One of America’s most celebrated event photographers, Ira Lippke infuses every shot with his unique artistic sensibility in an approach he calls ‘fine art documentary photography’. The offspring of counter-cultural hippie parents – Lippke was raised with his siblings in a converted school bus in Colorado and Washington State. His visual sensibility was honed from 14, when he discovered photography – and initially trained his lens on nature. Later, he taught himself through books and by studying the works of masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and Edward Weston.
Relocating to Los Angeles to attend Biola University, he took to shooting weddings of designers and artists, giving them a fresh tweak to recording some of the most memorable moments of their lives.
Lippke is famous for capturing the emotional nuances of events. The recipient of the Photographer of the Year award from the Wedding Photojournalist Association, he has won several accolades and has been featured in several publications.
Living in an 1830s colonial home in Brookhaven, NY with his wife Andrea Codrington Lippke, and their daughter Rye, Lippke continues on his photographic journey.
What led you to specialise in wedding photography?
I shot an ideal fashion shoot where everything went wonderfully, but then I had the experience of seeing the shoot fade out of memory. I determined then that I wanted to take images that would be treasured. I also realised that I’m personally more gratified documenting real-life and real people.
You refer to your approach as a distinctly documentary approach. In what way is that contemporary?
Our photography is all about the substance of what is happening captured through the aesthetic eye of the photographer. We avoid Instagram-like effects, tilting the camera when it’s not needed, fish-eye lenses, and other gimmicky results. The strength of our photography is the composition, the captured moment and the aesthetic sensibility to what is inherently there. We start with the substance of what we’re shooting and the style flows from that. Our clients are a great mix of leading culture makers and established families who appreciate this timeless aesthetic.
What are the essential skills that wedding photography demands?
The most important thing is a natural sense of composition with razor-sharp timing – and you need to be able to get along with everyone and make them feel very comfortable – and you should have a strong technical mind to get the right exposures quickly – and you have to be in great physical shape to hold multiple pro cameras and lenses on your body for 12 hours. Besides a Seal Team 6 commando, photographing a wedding with this approach might be the most demanding job out there. You have to be mentally, creatively, socially and physically at full power for a 12-hour day with barely a break. At the end of the night I’m exhausted, but there is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.
In a real-life wedding with no retakes or reshoots, what are the challenges that you face?
There is no room for mistakes, yet it’s important to take creative risks to get fresh compelling imagery. We use available natural light and adapt to whatever we’re given.
Any one wedding that you would recall with fondness?
I photographed a wedding of two humanitarian workers who got married on a Southern Bali beach. They invited their closest friends and immediate family – and around 30 street kids whom they had taken into their children’s home. The kids were given flowers and candles to decorate the beach where they had the ceremony at sunset. They invited everyone to cut the cake with them. Soon they were all smearing icing on each other and kissing it off – then diving into the ocean and dancing by torchlight.
What moments are best captured on film as the wedding spools on?
Now that I have a daughter, I’m much more aware of the connection between parents and their children getting married. It’s such a special day for the parents too and I try to capture their experience as well as the bride and the groom’s. I love the moment when people see each other for the first time on the wedding day.
How do you manage to Adjust to different locations around the world?
I’m a hopeless romantic with a love for adventure, so I intrinsically come alive photographing these wonderful love stories around the world.
Culturally, you must have spanned a vast spectrum. Are there any common elements that you perceived across the globe?
If there is ever a time in your life to throw a big party it’s at your or your children’s wedding. It should be a splurge. The best weddings aren’t necessarily the ones with the biggest decor budget. The greatest weddings are when those involved make it their own and then let loose in love and joy for each other.
Has the blushing bride given way to a New-Age bold one?
It does seem that now that there is such an expansive view of possibilities of what a wedding can be that a wedding isn’t something that just happens to a bride. It’s now an opportunity for her to express what she values. It’s a chance for her to art direct an immersive experience and express her love and joy for her groom and world around her.