Somerset Wedding Photographer : Jo & Jim : Part One


Well, there ain’t no strangers

When you’re swinging a hammer side by side

Raise the Barn ~ Keith Urban

Jo & Jim’s wedding had a profound effect upon me. I don’t know how to encapsulate it all in words. I know that I’m capable of doing so but it’s just not coming to the surface. I’m staring at the screen, looking at the pictures, wondering when they’ll come. Those words I’m waiting for. I know from experience that once the dam is breached they’ll come flooding through. Once I commit to an opening sentence all else will follow. Maybe that’s all was needed; Jo & Jim’s wedding had a profound effect upon me. Simple as that, because it was simple, once you get to the heart of the notion of what it was all about.

Maybe let’s try it this way.

Imagine you had a group of friends gather together for a meal. One prepares the table while another cooks the food. One brings dessert, another brings some wine. It’s wine she brewed herself. Another brings flowers to decorate the table with, flowers he grew in his own garden. You all come together as you cherish each other’s company. More friends arrive to share in the feast. All of those gathered know some of the others really well, some know others by association, you all partake of good food, good wine; you share with each other, you enjoy a common experience. You all cherish each other’s company.

Now multiply the numbers involved tenfold and more but apply the same principles of communality. Add to that a particularly auspicious reason for the gathering. Two of your number are to marry.

Jo & Jim’s wedding had a profound effect upon me.

When a wedding takes me any particular distance away from home, which the majority do, I’ll stay in the locale the night before and the night of the wedding. Start the day fresh. I’ll be too worn out to drive any particular distance at the tail end of it all. Jo & Jim live in Brighton but chose Dunster in Somerset to marry and to stage their wedding celebrations. Some two and a half hours drive from my home on the Dorset-Hampshire border, this was certainly a stay-over adventure.

Normally I would aim to arrive in the locale of a wedding some time into the evening of the day prior but when I got wind of what would be happening, in Jo & Jim’s case, throughout much of that eve of wedding day I was compelled to set off from home as soon as I could. This was something that I had to create a photographic record of. This shouldn’t be mistaken for service above and beyond the call of duty. I simply needed to witness it for myself.

They chose Knowle Manor as the base and backdrop for the wedding, a classic manor house facade set against a wooded Somerset hillside to set the scene for their marquee based festivities. Inside, a warren of rooms large and small to sleep in, to relax, to party and, rather importantly, to cook. A small army of Jo & Jim’s friends and families descended on Knowle Manor on the Friday to set about preparing for the following day, a host of tasks that would see them working late into the evening.

Raising the Chill-out Tent on Knowle Estate…

I imagined this was how weddings were made many years ago; in many ways, to varying degrees, how they are still made but to me there was also something evocative of the barn raising spirit of the old American West; a community coming together to share in endeavour to make something of lasting value for someone. All one really need do to fully celebrate a marriage is to be there, to witness it, to join in festivities; it’s all any couple would want.

I’m here because you’re my friend. I’m here because I value you. I’m here because I love you. I’m here.

There was something about all that I witnessed during that first day though that drew these sentiments completely to the surface and magnified them. Simple acts as they were really (though complex in the sheer scale, scope and, ultimately, the quality of outcome), combined they lit a beacon that illuminated what the following day meant, reflected in its light what a marriage might all be about, endeavour, cooperation and love.

I make this food because I love you. I stitch this cloth because I love you. I grew these flowers, picked them, arranged them because I love you. I lifted, carried, placed and set. I’m here for you.

In piecing together this feature, in making sense of it all, I’ve referred to a suite of notes and a folder of email communications between myself, Jo and Jim. In one of those earlier emails, Jo explained what she and Jim had seen in my work that had informed their decision. “We also love the way you record other important aspects like the activity in the kitchen while the bride is getting ready, the architecture of the buildings, the wedding food and how it’s presented, the drunken activity on the dance floor in the evening, and the kiddies when they don’t know they’ve been snapped!”

And the kiddies when they don’t know they’ve been snapped!

Oops. I like to mix it up a bit with my documentary inspired style…

And on it all went into the night. An infectious spirit of community; it was all I could do to resist asking to be assigned tasks myself but I knew it was the visual story-telling that would be my contribution.

And my thanks to Jo & Jim for providing me with a room at the Manor; it made for an exceptionally comfortable night’s sleep. It would be a very short commute to work the following morning. I’m glad none of my neighbours opened their doors whilst I was photographing their room tags; that might have looked odd.

One exceptionally comfortable night’s sleep enjoyed, it was the big day itself.

Signs dotted around the site were made by Jim’s father, Brian…

I must say it made for a rather relaxed start to the day being able to saunter across the lawn from my overnight accommodation to the first location for my day’s photography. As the marquee had been pretty much fully decked out by the end of the previous day’s endeavours (there was still plenty of work going on all around the Manor, though), I thought I’d start by documenting the setting for the wedding breakfast. Usually, on a wedding day, the first opportunity I have to do this comes during the cocktail reception when I’m balancing photographing family groups and portraits of the couple with capturing candid images of guests mingling and interacting then as soon as the venue staff have completed set-up of the banqueting room I might have a couple of handfuls of minutes to get into the room and photograph as much of the detail as I can before it is all put to use, moved around and covered in used napkins and crumbs. On this occasion though it was all there, laid out and untouched, indeed to remain untouched until much later that day so that usual couple might be extended to a few handfuls of minutes with no haste to rush back to another aspect of the wedding day to document that.

That was the plan, anyway. A few handfuls of minutes.

It was the plates that first struck me. Everything struck me immediately, of course, but there was something in particular about the plates. Every single one appeared to bear a different design. For some 130 guests. As Jo later confirmed as we continued to correspond via email, after the wedding, “We also spent months with family and friends collecting blue and white plates, cups and saucers, vintage bone handled silver cutlery, and cake stands from car boot sales and charity shops, which was quite tricky as most car boots were cancelled because of the terrible weather this year.”

I think I ended up spending an hour in there. So much for a few handfuls of minutes. Every time I thought I’d done the setting justice and started to leave, something new and fascinating caught my eye.

It’s not that it would be feasible to carry away an image of every single element nor would that be my intention; in this and other aspects I always seek to add a poignant brush stroke to the picture of the day and it is but a brush stroke. I’m a story-teller, not a forensic photographer, an archivist. It was personal fascination that kept stopping me in my tracks though. Each item further added to providing evidence of just how much commitment, effort and vision had been invested in this day. It’s what is invested in all wedding days but again I saw a magnificent magnification of all that had come before and had fed in to the day emerging around us.

I wouldn’t have been surprised had it turned out to be the case that every single knife and every single fork was slightly different in style and finish. The synapses in my brain were starting to fuse. I photographed half a dozen or so sets, sufficient to add another brush stroke. I was enthralled by what I was finding. I’m a people photographer first and foremost but these were portraits of people, vignettes of the creative vision, the dreams that lay in their hearts.

Jo & Jim spent months collecting embroidered tablecloths from eBay, some dating from the 1930s.

Affectionately referred to as “the three mothers,” Jim’s mother, Margaret, Jo’s mother, Judi and her step mother, Kate between them grew all of the flowers for the wedding (bar bride and bridesmaid bouquets which were provided by St. Mellion Flowers of Cornwall). A few supermarket flowers were added to the mix due to storm damage but I felt certain that the expression, a riot of flowers, was coined with some premonition of Jo & Jim’s wedding day in mind. Across all the locations involved I’ve not seen so many flowers at a wedding. Jim’s mother arranged the table flowers and Jo’s mother arranged the altar and window flowers at the ceremony venue as well as making Willow heart decorations that featured in various places.

And then I was handed a full-English breakfast :~) Thank you Charlie, and anyone else who was involved in the cooking (of several dozen perfectly presented portions; the cracked yolk above was a special request of course).

Not quite how Charlie was dressed when she handed me my breakfast in the kitchen earlier that morning…

Hair and make-up were by Louise Alway and Kelly Hooper respectively.

Onwards to Dunster, just five minutes down the road, where Jo & Jim would marry at Dunster Tithe Barn (not the tower on the hill, to keep things clear)…

Jo’s brother Ben made for a rather dapper car-park attendant (and usher at large)…

Jim invested in a bespoke suit by Hugo Morris of Brighton

While Jo’s brother, Tim, brings mathematical precision to setting the candles on the ceremony table I’ll allow Jo to explain that fascinating wall hanging: “Kate, my step mother, made the quilt on the wall, which is actually a  traditional design of something which is given to a bride and groom for their matrimonial bed. Called a ‘double wedding ring’ quilt, it features lots of interlocked rings all over it. The beige and duck egg blue is to match our wallpaper at home, and she hand stitched white peacock feathers into the white bits. She also hand made all the bunting using fabrics in 1930s designs.” Kate also made the twisted hazel and peacock feather decorations either side of the wall hanging…

Jo & Jim designed and printed all their own save the dates, invitations, menus, order of the days, jar and bottle labels and so on (even the bedroom door labels back at the Manor). The quality and finish was of a top flight professional order throughout.

For the first few minutes that I was in the barn, I wondered where on Earth they’d managed to hide the string quartet (they’d brought a very good sound system with them, then)…

I’ve noticed increasingly in recent years that children at weddings are far less likely to get bored, frustrated and distract their parents from relaxing into the day’s proceedings (less likely, not entirely unlikely, I hasten to add)…

Jo had seemed impressed when earlier that morning, on showing me her dress, I’d immediately exclaimed, “Ooh, it’s a Packham!” I’m learning, obviously. It does continue to amaze me though, after more than a hundred weddings, that every single dress I’ve seen has been distinctly unlike any other.

Jo was walked up the aisle by her father, David and her step father, Trevor…

Jo & Jim’s ceremony was rather a fulsome affair with three readings and two rounds of singing accompanied by guitar.

Their friends, Rhiannon and Jon, led everyone in the first song, Top of the World by The Carpenters. A truly beautiful voice accompanied by superb guitar-playing.

Jo’s mother, Judi, delivered a reading from Edmund O’ Neill’s  Marriage Joins Two People in the Circle Of Its Love, Jo & Jim’s friend, Ollie, read from Wilfred Arlan Paterson’s The Art of a Good Marriage and Jo’s maid of honour, Catherine, recited Yes, I’ll Marry You by Pam Ayres…

Best man, Adam; I don’t know why he’s not playing and singing on the professional circuit…

The next generation; Master Whateverhisnameis

Jim suddenly remembered that there were still twenty-six kilos of tomatoes back in the kitchen that needed chopping…

There was a little bit of help on the food front brought in from outside, during points at which it would have been particularly inconvenient for this band of friends and family to be finalising the preparation of food. The evocatively named Piglet Cottage provided canapés after the ceremony, and later on in the day a giant cake of cheese at the wedding breakfast and a delicious hog roast later into the evening…

Perfect understanding of the aerodynamic properties of confetti there…

Onwards to the most fantastic feast to have been enjoyed in modern weddingdom >>

Contact Tithe Barn, Dunster, Somerset Wedding Photographer Phillip Allen : : 07870 696248

Stephen Bunn - Epic! Great work Phill!

Matthew Cleveland - A great set of images as usual.
Being able to see the preps on the day before the wedding was an unexpected treat too.

Susan Bomlin - Phil, this is my first time visiting your site and its safe to say i wasnt dissapointed. Love the way you told a story in your photos, from the preperations to the festivities later on as well. You’ve captured the warmth of the whole day wonderfully well.

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