has a new owner: The towering chapeau sold for an astonishing 81,100.01 pounds, approximately $130,000, on eBay and proves Barnum’s accountant got it right, there is one born every few minutes, on the other hand the money was all donated to charity.  

“It has its own personality, and I am so happy that we have raised the most incredible amount of money and can make an even bigger change for the lives of some of the most vulnerable children across the world,” Beatrice, the daughter of Prince Andrew and Duchess Sarah Ferguson, said in a statement on Sunday.  Yesterday I put a big red bow on my toilet and will put it up on eBay and see what it brings.




TRADITIONAL JEWISH WEDDINGS 

I have an expression! How do you get eight opinions from seven people? Simple, book a Jewish Wedding! Now I can say that because I am Jewish.   Another favorite expression of mine, I got from the Carnival people since I live near Gibsonton, Florida, the winter home of the Circus and traveling Carnival folks.  It’s in here a lot.

They find out ahead of time “Who is the stick”!  The stick is the boss, not the mock boss, the real boss. In the old days bosses carried sticks and used them.  Five bucks says it’s not the father. It’s Mom. Get all of that out of the way fast before you sign contracts. 

Simply ask “who is the person here that I am contracting with?”.  Coming from a typical Matriarchal Jewish family, I can tell you they are either pretty open in conversation about Weddings in front of you and twice as vocal after you leave, the truth might come out.   I called it "Yenterism”.  My beloved mother had a masters, possibly a doctorate in reading through things.  It will get passed around the table and input is allowed, sometimes softly, sometimes screaming and yelling encouraged and insisted by Moms, Aunts, Friends, Upstairs Neighbors and anyone who will listen. That’s why I say get it done up front. 

    RULE ONE : During the Wedding is not the place nor the time to negotiate.    

If you charge by hours or time, get the overtime in writing and explain that to them three times and have them all sign it.  Otherwise, you will lose. You are outgunned and out maneuvered at every step.

Other strongly family oriented groups present the same situation. Now this is why I insist “That you explain that the decision maker (the boss, the stick) at the Wedding is the Bride and she has the final word. Legally, spiritually, emotionally, she is the one you will do business with”. 

If not, and you have clearly not designated this, I wish you well. (Get it in writing)  If hell breaks loose and something goes wrong she will go crying to ....her mother. You will be the next in line if there is no official Wedding Planner.  That’s why you have to read BRIDEZILLA and follow these lessons. 


THE GREAT SIDE

Once the plans are down pat and signed for and all grey and dark areas are covered, be ready for a good ride. 

The Jewish Wedding can be very, very photographic. Some of the customs such as the vows under a small open tent and the breaking of the glass are very symbolic and offer some good chances of a winning shot. 

Then at the reception be prepared to move quickly as the traditional circle dances and the rest of the wedding party and guests get into the act. It grows and builds. You will be busy trying to catch the action. 

Just so you understand, I’m not picking on Jewish Weddings. Again, I am Jewish and naturally have shot many.  That’s why my wife and I eloped, my brother and his lovely wife did the same.  It’s seems a TRADITION in our family to elope. 

TRADITION, TRADITION!
In the traditional Jewish ceremony, it is highly representative of the sentimental rites laws brought down for centuries. The center is the marriage contract, the katubah. There are many significant rites such as the two  mothers of the bride and groom, smash a dish wrapped in a towel to officiate the marriage of the families. It represents a broken dish can never again be united. 

Their children should only know unity—with no breaks in their relationship.  Later on you realize broken dishes are a Jewish Tradition. I can think of many my dear mother threw at me.  She only threw the older mis-matched ones for effect.  But not the English China she adored.  

At my nephews wedding, they are standing under a chuppah, four poles and a very ornate covering.  The chuppah is open on all sides representing open skies. In his temple there are skylights as you will find in most temples to be under open skies and this means you better be thinking light balance. His was a nightmare of lighting.

For the groom in the more orthodox or conservative movements the groom will wear a  kittle, a white cotton cloak-like garment and the Bride will enter and the groom will bring her to the chuppah. At this time the bride will slowly circle the groom seven times. 

It is followed by blessings, seven usually, toasts, mazel tovs and then the groom gets to smash a glass, carefully wrapped in a cloth napkin, so as to prevent injury, under his shoe, which according to my nephew who happens to be  a Rabbi, a solemn reminder of the destruction of King David’s temple, and to modernists it represents the breaking of all bonds of the past with others (Old Girlfriends, Great Fantasies, Wild weekends, etc.) 

Now, in my opening remarks I told you about opinions. Thats a sub-chapter!  A Jewish wedding can fall into one of the three major categories of Judaism which are Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. Not Reformed, its correctly Reform. 

That will determine partially what you are up against. The newlyweds' families will tell you what they are,  but you have to ask about, seating, dancing, and recitals, because in the Orthodox men and women do not participate in some of these customs, they are basically separated. They sit apart and if you are not accustomed to very proper people and by chance walk into an Orthodox wedding, get help.  I avoided doing them, they are very strict.  They are my people but at times very tough to deal with.   I left  it for others.


MY JEWISH NON-JEWISH WEDDING
Many years ago, early in the morning I asked my girlfriend if should could get a few hours off on next Thursday  and she asked why?  I thought and explained marriage was a good idea, we were soul mates, had been together for the longest time, I knew there was no one else. She said yes, I had made arrangements and it was less than 48 hours later, it was over at 11:00 am at the courthouse.  

All these years she was alive she never regretted having the big wedding day, I always asked her. “No way” she says. We were together thirty-one years till illness took her.  Other than yearly trade shows we never spent a day apart and she attended and assisted many stressful weddings I got called to do.

As my partner, she was my right arm and best friend and I have ever had.  With all the stress and strain of my business, she was an Oasis in the Desert, an Island in the Ocean. 

She is the good thing about marriage, it lasts more than just one day. I’m old school, you married and meant it, good and bad, richer or poorer... in good health or bad... life is way too short. Ok before you all start crying, on to the next one.  This was before I lost her in August 2007 to Cancer, life has never been the same.

Eloping you might call it is a tradition in my family, my mom and dad sneaked off, my brother eloped and Dolly and I wanted privacy.  I never regretted that privacy and many times offered to do the other part and she refused. Our words were to each other and no one else was involved nor needed.


INCREDIBLE INDIAN WEDDINGS         

Fourteen years ago I worked with and assisted an associate, one of the best videographers in Tampa Bay as he was doing a rather large and long Indian Wedding in this area.  Full video and a ton of pictures. He told me to pack for a few days, I thought hmmm… a cruise wedding

Little did I know it turned out to be three 10+ hour days long and the party had just started. The longest affair I ever attended. Now I read up before getting into something I was very naive about. I’m also a lot older and the time wears you out a lot faster than you think so you have to plan for it.  I was exhausted.  But then realizing these things can take up three to four days learned the meaning of pacing oneself.

I gotta tell you, Indian full blown weddings require very little Photoshop, they are the most vibrant, beautiful, colorful artistic events you will ever attend.  

The Lehenga Bridal Cholis are made with exquisite care attention to detail to make the bride look like a goddess on the wedding day.  Bring a digital circular polarizer filter for the dresses because they are very shiny and reflecting.

PHOTO - Shilpa Shetty, who got married to her NRI beau Raj Kundra last November, wore a traditional saree designed by her favorite designer Tarun Tahiliani.(AFP) In some cases the men in all fairness spend equal time in preparation. The sword is real.

A bridal trousseau has many Lehenga’s in rich fabrics like raw silk, satin, crepe, net and georgette, requiring changes over the three days these events can take  If you were to Google Lehenga's for Weddings you will get a glimpse of what you will be looking at… 

The music is mesmerizing, almost hypnotic and the rhythms complex and not something Bruce Springsteen will ever tackle. It goes on forever… it seems and it goes on at a pace few can keep up with.  The other women attending the function,  also have spent much time organizing "their look" for this affair and you will see a collection of the most beautiful saris with some of the most gorgeous eye and facial makeup in the world.
 

THE FIRST DAY or MANY PRE-WEDDING DAYS
Is all about a warm up for the big day to come. The day and evening before the wedding day, in which the families gather to meet, greet, eat, dance, more dance and carry on for a long time. It will exhaust you simply because you are overwhelmed by the music, the drums and the beat of the music, which is relentless.  The costumes, incredible dazzling beauty of both the sari's and the stunning beauty of the women are almost magical. 


THE SECOND OR WEDDING DAY
Signs from the heavens, corresponding to the bride and groom determine the actual wedding day.  Lots of flowers, the bride’s hands and feet are decorated with temporary henna designs far more elaborate than your kids got at Disney. This is called the "mehendi" and it is a a ritual in which the bride, groom, and other members of the wedding party get their hands, arms and feet painted in rococo patterns with henna paste.  We have been told by those who know the henna takes forever to dry.

The entertainment is the "sangeet" a big, staged show with participants from the families requiring a choreographer at times. He or she will train dancers from both families to hone their dance skills good enough for the X-factor or Bollywood level. “   

The groom sometimes wears a turban.  Now again just like with other traditionalists, changes will occur based on time, money, availability of the location and so forth.   Other customs you might see involve a lot of the family, these ceremonies involve but not limited to the brides dress tied with the grooms scarf, a rope placed around the neck to symbolize warding off evil spirits. A hand woven cord, a mangala sutra, having gold pendants, (real gold) is tied in three knots around the bride’s neck. This means the marriage should last 100 years. Great optimism. This is not the time for battery changing with AA cells.

In some situations the their hands joined by a long strip of pink cloth, symbolically of the cloth has to do with breaking ties to the parents and making new ones to the husband.  In Jewish ceremonies, the groom gets to step on a glass and break it to signify the breaking of bonds to previous relationships.


THE PARTY DAY COOKING, TRADITION AND FUN PEOPLE
I was writing about Indian Cooking, which was concurrent with shooting this wedding, and met a lot of interesting people both guests and the caterers.   I found two hundred different ways to cook chicken and the recipes for all of them.  Chicken in the South of India is not treated like chicken in the North of India.  Each sect, district, county or parish has its own style or rules and India is a cornucopia of millions of people and many traditions.  

Misnomer:  Their most common ingredient or spice is not curry, yes curry is a name of a plant or berry but the word Curry is used to denote a style of cooking we think of as a stew or slurry.   Simply put, a diversified pungent stew to be served a million ways and combinations over rice.   
The  “ National spice go-to of India is Garam Masala"  which is a secret blend of spices in India and even differs from door to door.  These are closely guarded family secrets. Ask a lot of questions and take notes.  And the same holds true for simple traditions.  Find a friend or guru who can get you through it.

Many of my associates who do these weddings tell me they just forget about time.  A joke from one of them suggested that Indian Weddings are like the train system in India.  My experience holds this to be true. Some things will be on time and some won't but what you will take away is an incredible experience over a long journey as long as it doesn't have a wreck. 

Nevertheless for me it was an incredibly unique affair and one of the ushers was gracious and very literately explained every part of the services. It was a great learning experience about someone else’s culture and traditions. I didn’t have a clue as to how long they can run.  I know now. Talk about the heartbreak of “de feet” wear comfortable shoes.  Time wise, get it in writing, forget, they won't care,  you can't slow a train down. 

Unexpectedly we really undercut ourselves physically, we needed the third helper just to get a break and fast charge batteries, not so much for the stills, because I make High Capacity packs for Digitals, but the bigger Video Cameras suck juice like a Hoover. I will start to use my batteries ganged on a cart soon for these long term events.

That’s why my new contracts were written with time clauses and helper clauses. But I have been told, this is not always the case with Indian Weddings. This particular one was long because of the stature of the individuals in the community. All I’m saying is get it settled up front as to how long you are needed and explain “overtime”. 

THREE HINTS

  1. It’s a lot easier if they have a Wedding Planner familiar with their culture and you make friends. Even if it means buying her lunch, heck dinner before you sign on. Notice I said “her”. In many cultures this is a “her” job. The fellows rarely participate in this planning and don’t wish to be bothered unless you are Hollywood and have a reality show.  
  2. Nevertheless being accepted means a lot of three day referrals and if you do a good job it will be rewarding.  
  3. First find a videographer you can work with. I will tell you now they all get a motion pictures made of the affair just like the Indian Film Business in Bollywood.


BAS or BAR MITZVAHS, CONFIRMATIONS, FORMAL EVENTS 

Learn as I did, if nothing else, one thing in this chapter. The word upfront, first page, "find the stick".  You treat the Bar or Bat Mitzvah exactly the same way as a Wedding.  Especially Bar-Mitzvahs, the boys get a little rowdier and you’ll have a larger percentage of kids around who think a little more chaos is fun as they are not as structured sometimes with their parents not there. 

The other thing you will learn as you read on is something I mentioned before. Find out whose running the gig and who is ultimately responsible.  I really went against everything I teach and it taught me a harsh lesson.  Honestly I have been blessed this is the only job in five decades I really had a fight over, and lost my cool on.

THE BAR MITZVAH THAT I SCREWED UP
I knew the person I thought was the host, a friend of my mother, so I never bothered with a contract. No substantial deposit, just $100 for film, she said,  “ She was treating for the film”.   It was her sister’s grandson. I was not dealing with the boss, ( Violation of rule one).  No contract  ( Violation of Rule Two).

One of the other guests a sister attending was on an unsupervised weekend leave from an Mental Institution on Long Island, NY.  I am not joking about this as it’s not something I would joke about.  I’ve dealt with enough people with various Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Vascular Dementia   

She got enamored with the camera and upset every picture she could get into.  Funny faces, devil fingers, the birdie. I asked the mother to see if she could calm her a little and I got a speech.  Not her job, “ Let her have fun”.  No designated personna (Violation of Rule Three)  Uncle Samuel brought his Minolta and almost knocked me over.  I did not know the sister in law had insisted he did.   No Contract stipulating prime shooter (Violation of Rule Four)

Then the rest of the Paparazzi showed up.  It ran long, kids got restless and they headed for the banquet. Even the Rabbi was trying to bail. And the real party for the adults was on the second (next) day which I was never told about. (Violation of Rules 5-7, no contract, no outsiders, time stipulation, Paparazzi under my control etc.) 

What should of been in those days was a fifteen hundred dollar job reduced to the 400 I quoted for the one day... I just wanted to get it done, over with and learned a valuable lesson.  I did the work in our lab, and told her (Moms friend) the proofs were ready. I wanted this thing done. Gut feeling.  All of a sudden she has nothing to do with this entire affair.  OK I reach the other fly-in sister, the step mother. She tells me to forget it as (you guessed it)  Uncle Samuel had done such a good job! 

The two had not coordinated and my services were no longer required. (Rules 2,3,4,5,6-37) Here I am, ticked off looking at 6-36 exposure rolls of 35. I called my attorney, basically he tells me, I got borscht! It usually boils down to what’s in writing. 

Or as he said it, “NO WRITE, NO RIGHT!   He felt it was not worth pursuing. He instructs me to send them a registered letter telling them all the negatives and proofs will be unavailable if not paid for and picked up (or destroyed)  within 48 hours.  Since they voided the verbal agreement. He calls the witch as a last resort, and she tells him where to go.   I am not generally a vengeful person, but this one got to me and a week later after repeated calls,  I sliced and diced the prints and negatives in my new criss-cross paper shredder with the proofs and mailed them the trash.  Almost ruined the machine.   It was little consolation and stupid to do so.  (Rule six)


DIVINE INTERVENTION (BLUE WORDS) 
But if ever there was Divine Intervention, G-d the almighty, user of burning bushes and synch cords sent a plague through Uncle Samuel’s Minolta on a shutter speed (over 250) too high for the flash which only synched at 1/80 or 1/125. You probably did it one time or another, each picture was a half frame and people cut off, not one useful print since the Bar Mitzvah by was dead center in all shots and now had half a face.  Revenge is mine saith the Lord!

Uncle Samuel, you know him as Uncle Fred, blew the synch speed rule!  He had pictures, but only one-half of each of them. I get a call a couple a couple of weeks later from Uncle Samuel suddenly my new best friend, he needed the pics to save face.  And I told him to shove the Minolta in the exit tunnel for his alimentary canal, the opposite end of the face he was going to save and take the bitch with him.  I lost it…. I told him they were destroyed.

Then the bitch herself called me and she was as nice as the sun rising on a summer morn with birds chirping and I pleasantly told her I did not have any of the pictures and there was nothing I could do.  She had her chance and now she has no one to blame but herself.  She called me every name under the sun...


DIVINE GUIDANCE
The next call I got was from the real Dad, not the poor bastard married to her now.  Sorry, nothing I could do.  He turns out to be a real nice guy.    We had lunch, he was down here from NY for a week.  I lost, they lost.  And this meant a lot for the real Dad and the kid.  

It was a treasured moment with their child that went unrecorded that was the bad part, it bothered me. I wrote this off as an experience and that’s why I’m telling you how you must approach this thing as a business and forsake the amateur attitude if you are serious about making this a career. 

Had I been professional and not lost my temper, I would have put a  REAL HEALTHY price tag on the pictures. One of those D4X price tags.  But it bothered me.   I have a heart under all this humor.... I called the father back and told him when he came and picked up his kid and we were going to a plan a few places to reshoot what I could, inexpensively. 

I knew the Rabbi and asked to borrow the Temple and a few few friends of the kid, I shot some really good stuff portrait work in the temple.  On the beach,  Khakis, blue shirts, Sea Oats, sand, at a pitch and putt, Busch Gardens, batting cages, deep sea fishing and handed him 140 plus portrait quality shots of Dad and Son with friends that hopefully the way the real father would of really wanted it.   The dad treated the kid and his friends to three great days and I shot all of it.

Time to leave, the father had to go to the airport, he was going home, I took him and when I dropped him off, he handed me an envelope.  He told me to open it when I got home.  He paid me triple in cash for what I had originally charged for the Bar Mitzvah. I called him in NY and joked with him after I saw the generosity and his comment was, “ Now you know why I am not married to her, and I feel sorry for the jerk she married”.  The best part, is none of her, her family, the whole crew is not in any of my son’s pictures.  It’s just him and me and when he turns 16 he’ll come to live with me, till then I have great shots, thats the best part.