Q&A: Wedding experts discuss the art and impact of ‘Capturing Love’ between gay couples

If it's true that a picture's worth a thousand words, then it's probably fair to say that Thea Dodds and Kathryn Hamm have compiled one of the most verbose books in history: Their new book, The New Art of Capturing Love, is bursting with amazing photographs that each say so much about the triumph and energy and comfort and pride that same-sex couples share when they are free to marry.

The book, which will be released on May 6 and is available for pre-order here, is a collection of the best photography out there that specifically captures weddings of gay and lesbian couples. Featuring 48 photographers from across the United States and 70 different weddings, the book is an unprecedented look at the behind-the-scenes magic of wedding photography. It's a first-of-its-kind collection that seeks to instruct photographers of the unique aspects of capturing weddings of same-sex couples, showcase the diversity of the LGBTQ community, and inspire readers with its truly stunning images.

The book features a forward by Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks and The Court Yard Hounds, who writes: "The photographs in this book are not snapshots. They are poetic statements, curated by Kathryn and Thea, and crafted by photographers who know precisely how to combine the essential elements to bring forth an image that stirs a deep emotion in us. Just like a songwriter, this is a photographer's gift, and when accomplished so finely, the viewer's experience is like hearing a great song that instantly becomes an important emotional thread, woven through your life forever." 

Kathryn Hamm, president of GayWeddings.com (below, right), and award-winning photographer Thea Dodds (below, left) authored The New Art of Capturing Love - and to mark the book's upcoming release, they sat down with Freedom to Marry and answered some questions about wedding photography, their personal stories, and how wedding celebrations help personalize the political.

Kathryn Hamm Photo by Carly Fuller Photography

Q: How is this different from other wedding photography books? And why was it important for you to hone in on gay and lesbian weddings in particular?

TD: As a wedding photographer, I instruct couples on how to stand, where to put their hands, how to look, and I encourage emotional expressions. In other words: I pose them.

"In the book, we talk about the importance of understanding some of the cultural differences that same-sex couples experience as they come out, date, and, if they so choose, get engaged and married." - Kathryn Hamm

However, the foundations of wedding portraiture posing are based on the tradition of having a male/female couple. And when photographers apply traditional poses to same-sex couples, the results can be awkward or even offensive because often times photographers are imposing the dualistic ideology rather than reflecting the authentic relationship of the couple. 

KH: It really is true. If a photographer approaches a wedding session in a traditional “plug and play” sort of way, he or she is invariably trying to put two women or two men into a bride/groom format - or might even be posing them in ways that might suggest a more platonic relationship because that’s all that’s previously been depicted in wedding photography pose books. Neither option is going to work well as a general rule for same-sex engagement and wedding photography.

In The New Art of Capturing Love, we go into some of the mechanics of this - from understanding height differences to working with non-contrasting colors (like two white dress or two dark suits), but we also talk about the importance of understanding some of the cultural differences that same-sex couples experience as they come out, date, and, if they so choose, get engaged and married. This includes, for example, the importance of understanding our family contexts, gender expression and comfort with public displays of affection.

Photo by It's Bliss Photography

Q: How did you find photographers to share their work for the book?

KH: When Thea and I met to discuss the project, we talked generally about the types of photos that we thought we might need, including a diverse representation of attire, ethnicity, gender expression, physical traits, and so on. Then we set off into blogs, websites, and the submissions I’d received at GayWeddings.com, looking for images that answered affirmatively the following three questions: is the image authentic? is it believable? and does the image reflect intimacy?

Once we had developed a preliminary collection of images that inspired us, we then approached the photographers and couples to ask them if they would join us. Almost all said yes. And as we curated our collection for the latest book, The New Art of Capturing Love, we were able to consider even more images, and we received more submissions. And of course, my talented co-author Thea, had one more wedding season under her belt!

 One of the things I think is most special about our book is the variety we have included. So many photography books showcase one or two photographers. Or they focus on one style of photography or one region or one type of couple. We worked very hard to be as inclusive as possible, and I think we succeeded.

TD: I think it’s also worth noting that our book is the first and only wedding photography book we’ve seen that does not include a bride on the cover. How’s that for groundbreaking?

(Clockwise from Right) Photos by Aguedas Photography, Tammy Watson Photography, and Cean One Studios

Q: How has your personal story - and your own marriage - impacted your work with The New Art of Capturing Love

TD: When Kathryn and I first met, each of us was in a long-term, non-legally binding relationship with kids and shared property. The only difference at the time was that I had access to legal marriage (since my partner is a man) and Kathryn didn’t (since she and her wife live in Virginia).

"The New Art of Capturing Love is really about capturing the authentic relationships of modern couples, regardless of whether they are straight or gay." - Thea Dodds

Ironically, Kathryn being Kathryn, she hassled me pretty hard to get married during our first work session together. Personally, I had a really hard time taking advantage of the benefits of legal marriage when it was not accessible to everyone. Then, the core of DOMA was overturned. And to me, that was a big enough turn of events to feel okay about formalizing my ten year relationship with civil marriage. My husband and I were married by a justice of the peace with just our kids and my mother-in-law in our garden this past summer.

KD: There is no way I’d be here today without what’s happened in my life. My straight mom founded our company (GayWeddings.com) when she couldn’t find products for the wedding my wife, Amy, and I had back in 1999. Not long after, I joined her and came to understand even more about the industry side of weddings and marriage. I’ve spent almost 10 years (15 if you count supporting my mom in the mix) trying to get the word out about same-sex weddings and how couples need to be better served. So, The New Art of Capturing Love is really just one more extension of the work we’ve been doing.

And, of course, because of the DOMA ruling, Amy and I could finally get legally married, even though Virginia doesn’t yet recognize it. It was quite the off-season for me and Thea (between the first and second books) - we each got legally married, and Amy and I hired Carly Fuller, one of the contributing photographers from the first book, to photograph our ceremony! 

Photo by Maggie Winters Photography

Q: What have you learned from your work on The New Art of Capturing Love?

KH: I’ve learned a lot about the power of images of our community. I’ve also learned a lot about photography and how hard photographers work when photographing weddings. Can you imagine? You have one chance to capture the moment that matters most to a couple. And, you are out there working so hard, while trying to remain invisible. Then you have hours of editing work to do after the wedding. I have a newfound respect for what goes on behind the lens!

TD: I have learned so much from this project, and from our contributors, our couples, people who have attended our events, and, of course, the wedding expert’s expert, Ms. Kathryn Hamm! My biggest personal breakthrough has been the realization that much of the posing I was doing with my straight couples was just as out-of-date and inauthentic to their relationships as it was to same-sex couples. The New Art of Capturing Love is really about capturing the authentic relationships of modern couples, regardless of whether they are straight or gay. 

Photo by Hudson River Photographer

Q: Beyond the logistics of photographing same-sex couples - and weddings in general - what do you want readers to get out of this book?

KH: It’s been really amazing to take the education I like to do on the topic of same-sex weddings with GayWeddings.com to the next level. In our book, we’re not just introducing the reader to what same-sex couples look like. We are also asking readers to think more deeply about how our cultural experiences, the ways we express ourselves, and our assumptions can impact a wedding story - not only as it’s told to our guests, but also as a photographer might tell our story. 

The love of the couples featured in The New Art of Capturing Love speaks for itself. And, while I like to think that some of what Thea and I had to say mattered, I also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s the love of the featured couples, captured so beautifully by our contributing photographers, that really says it all. Authentic representations of true love are irresistible and move mountains.

Check out the book on Amazon

Photo by Authentic Eye Photography