Not So Stuffy and Formal

A new photography movement takes wedding pictures to a different artistic level

Grill in downtown Tucson is a grungy retro spot that's perfect for cheap, greasy grilled-cheese sandwiches, tater tots and ... wedding photos?

Yes, wedding photos.

It's all part of the photography movement known as Trash the Dress, in which the bride and groom celebrate the end of the nuptial circus (also known as the wedding) by heading off to unexpected places to take nontraditional wedding photos, say local photographers Casia and Eric Fletcher, of Purple Nickel Studio.

"Trash the Dress basically means a completely nontraditional photo session where the bride and groom totally do something unexpected—witty, clever and totally fun and hip—something they've never experienced before," Casia explains.

Trash the Dress began in 2001, with Las Vegas photographer John Michael Cooper (whose company, altF, is short for "alternative fucking photography") taking photos of brides in unusual locations and circumstances—for example, both the bride and groom in the middle of nowhere; the bride completely submerged in the ocean; and even the bride standing in the desert with her dress violently engulfed in flames.

The latter may seem a bit extreme for the average bride, and local photographer Erin Durband, of e.kah.d Photograpy, says Trash the Dress photography doesn't necessarily mean lighting that prized Vera Wang on fire.

"It's taking it a different place—getting dressed up again and going to a place you wouldn't normally go, basically. Yeah, you can trash it, and there are people who will absolutely, completely trash the dress, but most of the time, you just get dirty," she says.

Durband found out about the quirky Trash the Dress trend while attending a bridal convention in Nevada and quickly got into the style.

"Erin Durband had found John Michael Cooper at a Las Vegas bridal convention show," says Casia, who has attended workshops and shot on location with Durband. "He had a booth there, and she was, like, astonished by the way he had set up his booth. ... Right from the start, he had already set the tone of his photography. She went to his Web site, showed it to me, and we were hooked. That's pretty much how we were introduced to Trash the Dress."

These local photographers were attracted to Cooper's extreme, bride-sitting-in-a-graveyard style of wedding photography thanks to the utterly nontraditional approach he takes in his photos.

"It's not so stuffy and formal anymore," Casia says.

Trash the Dress photo sessions, she and Eric explain, give the bride and groom an opportunity to show their style: The bride can be more creative with her hair and makeup and throw on some zebra-print high heels and other random accessories, for example, while the groom can wear Converse sneakers or even jeans.

The opportunity to incorporate the couple's personal style, combined with the fact that most of the photos are taken "in the moment and not posed," Casia says, makes the photos more personal—images that the bride and groom would want to hang on a wall and be proud of, as opposed to traditional photos that just get stuffed in albums and tucked away in the attic.

"We try to make Trash the Dress, which we call Detour, an experience. ... Once the session is finished, and we go into post-production and Photoshop, it goes to a completely different level of photography," she says. "We don't show (the clients) shot-out-of-the-camera images; we actually make them art pieces—one-of-a-kind photographs that they would want to hang on their wall as huge art prints or canvasses."

The artsy, urban feeling of a Detour photo shoot—so named, because it's a "detour from traditional"—can be enhanced by the unique juxtaposition of the bride in her gown standing next to ordinary or even deserted places, like Grill or the shuttered Santa Rita Hotel.

"It's not shot around typically a 'wedding venue;' we go downtown, urban locations, very desolate, run-down locations, which makes it edgier. ... It's very raw, and just unique and different," Casia says.

In addition to urban settings, Trash the Dress photos can also be taken in more natural places, like on a beach or in the desert or mountains, Durband says.

Durband, whose Trash the Dress photo shoots are called Dirty Laundry sessions, has photographed in natural settings like San Diego beaches, Oak Creek near Sedona, and even the muddy streets of Tucson after monsoon showers.

Her Dirty Laundry sessions have raised controversy, though, as some see the image of a bride waist-deep in a creek and say that it's disrespectful to the institution of marriage.

"Because it's kind of new to a lot of people, there is such a huge misconception about Trash the Dress. They just think that the (type of shoot means the) dress has to be trashed, and that it is disgraceful. ... But, really, I don't go out thinking, 'How can I destroy this dress the best way possible?' That's not really what it is," Durband says. "It's, 'How can I make art the coolest way possible?'"

Like Durband, the Fletchers also try to focus on taking photos in a unique style that the bride and groom can appreciate as art more than just "trashing the dress."

They say one of the most fun aspects of their Detour shoots is that they can take place the day after the wedding—or 20 years later.

"The way I interpret Trash the Dress is (it's) basically another excuse to get dressed up back in your wedding attire," Casia explains. "I mean, you can do whatever you want now; you can get the dress dirty, or you can do different poses and locations that you normally couldn't do on your wedding day. So it is kind of this new freedom you get to experience in a shorter photo shoot, and there's no real stress or timeline like there is on your wedding day.

"Basically, (it's) just carefree—just go and have fun."