Like many wedding photojournalists, Evrim Icoz entered the field looking for a change. After graduating from Duke University with a Master’s in Computer Engineering, Icoz spent seven years working for Intel before he realized he needed a different kind of challenge.
“I always have been interested in art, and wanted to find a way to express my artistic side,” Icoz says. “One day I went to a Portland monthly art event called First Thursday, and was amazed by some of the art. Since I was always curious about photography, the next day I went and bought a Canon camera.”
For Icoz, a first runner-up for the WPJA 2006 Photographer of the Year, photography runs in the family. “My grandfather was a professional photographer, and my dad put himself through college by doing photography on weekends,” he says. But his personal interest in another art form, dance, also helped him to learn his new craft.
“I am a dancer, doing swing—lindy hop dancing mostly, and I started taking my camera to dances. I could not have chosen a harder subject as it is a very fast moving dance, and you have to catch [the dancers] at just the right time, in a low light situation. This forced me to update my cameras to faster lenses. The lenses I wanted were not cheap, so I had to make some money.”
As Icoz began to hone his craft, he was drawn to wedding photojournalism for its emphasis on storytelling. He met other WPJA members, including Joe Milton and Tamara Orton, through online communities, and began to pursue work in this field. He was attracted by the possibilities it offered for wide-angle compositions and images of people in motion—a natural parallel step to his dance photography. “I love watching and observing people, so it was only natural that my subjects would be people,” he says.
This enthusiasm is evident in his award-winning photo of a wedding taking place in a house, with an older woman relaxing in an armchair. “That was a sweet wedding at the bride’s house,” Icoz remembers. “It was in the living room with a very small group. Grandma was really enjoying the ceremony. One thing I love capturing is not just the actual event happening but also people’s reactions to it. I am always trying to capture layers of interest.”
Perhaps Icoz’s best asset in capturing unique and often humorous moments is his energy. After growing bored with his job at Intel, he savors the freedom and creativity his new profession allows. “When I am shooting weddings, I almost never stop and often take 3,000 images,” he says. “I’m not machine gunning, just being alert and always looking. Since I get easily bored and am very driven, especially as an artist, I am always looking for ways to better myself and for something interesting to capture.”
A lighthearted attitude doesn’t hurt, either. “I have an easygoing personality and love the lighter side of things, so I am looking for situations where people are at odds with their surroundings for humor, like a bride and priest under a painting of giraffes ‘doing it,’ a cowboy standing next to a naked statue, or a piano player under a statue of a naked goddess.”
This last example refers to a photo that took first place in a recent WPJA contest. “When I saw that, I cracked up,” Icoz laughs. “I positioned myself a little lower than eye level to just align the piano player’s bald head with the statue’s bottom. I also paid attention to the geometrical alignment of the arch, piano and the sides of the arch. I guess I have a dirty mind.”
Unlike some photographers, Icoz doesn’t try to make himself invisible. He’d rather get into the action. After all, if you’re trying to capture an intimate moment from across the room, your odds aren’t good.
“My strategy is to be part of the wedding in a sense, and people just accept that I am there and start forgetting about me,” he notes. “I do not make loud noises, I do not go up to the altar, and I am very respectful. But, if there is dancing going on, I am in the middle...taking photos.”
Icoz’s love of the intimate photo also informs his preference for wide-angled shots rather than more distant photographs using a long lens. “Long lenses are eye candy--the images are beautiful, but you do not always get the advantage of being close to your subjects and telling multiple stories in one frame. So I am close to my subjects and after a while they start forgetting about me. Like Robert Capa said, ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren't close enough.’”
This in-the-midst sensibility comes across in another WPJA contest-winning photo, of a messy cake cutting with amused members of the wedding party looking on. “I love this photo!” Icoz exclaims. Just like the first one [with the grandmother], I tried to capture not just the cake cutting, but actually people’s reaction to it. Using wide angles and being close really allows me a lot of possibilities with composition. I remember being at my tiptoes and really reaching to get the lady at the corner.”
For burgeoning wedding photojournalists, Icoz’s biggest piece of advice is to be aware of the investment the field requires—this is not just a creative hobby, it’s a job.
“A lot of people jump into wedding photography thinking, ‘I will just make a couple of thousand dollars shooting for a day,’” he says. “Obviously this is not really true, as most photographers spend a lot of money on insurance, overhead, samples, marketing, advertising and websites, not to mention the fact that weddings are not just one-day events, but require a lot of time for meeting prospective clients, pre-wedding consultations, album meetings, post-processing and more. So be realistic about investments, expenses and your competition.”
In the end, though, it’s Icoz’s passion for his work that drives him to find unique, compelling photographs. “Being an artist, I am not satisfied with what I have accomplished; I try to do better every wedding. This is my passion, which forces me to satisfy myself as well as my clients and always look for something better.”
—by Heather Bowlan for the Wedding Photojournalist Association