Memory  /  Comment

A Romantic Union? Thoughts on Plantation Weddings from a Photographer/Historian

Plantations are not "charming" or "tranquil" wedding venues. They were gruesome labor camps profiting off of enslaved labor.

It was a hot, scalding day in Georgia, and I was traveling to a large plantation southwest of town to photograph a wedding. When I arrived at the former plantation, there was a long driveway which led to the Big House—a prominent white structure at the center of the property. Once parked, I headed toward the swaying oak trees near the house to seek shade from the blistering heat. I glanced toward the porch, hearing a group of musicians play their rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 on their stringed instruments. “The ceremony will begin momentarily!” announced one of the workers, so I quickly searched for the perfect spot to photograph the bride walking down the aisle. As she processed towards the altar, her white, sparkling dress shimmered in the summer sun. Behind her, I noticed the predominately African American staff preparing the reception space.

As the ceremony concluded, I followed the guests to the reception area, a large barn next to the Big House. I needed to capture details of the reception space and noticed the ornate decorations; roses, blossoms, and other plants decorated the white-clothed tables and platters. At the center of the head table I noticed an arrangement of cotton stems. It made me reflect on the violent history of cotton-growing in the fields that surrounded the idyllic plantation. The image of the antebellum plantation home came to mind: white guests, plantation owners, the horrors of chattel slavery, and enslaved men, women, and children.

Between 2012 and 2016 I photographed many weddings at venues like this one. Before I started graduate school at Virginia Tech, I worked as a full-time wedding photographer around middle Georgia, primarily at outdoor wedding venues—historic and contemporary spaces. At both plantations and other historic buildings, there was a deep, yet controversial connection to the past. As I started my graduate certificate in public history, I began to reconsider the historical reality and contemporary amnesia at these wedding venues.