of who I am and my thoughts on the wonderful most beautiful art of photography.
Bisou Bride Interview
Montreal based photographer George Mavitzis has worked in the wedding industry for almost 30 years and has been running his own studio for about 15 years. Having shot close to 800 weddings, he’s pretty much seen it all.
How did you begin your career as a photographer?
I've been involved in photography for the last 28 years. I freelanced for multiple studios while I was a student at McGill. I began by shooting weddings on weekends and it just evolved from there. I decided to open up a studio and it just became a career for me.
You write about the in-camera approach to photography on your website, why is it important to you?
When I began my career we were shooting film, not digital. With film, the image is created at the moment of capture. The key to a good capture is getting your exposure, composition and lighting right in-camera. This can only be achieved through experience, discipline and intuition. As a result, the whole feel of the image is more true, more authentic-something which can't be duplicated in Photoshop. I still shoot with this philosophy in mind-I want to create a true capture right from the beginning.
How do you decide whether to shoot with a film or digital camera?
I still shoot film for personal projects. I resisted digital for a while because I couldn't produce the true black and white tones as I did with film. I waited and when I got to the stage where I could produce black and whites that I was happy with, I switched over to digital. But it was mainly the industry that forced me to do so.
After taking a hiatus, how did documentary photography inspire you to re-enter the wedding scene?
I opened up my own studio about 15 years ago. Previous to that I was shooting for other studios taking the typical, set up wedding shots. It wasn't the kind of photography that allowed for any kind of freedom or creativity so I eventually grew tired of it and decided to take a short break. I wanted to re-assess what was important to me and what direction I wanted my career to go in. A few months later I found myself gravitating back to wedding photography not only because it was something I already knew how to do but I was also actively looking for a way to steer it away from what it was and into a new, more exciting direction. The opportunity presented itself in 1997 when I was invited to photograph the wedding of an American couple living in Boston. They wanted their wedding shot in the new documentary style that was trending in America at the time. They exposed me to what American photographers were doing at the time through publications which featured editorial documentary styled weddings. I really liked what I saw and I instantly knew that I had found what I had been looking for. I thought I'd try this in Montreal and it just took off from there. Now there are hundreds of us, but originally, documentary photography wasn't the approach to weddings.
What has had the greatest influence on your photography style?
I was always into photography. My Dad was an avid amateur photographer so I always had a camera. I later went on to study photography at Dawson College. I was really inspired by photojournalism and it's what I really wanted to pursue. I later incorporated this into wedding photography. I wanted to get a bit more creative and see what wedding photography could become-where I could take it. I found weddings interesting because of the relationships and the dynamics between people.
Besides weddings, what do you like to shoot?
I love to shoot people—whether it's portraiture, a casual session or documenting a family holiday. The human element has to be present in an image. There has to be life, movement, emotion - the essence of a person. That's why I find landscape photography a bit too dry even though I have shot that in the past. For me, it comes down to simplicity. I don't think shoots should be complicated, so when I'm with family or travelling, it's just one camera, one lens and I keep it simple. I like leaving a large part of it to chance or intuition if you will. Letting the day flow naturally with minimal intervention on my part. That's when you get thetrue moments and the most authentic captures. My clients know that as well—meaning that if you're going to create something original for them and true to them- it can't be based on a formula that you repeat from wedding to wedding.
What photographers do you admire?
My biggest influences would be Rodney Smith and Raymond Meeks. They basically brought in a simplicity to fashion that I thought would be possible for weddings. Then there's Sebastiao Salgado whose work is just pure genius.
How do you prepare to photograph a couple's wedding?
I used to work for a studio that shot multiple weddings and I only got to know the couples on their wedding day. Now that I own my own studio, we do have a meeting beforehand. I bring very little work or albums to the initial meeting because by the time you've set up a meeting, they've seen all of your work online. At that point, it's more about seeing if you can make a connection. Sometimes you can't make that connection in an hour, you have to be realistic. They're interviewing me, but I'm also interviewing them. I'm not going to change my style to match what's trending right now.
It doesn't mean I will refuse a wedding, but I want my clients to know that right away. Sometimes you want to shoot a wedding because of price point or notoriety, other times you want to shoot a wedding because it's going to be a joy. I want to walk into the right wedding.
What advice would you give to couples looking to hire a wedding photographer?
Get a lot of referrals and look at the work carefully. Clients hire a photographer usually once in their life. They know what they like, but they don't know how to differentiate between my ten images and someone else's ten best images. Don't fall for the extras, meaning don't fall for albums, e-sessions or second shooters. I work solo, I don't believe in turning a wedding into a paparazzi event. If you look at my work, that intimate look to the images is because I'm not bombarding them. I try to respect their space and the sanctity of the event itself. It's not about me, it's about them.
After shooting so many weddings, how do you see each experience with a fresh perspective?
As someone who has shot close to 800 weddings and events, I've pretty much seen it all - every wedding has a beginning, a middle and an end. The basic structure of the day is similar from wedding to wedding but what gives it texture, colour and uniqueness are the individuals themselves. In that sense, the structure is the same but the content is different. I always approach my shoot with this in mind. I love photography and I love to observe human interaction and expression and I love to combine the two. I always look forward to the dynamics of a wedding and how that translates into still imagery, A wedding can intimidate a lot of people, but I don't get intimidated anymore because that's my office—I'm used to bustling households, anxious mothers of the bride and the overall excitement of the day— I can handle it all. I always provide my clients with some guidance to help the day run more smoothly.
George wrote on his website, “A wedding is a long awaited event that I compare to a theatrical play. Bride and groom are the main characters with family acting as the supporting cast, guests and friends as the loving and eager extras. A plot line that always has a happy ending.”
How do you make sure your clients being photographed are at ease?
I am myself. I don't give a big sales pitch at the meeting. I say this is my work, this is who I am. I have the experience to help a bride feel calmer, I've been given that compliment. I guess it's second nature to me to make people feel comfortable when I'm showing up to shoot. When I walk into a wedding, I don't start shooting. The first 20 minutes or so, the camera is in my hands or nearby but it's not about that. I'll walk in, make myself a coffee, make sure the bride has had breakfast, little things. I don't think it should turn into a production as soon as I show up.
What do you find most challenging about wedding photography?
Booking clients and competition. I respect couples having budgets but what's challenging is trying to convince people that an X amount should be allocated to photography. The budget should be a realistic one. I usually tell clients to base it on everything they spend, from the rings to the honeymoon—every single dollar they spend—and I strongly believe that a minimum of 10 per cent should go to photography.
I work 70, sometimes 80 hours a week and then sometimes I work 20—I decide. There are some weekends where the hours are insane. You're shooting on Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes maybe 30 hours in one weekend. But overall, it’s one careerwhere if you know how to allocate your time properly, it's a blessing. I would never trade it for anything.
What are some moments from photographing weddings that have stood out for you?
The best wedding I have ever shotwas an elopement in Quebec City. It was for a great couple from Chicago. The media was all over them and they just eloped with their newborn to Quebec City. I was the witness for their wedding. It was amazing, we had lunch and champagne together.
What are you most proud of regarding your career as a photographer?
I'm happy to be part of the an original group of photographers that decided to approach wedding photography from a completely fresh perspective and get away from the repetitiveness and production line of wedding photography. For the industry, I'd say that was the biggest achievement. We were in the early stages of changing it up, making wedding photography decent. It was exciting and it still is.
Lastly, George shared his perspective on the wedding industry:
I've noticed that it's become a sort hobby for a lot of people but I believe that you must earn your place in the world of photography. Shooting for a season and having a portfolio of images doesn't qualify you as a wedding photographer. Fifteen, 20 years ago when I started, photography was in the number 1 to 5 most sought after careers. Now it's not even in the top one hundred. Some of the most talented photographers I know have now moved out of the city and have had to get into national gigs to keep their business afloat. We're sort of diluting the industry, we're weakening the base. I don't think that's going to change. There is a lot of talent out there, but this talent is afraid or not willing to approach it seriously. The industry is going through a lot of changes right now. I'll stick aroundand see what happens.