First Comes Love, Then Comes…the Photo Shoot
The wedding banquet comes later. For many Chinese couples, married life really begins in the photo studio where, basted in glitter and hair gel, the brides dressed for a debut at La Scala or night out with Fabio, they gaze upon sets so tufted and inlaid and gold-foiled that comparisons to the real places that seem to have served as models—Versailles, the homes of Donald Trump—don’t quite suffice. This isn’t just a ritual for the rich and corrupt. Flinty investigative reporters, law professors at the country’s best universities, bank tellers, even men and women who ordinarily dress and live in a manner that suggests only the most passing of concern with appearances, still greet visitors to their modest homes with towering portraits of themselves surrounded by velvet and marble.
Photographer Guillaume Herbaut sees pathos and humor in these pictures. His wide-angle shots of soon-to-be newlyweds posing (or taking a break from posing) for their portraits turn the conventions of the genre upside down—sometimes not all that kindly. Instead of wedded bliss, his pictures project alienation, sexual menace, and often a profound sense of loneliness. Sociologist Leta Hong Fincher, an expert on contemporary Chinese marriage, sees in them reflections of marriage practices that sanctify wealth and debase women.