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North Hidden Barn Wedding Photography : Ruth & Neil

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I wanted Ruth & Neil’s wedding to last for three days. For the small army of friends and family that joined with them to bring it all to physical realisation and to pack it all away again afterwards, it likely lasted five. For Ruth and for Neil, make that many months, even a small number of years though albeit small, years none-the-less (if less than two, certainly more than one) in the totality of its making. But I did find myself stood, outside a big barn in the Berkshire countryside, as the day’s all embracing light gave way to playful night shadows; I found myself stood, the realisation that time was passing, that morning had progressed into afternoon, the latter into evening and now the night was limbering up to take its shift and whilst that coming night would continue to bring a wealth of experience that would match and build upon the wealth of experience already accrued, this was the opening of the closing act of a very particular story; I found myself stood there, thinking, “I wish this could last for three days.”

My legs have since thanked me that it didn’t.

:~)

Bear in mind that this is a metaphor, one derived from something that in turn is a metaphor itself. In using metaphors however we do seek to encapsulate and to clarify the essence of… the essence of something. A something. Some thing. The truth of the matter, of a matter. The emotional truth, perhaps. A hologramatic, abstracted illustration of a truth. Perhaps. Maslow’s Hierarchy, his hierarchy of needs; those layers that sit in the middle can’t sit with lasting stability without a solid foundation below and the pinnacle of the hierarchy can’t be achieved in any lasting sense without those middle layers being consistently in place. The maintenance of physiological needs serving as a bedrock foundation for the fulfilment of one’s needs for safety, that in turn serving as a supporting foundation for a sense of belonging, that in turn serving as a supporting structure to build upon with esteem, for self, for others, that in turn serving as the shoulders to the head, the achievement of self-actualisation. In the sense of this metaphorical model, I felt that I self-actualised some 21 years go (certain things had happened and were happening and I found myself in a certain place at the time). It lasted just a few months :~) I’ve been perfectly, perfectly content though bobbing about in those middle layers throughout the subsequent years. Sometimes, however briefly, you can connect with something you’d found yourself once immersed in for a time. So, bearing in mind that this is a metaphor, one derived from something that always was, ultimately, a metaphor, imagine a hierarchy of needs attached to whatever it is that you do in life. I’ve imagined a hierarchy of needs for this, this thing that I do. What I do can’t be anything more than nothing if it doesn’t sit constantly on a bedrock of doing the right thing and doing it well, of providing a solidly delivered and a solidly backed up service; I’ll get past, personally, my fear of the possibility of that sounding like marketing hype and recognise the fact that it is where I lay down a hefty cap on what I really fear, when it comes to this thing (making a mess of it; so, I just don’t). On top of that bedrock, I can indulge myself, have fun; I like to have fun. I am self-indulgent. I’m booked by people that like what I make and that creates a layer atop the bedrock that’s fun to work within. Job satisfaction is a true tonic. I work for people that bestow their trust upon me, another layer; bear in mind it’s a metaphor; trust is real, the layers are metaphors. It’s rewarding, being trusted. I work with people that like me. I’ll never knock the efficacy of being liked. Not seeking something out doesn’t mean you can’t love it when you do find it. Another layer. When you find yourself in a place that’s fun and satisfying and rewarding and… warm. Well, what can be better?

What can transcend that? Something that transcends it, I suppose :~) When those layers all lock into place perfectly, when something quintessentially solid forms, when crystal clarity envelops everything. When there’s acceptance in a multitude of manners.

This is the story of Ruth & Neil’s wedding day.

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I first met Ruth & Neil at Sarah & Jon’s wedding, in 2012. Ruth delivered a beautiful reading during the ceremony. I encountered Neil through my viewfinder, a dapper, effusive, physically animated, unabashed character who provided an oncoming autobahn of traffic in that two-way street that constitutes the process of image making that I engage in. I added him to my never to be realised list of people that I would like to gather and take to weddings with me, dotting them around the place so that I’d always be guaranteed of being able to make those images of people that I have most fun making. In the night, at that wedding, Neil asked if I would take a photograph of he and Ruth and I photographed them under the moon.

Instant thrill when Ruth first emailed me, last year, to ask if I was available for their wedding date. No, strike that. Not the thrilled bit. Don’t strike that. I was thrilled but there was no wedding date as such, just an ‘are you available across this two month period?’ of sorts. That quite possibly made it all the more thrilling again.

So we spoke and we planned and we met and we ate and we took photographs for practice and for the simple pleasure of making images and we spoke and planned some more, then the day came. Or, first of all, the afternoon prior to the day to come as I was doing my usual checking of locations, making sure my SatNav would take me to the right places when it really mattered that it would do so, and I encountered a story already very much telling itself.

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A list of designed things:

A temporary sign placed on the barn door for delivery people, designed, and for each of the helpers, designed instruction packs attached to clipboards with a designed logo on…
A range of tin cans to hold baked beans (a redesigned Heinz tin featuring the couple’s names), peas, gravy (meat and vegetarian versions), cream for puddings…
A mass of designed, hand-made and painted wooden signs (directions, parking, toilets, and everything else)…
A variety of designed box sleeves holding packages of sugar cubes wrapped as though factory produced in designed labels…
16 different designs of match box with enough produced to place one at each of the 120 guest placings, featuring designs relating to certain key aspects of the wedding or people involved, including a Mister Phill matchbox! :~)…
Sundry containers and boxes all designed…
A six double-spread wedding day booklet designed and illustrated corner to corner, in five different cover colours…
4 large designed wall hangings with slogans and information relating to the wedding
Approximately 50 A4 black and white print-outs featuring different wedding scenes arrayed across one wall of the barn…
A variety of framed graphics and images including a hashtag suggestion, a map relating to the honeymoon and several other things…
Hand-made light-up wooden-boxed white-plastic-fronted logo-emblazoned signs for the bar, the hot dog stand, the cake stand and the photo booth…
A sea of small posters for the hot dog stand
The groom’s dad built a wooden bar, from the ground up…
A variety of designed menus relating to the bar…
Labels for various jars of stuff (sweets, etc.)
A table plan, as one might expect, but in a form that one might not expect, strings of named sausages
Individual vials of home distilled gin with designed labels, one for each guest for the toasts…
Table numbers (18) in the form of red wine bottles with designed labels (Table numbers could be opened for drinking! :~)…
Place names in the form of card pig-masks, menu on the back, individual guest names on the front…
No two dinner or dessert plates the same (china), collected over the space of a year (maybe there were duplicates but if so, they were laid out to suggest consistent individuality)…
Oh, and tissues, with designed labels…
And more…
And more again.

I wrote this list because… because, I’m not certain why :~) An instinctive need to grasp something, to frame it, to preserve it. That’s certainly what photographs are for, on one level; what photographs can be for though they are for a great deal more than that. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions I’m all about people, photographically speaking (and personally speaking), about people a great deal more than material things but I photographed everything in that list and in doing so, felt that I was making a fractal portrait of an important aspect of Ruth’s inner-being, that I was photographing a person, from a myriad different angles. This was quite the most heroic exercise in design that I’ve yet encountered and the result resonated deeply.

You can find a select few elements of the total in Ruth’s Etsy shop. They deserve a good home.

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The Sun found worthy competition in my heart, when I spotted my matchbox :~)…

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And when I spotted the arrangement of matchboxes on the bar, I laughed, a laugh of deep gratitude…

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Neil’s dad, Ian, a prolific carpenter of things wooden…

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Raising the wedding signpost over Hungerford Newtown…

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Ruth’s sister, Leah, once worked as a florist and created an abundance of beautiful floral displays for the day…

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Victoria’s marvellous pig masks, one for each and every guest…

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Paper flower displays made by Ruth’s mum, Ann…

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One of Ruth & Neil’s small army of helpers was passing by as I photographed this clipboard. I welcomed the chance to share my enthused awe with someone, with anyone. “Even the instruction sheets look designed!” I declared. “Yes,” came the reply, “Ruth knew that you’d be photographing them.” :~)…

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TODAY! The day…

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Ruth & Neil married at North Hidden Barn in the Berkshire countryside, somewhere a short way outside of Hungerford. It’s a place as hidden as its name suggests. Knowing that their daughter and their son-in-law to be wanted to celebrate it all in a barn, Ruth’s parents set out in the early hours, past midnight one weekend night and drove around the countryside with the car windows down, listening for the sounds of revelry and thus discovered this gem of a place that had been hosting a celebration on that particular night.

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In part-abstract form, something that summed up for me what I loved about this place…

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Over in town, I discovered that Ruth’s family home was a place that I could quite easily have immersed myself in photographing for an entire day on its own…

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The day’s story, of course, took me onwards…

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And back to that beautiful place…

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“I’m multi-tasking!” :~)…

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Me too…

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I’ve never before seen a couple gather into a tight hug with their celebrant (nor a loose hug for that matter); plenty of handshakes and smiles shared galore, but never a resounding hug. Ruth & Neil’s ceremony had been officiated over by Ruth’s Auntie Mandy though, a registrar by profession, thus that much more a personalised act of guidance through the ceremony from beginning to end…

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The Driver

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Cut and constructed by Neil’s dad, Ian. Painted by Neil’s mum, Cath. Contextually commandeered by the Royal Navy’s finest, Stuart :~)…

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I took this photograph for me. Of course I’m happy to share it with Ruth & Neil as well :~) Imagine, after all, if I said, “Nah, you can’t have this one, it’s for me. I know they were your guests and all and I’m contracted to make images for you but still.” There are times aplenty when I shouldn’t be thinking aloud. Anyway… It’s a drawn together composition of my own volition, more accurately expressed (maybe not? Not so accurate?) An informal grouping together of my request. So here we have Sarah & Jon, to the right. I photographed their wedding back in… in 2012. Seems like yesterday :~) Ruth & Neil were at their wedding. I was delighted to meet Sarah & Jon’s little un as well, who’d come onto the scene during the interim period. A real treasure. I’m scratching my head just now, wondering where he is. He shows up again soon enough though. Then there’s Ruth & Neil, of course :~) Then there’s Neil (shall we say Neill II? :~), whom was Jon’s best man, and Sophie, Neil II’s girlfriend. Earlier this year I was peak-experiencing my way around a wedding in Cornwall, that of the supremely lovely Anna & Tony, and I met Anna’s friend, Jo, whom it turned out had recommended my work to Anna after her friend… Sophie… had shown her my photographs of Sarah & Jon’s wedding. I quite imagine this being the way that people talk about group photographs when they look back on a wedding day with friends and with family. Who these people are, why they’ve been drawn together for a photograph, the particular connections within that particular sub-group. Now, I took photographs of Ruth & Neil aplenty. Naturally :~) I have some of Sarah & Jon and their little treasure. I have a couple of Sophie & Neil at the banqueting table. All in different places at different times though and I know how each pairing relates importantly to what I do (I’m absolutely not forgetting, of course, that first and foremost and above anything else, those images are there to relate these people back to Ruth & Neil) but by drawing them together in one place at a shared point in time, a clear map is formed. It makes me happy to look at this picture and think about what this group of people have done for me. This is why group photographs do serve an important role in the visual record of a wedding day…

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I can clearly recall how deeply relaxed a vibe the afternoon had about it. The photographs will, I hope, re-confirm this for decades to come and more. It really was just lovely.

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There he is! :~)…

(It didn’t elude me – a little aside here, as it tickled me and I want to note it, in part for my own recollection but also, importantly, because Ruth & Neil weren’t privy to this small vignette in the day’s broader story and I’m certain they’ll enjoy knowing this – it didn’t elude me that Sarah was sticking really quite close to the main barn entrance doors as the time for dinner approached. It might have been the shade offered from the Sun but there was shade aplenty down the full length of the barn’s side. This was very much a case of loitering with intent, it seemed to me at least. “You can’t wait to see what Ruth has done, can you?” I challenged Sarah on her loitering demeanour. She asked if she could sneak inside to look. Sarah is also a professional designer and had clearly been excited to see the Aladdin’s cave of design behind those doors. Understanding her eagerness I almost volunteered to show her another route inside but then stumbled over the notion of my professional loyalties – a former client craving access to the creative product of a current client – and gasped out a, “No! You’ll have to wait,” on my way floor-wards. Metaphorically of course. The stumble that was. It was in my head. I’ll never be certain if I acted correctly or not; not totally certain :~)

Anyway… There he is! :~)…

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My simulation of a Sarah’s eye view of the barn doors :~)…

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A smörgåsbord of delectable cakes, puddings and biscuits were made for the wedding day by Ruth’s mum, Ann.

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Now just how I managed to photograph that constellation of design in the ten seconds between the barn doors being flung open and the first wave of guests pouring in… well, you may well ask :~)

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Ruth’s dad, Graham, designed a lovely lighting set up for the barn and I thought I’d pay homage to his creatively technical and technically creative efforts by getting a photograph of him loosely crowned by them :~)…

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That “I’ll get my coat” moment during a speech? Not quite :~)…

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It will stick with me for a long time to come, the point at which Graham became Walter White in front of my very eyes (albeit one of them was looking through a viewfinder and the other was obscured by the back of a camera)…

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Even the mash looked designed…

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A wedding at which you can drink the content of the table numbers… genius :~)…

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I always take particular pleasure in seeing the simple yet profound acts of sharing that occur when food is presented at a wedding in serving bowls…

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Neil decided I should take a break to eat so took over the photographing of his wedding, himself…

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Peas served up for me by Sophie :~) Thank you Sophie. And a timely big thank you to Ruth & Neil for seating me as a guest. I was very well looked after on this particular day, to the power of ten…

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Catering was provided by Jamie Popperwell. Perhaps it’s an ongoing reflection of the Hidden Barn theme but I can find hardly a trace of Jamie’s business online, just this snippet of a local newspaper article that mentions him having an advert on page 8, but page 8 of what, I have no idea! Pity. His food was exceptionally good. I’d love to promote his services. I’ll add a link to a Web site if I ever come across one. Jamie was fantastically friendly too. Seeing me going hither and thither with my cameras during dinner he stopped me and asked me if I wanted some food. I told him that I’d been seated as a guest and then told him just what I thought of his culinary fare (we parted on very good terms :~). It was highly thoughtful of him to have asked.

Of course, I could try spelling his name correctly. So… Jaime Popperwell… and I’ve found a Web site address – www.popperwells.co.uk – but at the time of writing, it doesn’t work. Trust me though, he’s well worth the effort of tracking down if you’re looking for a superb caterer in the Hungerford locale.

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Time for best man Ian’s speech. Neil had himself two best men. I think he needed two to hem him in and stop him from taking off into the stratosphere at times :~) Phillip, the lord of the rings and Ian, the speaker of… riddles :~) Actually, one of the most rhetorically finessed wedding speeches I’ve heard, and I’ll just note here as an aide-mémoire for future accessing of memories… ‘donkeys‘ :~)…

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Dessert!…

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Neil’s speech, delivered with the energy I’d expected; I burnt off half my dinner trying to keep up with him…

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And then time for Ruth’s speech…

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… :~)

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Quote from one of Ruth’s emails to me, from some time last year (with her permission): “…the less pictures we have of the first dance the better… I don’t think it’s going to be our finest hour!” So :~)…

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I feel safe in saying… the hardest working usher I’ve yet witnessed on a wedding day (and this amongst a crack team of tireless ushers and bridesmaids; the combined efforts of the small army of helpers I’d encountered the afternoon before were immeasurable too)…

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The Flying Ties, filled the floor, kept them all moving…

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Ian and the bar he built :~)…

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The Diet Coke that Sophie & Neil II bought me, sat on the bar that Ian built :~)…

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So…

I don’t know that I can do justice to all of this, in words, in summary.

It was just all kinds of special, Ruth & Neil, and the biggest of big congratulations to you both. Thank you so much for having me there.

Everyone has a mind capable of taking wing. You provided up-currents that left mine soaring.

Contact Berkshire Wedding Photographer Phillip Allen : phill@misterphill.com : 07870 696248

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