Las Vegas has turned marriage into a commodity, commercializing sentimentality and infusing it with fantasy. The phenomenon of a quickie wedding in Las Vegas combines the seemingly disparate worlds of entertainment and sentiment. Whether that fantasy is manufactured, as in the Pink Caddy Package where the happy couple is driven into the chapel to be married by Elvis, or personalized with hand written wedding vows, Las Vegas offers a range of options to fulfill every whimsy.
With the many choices, where does the artifice end and the authenticity begin? It is this question of what is real underneath the veneer of pomp and circumstance that got me photographing inside wedding chapels on the Las Vegas Strip. I expected a garish parody of weddings, a mockery of marriage. However, the more I photographed, I began to notice an underlying thread linking each ceremony that I had not expected. The one constant behind each of these productions is the pledge to love, honor and cherish each other “till death do us part” that is taken as a serious and solemn vow.
My fascination held me there, attending more weddings, photographing couple after couple. Nothing was truly individual, or unique about the weddings, though each one was personalized in a genuine way that took me by surprise. However, as each ceremony passed, I realized that it wasn’t the individuals that captured my attention, it was the work of weddings. The ins and outs of what happens behind the ceremony. The people at their daily jobs, performing the business of marriage. Details started emerging signifying the assembly line approach – down to the Kleenex box fastened behind the pillar that holds the unity candle.
I’d say that Larry Sultan, and his project The Valley, has been the most influential to me for the way he re-contextualizes an industry, pornography, about which many have pre-conceived notions. Sultan is rooted in his ambivalence yet plants the seeds of fascination and repulsion, desire and loss. He shows things as they are.
So, do these Las Vegas wedding images capture the usual or the unusual? As Diane Arbus said of her photographs, “These are symptoms and our moments. I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace…”
— Kate Nicholson