Tuesday, November 25, 2008
John Michael Cooper: Master of The Anti-Bride
John Michael Cooper isn’t your mother’s wedding photographer
AltF Photography is the rather unusual name for wedding photographer John Michael Cooper’s company. Perform said function in Word (Alt F), and what you get is the iconic ƒ-stop symbol. Truly, though, the name runs deeper than that because what you get with Cooper’s imagery isn’t necessarily the classical romance of typical wedding images. While Cooper certainly shoots those images, a quick perusal through the rest of his portfolio will get you a nearly drowned Ophelia-like bride and a wedding dress consumed by fire (with the newlywed still in it). Without context, these images can be a bit confusing for someone looking for a wedding photographer. One look at the AltF mantra, “Bad ass photography with an alternative approach to wedding images,” however, explains it all.
Cooper hadn’t always planned to be a wedding photographer, and it shows. He claims that he was enticed into the business when he took a job at the Treasure Island wedding chapel in Las Vegas for the free studio space and access to gear. He continued on a wavering trajectory from there, shooting between 20 to 60 separate weddings a month for a company that dealt purely with volume.
While hardly a romantic business structure, Cooper did his best to provide the typical over-the-top, kissy-kissy shots that are expected, all while falling deeper into debt and remaining largely dissatisfied creatively. Then came catharsis.
“Everyone learns to try to do what’s expected,” he explains. “So you look at how everyone else does it, and you kind of do it because that’s what you think is expected. But that stuff just wasn’t very satisfying. So I started to say, ‘You know, I have these ideas, so let’s try to see some of the stuff that I personally like and just apply that to the wedding work.’ I had a lot of people tell me, ‘Oh, no, that won’t work. You can’t do that for brides, they won’t like that kind of stuff.’ But I did it anyway, regardless, and things just started taking off from there. I’ve been kind of doing ‘odd stuff’ for my wedding work from 2000 or 2001, and I haven’t looked back. I didn’t think I would fall in love with that kind of work, but I did, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Originally, Cooper found himself attracted to fashion, film and music videos more than anything else. Much of his personal work was dark and moody, in sharp contrast to wedding photography, which 99.9% of the time is as happy and nice as you can possibly get. So it was with little surprise that he was denied by every bride he approached when he came up with the concept for his very first “anti-bridal.”