When Elise Underhill was searching bridal magazines for the perfect wedding dress, she was enthralled by the pictures of brides standing in fields of flowers. When her July wedding day came, her photographer suggested taking pictures of her in the middle of a pine grove at her parents’ Christmas tree farm in Prattsburgh. Since the farm was the site of her nuptuals, the outdoor photos would be easy to arrange. “I thought running through the woods in my wedding dress was a brilliant idea!” Elise told me.
Unfortunately, the woodsy wedding day photo shoot was washed out, literally, as it rained the whole day. The ceremony was quickly performed during the only 10-minute dry spell. The couple exchanged vows on a hay wagon with guests seated on hay bales all around them.
The next day, her cousin stopped by and told her to throw on her dress for an impromptu photo shoot. Since the stress of the wedding day and the need for proper decorum were behind them, her cousin handed her a gun, told her to jump into the mud (a remnant from the previous day’s rainstorm), and started clicking away. Thus Elise’s wedding-dress photo adventure was born.
Ideas keep rolling
What started off as a whim has turned into somewhat of an obsession for Elise and Bonnie Guston, a family friend and the professional photographer who has continued Elise’s photographic journey. Bonnie has taken pictures of Elise holding a chicken, dangling on a tree swing, standing in a waterfall, sailing on Keuka lake, shooting pool, swimming in a pool, pouring grape juice into a wine cask at Bully Hill, driving a Kawasaki Mule, and riding the ski lift at Hunt Hollow – all while wearing her wedding dress.
While some people are shocked at this type of cavalier treatment of a formal wedding gown, Elise and her mother insist that she’s actually gotten much more good out of her dress than most brides do. “I see lots of wedding dresses at garage sales, and the women will tell me, ‘I’ll never wear it again!” says mother of the bride Kim Cunningham. “Elise has gotten to wear hers many many times.”
The guilt she could feel about “trashing” her bridal dress is easy to shed considering she only paid $40 for it. After purchasing a more expensive dress, Elise lost weight; this meant that in order to wear the original dress, it would have to be totally remade to fit her smaller size. On a whim, Kim searched eBay and ordered a $40 dress without even showing Elise. It fit her like a glove and made her tear up – two requirements for a perfect wedding dress, as anyone who watches “Say Yes to the Dress” knows.
Elise insists that she would still have done these adventurous photos even if her dress had cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. “I would have hesitated, but I still would have done it!” she said, adding, “The night of my wedding, I accidentally ripped the bustle out of my dress, so after that I figured the damage was already done.”
Bonnie says that women who have been married for years are fascinated by the pictures she’s taken of Elise. “They tell me, ‘I want to do that!’ Getting pictures taken in your wedding dress would be a great anniversary idea,” adds Bonnie. “Even women who are divorced want to do this, for different reasons, of course. What else are you going to do with your dress?”
To destroy or enjoy?
While this non-traditional type of wedding photography has become known as “trash the dress” (or “rock the frock”), Elise’s intent is not to destroy her wedding gown. Instead, she views it as an exercise in creativity, an artistic adventure, a personal story told through pictures.
The dress, while somewhat tattered along the hem, is still in relatively good shape, considering all it’s been through. “Each time it gets dirty, she just hoses it off and hangs it on the clothesline,” explains Kim. So much for hefty dry-cleaning bills.
The three women agree that the damage done to the dress is worth the visual keepsakes they now have. “I’d rather see a wedding dress trashed than sitting in an attic,” states Bonnie.
Bonnie hopes to photograph Elise through the seasons and eventually make a calendar and photobook of their escapades. Snowboarding is one thing Elise wants to do while wearing her gown. Bonnie is hoping for a chance to take shots of Elise horsebackriding.
Trash-the-dress photos are becoming an increasingly popular option for brides who want to enjoy their special dress in a relaxed, casual, fun or even daring setting. Bonnie suggests looking for a professional photographer who has a good sense of humor, is knowledgeable about the area and doesn’t mind being active. “This is the bride’s chance to really shine.”
by Kari Anderson-Pink
Kari Anderson-Pink lives in Victor with her husband and three children. She is the director of music at Zion Episcopal Church in Palmyra and plays the harp professionally.