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Going away lunch in Berkeley

October 22nd, 2000

Picnics and Weddings
Yesterday was a long day. The picnic was held on a ranch in San Ramon about 45 miles east and south of here on facilities it rents out to companies and other organizations like ours: grass fields for baseball and soccer, basketball courts, an inflatable rubber slide for the kids (one of those big ones you see sometimes at street fairs), a huge barbecue area with both covered and open clusters of picnic tables, plenty of trees, tables where women dressed in clown costumes painted kids hands and faces, a swimming pool, all manned by ranch employees in lettered t-shirts ministering to the needs of the fifteen hundred of us who'd signed up for this adventure in the woods.

I shot five rolls of film and it somehow felt like work with no particular enthusiasm on my part for the spirit of the occasion, the reason, I suspect, being everyone I know from the office with one or two exceptions is a SINK or a DINK (my approximation of single income, no kids and double income, no kids) all of whom are genetically constructed to flee at this very concept. I did manage to screw up one roll of film by opening the camera before it had fully rewound, when I was distracted by someone who wanted to talk to me about cameras, and this put me in a foul mood (Which shots did I lose? The ones with the little kid being serenaded by the torch singer and the band? I hope not. I hope not.). Today I will program my Nikons to automatically rewind when I've exposed the 36th frame. I've threatened to do this in the past, but from now on no more jerk water mistakes. (Please? Please?)

I left four hours later around 2:00 to drive to the wedding party. The bride had said 3:00, so I took the instructions I'd printed out from Mapquest and actually arrived on time. I had no idea what to expect, although I assumed this would be a large gathering of her family and friends in a proper Mexican American wedding with food and music and lots of ritual. Weddings are a pretty big deal in all cultures and I had every confidence that the Catholic Spanish-American culture was right up there at the head of the pack.

So I found the house - yes it had the balloons up high on the entrance as she'd said - knocked on the Where else? Another lunch in Oakland. door thinking, well I must be early since there was no one around and I'd found a parking space quite easily just down the block - and met a young man, late teens, early twenties who said sure, come on to the back yard where I was led through an empty house and kitchen (with food bubbling inside huge pots) and then down some steep steps into a small back yard with a patio area just beyond down another five steps through an arched trellis intertwined with vines and flowers that finally revealed a small sea of white table cloths, wine glasses with black napkins folded inside like flowers (the color motif interestingly, was black and orange) with the bride and groom sitting up at a long table alone at the far end of the patio overlooking the crowd of maids of honor, kids of honor and relatives of honor all decked out in black from the ceremony. (I don't know why so much black, but it looked pretty slick and what do I know about weddings anyway?)

I shot a lot of film. Everyone else at the party, at least every other one of the women (all of whom looked a lot like the bride) had their own cameras and we all shot pictures of the bride and groom in one combination or another with everyone there in attendance. There was a Mariachi band, of course, a sound system that played the couple's favorite songs, a small quartet (all dressed in black) that was playing when I arrived. This was a big and very nice production by a family of modest means and I realized again how much of this is necessary ritual and how little of it is fun until the alcohol starts flowing, which I assume it did, after I left. Reminded me of my own family reunions, all the oldsters, the youngsters and their youngsters together testing and strengthening their ties as they formally introduce another member and his family into their own. I talked with one of her uncles (she has seven), saying the groom struck me as a good man. "Do you think he'd be allowed here if he weren't?" the uncle had replied. Ah, yes. Absolutely. My thoughts exactly.

I realize in retrospect that my offer was an odd one, an off the cuff offer to shoot my hair stylist's wedding as a wedding gift, a nice lady whom I really don't know at all, to give myself the experience of shooting a wedding. When I was leaving I approached the couple to say I'd drop the prints off at her shop when they were ready and she said to her husband, whom I'd just then met, that I had a web site on which I posted my photographs to which I responded immediately that I perfectly well understood that these photographs were private and there was no question of posting them without permission.

I'm glad I was able to say that before they had to bring it up, but it got me to thinking as I was driving home what he may well have thought about this, who was this guy and what was he about? Don't know. I shot my wedding and I think maybe one is enough. I put myself into a new and different space for a few hours yesterday and I enjoyed it just fine. In retrospect I know the film and the prints belong to them and I don't think it would be proper to even ask to post any of them here. Interesting. Time to move on and find other subjects as my interest evolves, attempt projects where the only client to be pleased is myself.

In the banner photograph our manager contemplates the table at his going away lunch in Berkeley, MRM holding forth to the right on a technical subject. The young woman was photographed at another lunch in Oakland, a gathering of the usual suspects. The quotation is by Groucho Marx.