The vulnerability of being human

I woke up at 3.43am and couldn’t go back to sleep. In the deep of the night I felt I had to write something. The last time this happened I wrote a manifesto that had nothing to do with mason jars. The question on my mind this time is different.

Why do I do this?

I’ve thought about it a lot lately, going through some personal things myself, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and re-evaluating.

Why do I do this?

Why do I spend my time traveling the world shooting weddings for people I hardly know? Why do I spend time documenting other people’s stories? What kind of stories are important to me? Deep down I know, but sometimes it’s hard to express. But then this morning when I couldn’t sleep I read a post on a wedding photography group on facebook. The question was about what we wedding photographers find the most boring to shoot. Someone argued for the family formals, other about capturing the cocktail hour, but what surprised me the most was that most photographers answered they think the speeches are the most boring part of the day.

I couldn’t disagree more.

I love capturing the speeches.

And I realised it’s part of why I do this.

During the speeches everyone is equal, that’s when I see the vulnerability and commonality. It doesn’t matter whether I’m shooting lawyers or hairdressers, celebrities or carpenters, during the speeches I see the real people shine through the facades they spend years to build up. An investment banker from Hong Kong becomes a son chasing through the backyard at home, a surgeon becomes a childhood friend to the butcher’s boy. There and then they all become the same, the same blood, the same tears. And I love capturing that.

We’re all human.

And those are the stories I have to tell. I spend my time trying to pry my way in to people’s stories, I observe and I capture what they want me to see and sometimes when I get lucky, things they didn’t want me to see.

The vulnerability of being human.

A groom with tribal tattoos having to sit down, holding on to the ground, ugly crying when his girl is walking down the aisle. A bride with three diplomas and experience from the most cutthroat law firms on Manhattan tearing up when her father kisses her mother on the dance floor. Another bride in a perfect dress looking out the window on the happiest day of her life, for a moment I see the sorrow from not being able to share it with her twin brother who passed away at birth.

The vulnerability of being human.

And that’s why I keep doing this. Some of the locations I get to travel to are amazing, but I’ve seen magic happen in the most boring places. In community halls with horrible lighting I have seen the things that bring us all together. I see the fear mongers and conservatives of the world argue for higher walls and larger gaps between people and I wish they could come with me for a year. For the cop I overheard saying how he hates jews to come with me to experience a hora at a Jewish wedding. For the anarchist cursing the wealthy to come with me and hear the speeches of people with power. To hear that the person she hates grew up climbing trees and fishing in ponds just like her. That he cries just like her when his father says he loves him.

The vulnerability of being human.

I am convinced we need to share more, not less. And the more we share, the more we’ll realise we’re all the same. You can’t hate your neighbour when you’ve shared a meal with him, when you’ve seen he hesitates to ask someone to dance the same way you do.

And that’s why I keep doing this.

Because we’re all human.

The Wind is ghosting around the house tonight
and as I lean against the door of sleep
I begin to think about the first person to dream,
how quiet he must have seemed the next morning

as the others stood around the fire
draped in the skins of animals
talking to each other only in vowels,
for this was long before the invention of consonants.

He might have gone off by himself to sit
on a rock and look into the mist of a lake
as he tried to tell himself what had happened,
how he had gone somewhere without going,

how he had put his arms around the neck
of a beast that the others could touch
only after they had killed it with stones,
how he felt its breath on his bare neck.

Then again, the first dream could have come
to a woman, though she would behave,
I suppose, much the same way,
moving off by herself to be alone near water,

except that the curve of her young shoulders
and the tilt of her downcast head
would make her appear to be terribly alone,
and if you were there to notice this,

you might have gone down as the first person
to ever fall in love with the sadness of another.

Billy Collins



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  1. I’ve asked myself the same. Deep down inside I know the answer and I’m afraid of that. See I come from a family that doesn’t communicate or express themselves. I’m fascinated when I see families’ express love to each other. I feel a part of that family from that day on. I know that deep down I am looking for that sense of family that I never had. I’m falling in love again with my husband every time I hear a couple exchange vows. I love my father even more, every time I hear a bride weep because her father will not see her walk down the aisle. All these things and so many more reasons that are bigger than me are why I do what I do. Certain people are drawn to this work. Some will not get it, but those that really need it … will stick around.

  2. Du gör det för att du är så sabla bra på det, du fångar ögonblicket och gör det oförglömligt för många många människor, du är en konstnär och en väldigt bra sådan. Mina döttrar kollade dina sidor (eftersom jag har dig på mina bokmärkesfälten och brukar säga åt barnen att jag tror vi är lite släkt, min mor kommer från Göteborg och har Peterson i släkten..;)och de satt och grät.. Ha det gott!

  3. Wow, such a beautiful post. You’ve gotta become a writer – beautiful words!

  4. I feel compelled to share a bit from a new favorite book of mine:

    Question: What percentage of the totality of man’s creations through all of time are now in museums?
    Answer: Insert made up number here.

    Who cares? Is it a waste to grasp at moments? To try and catch the wind between my forefinger and my thumb? To feel and see and taste and touch the music of the world, to glimpse the transcendent in the simple and the simple in the transcendent, to shiver with awe at the sight of a child studying foot-pounded dust, while twisting slowly in the air above it, head and shoulders through a tire swing? To stare for an hour at the still, black surface of a lake, to marvel at the invention of water and my need to swallow it, feel it and ride it?

    I stretch my mouth wide with words until my jaw aches, and still I fail. I grab a pencil to sketch and I fail even faster. I stare at the slowly spinning child staring at the earth, and I know that if I reach for my phone, for the appropriate app. and worm forward to catch the appropriate angle, that I will not really capture this thing called now. I am only throwing a pebble at the lake, adding my little ripples. But I don’t care. I will have participated. I will have joined in the creation, like an ant leaning a leaf against a skyscraper and brushing off his forelegs, glad to have helped.

    – N. D. Wilson, Death By Living

    I wonder…maybe the why doesn’t need to make perfect sense. Maybe a beautiful picture doesn’t need to be the end goal. Maybe it’s just about participating in life with the gifts we’ve been given. Hope we all can rest in that. Thanks for your “vulnerability of being human” Jonas. Moved by it. (By the way, HI, my name is Elizabeth and we’ve never met and I’ve been following your work since the film show)

  5. i’m surprised there aren’t more comments on this. beautifully written, wonderfully said. i concur.

  6. Thank you Jonas for opening up your heart and peeling back the layers of the wedding event. For reminding us that it really is about the human condition, the human heart and not about the superficial photos of decorations and pretty sunsets behind the wedding party. That we as wedding story tellers need to go deeper and recording the memories for a life time.

  7. Lovely.
    Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and swept up by the emotional energy of the room is hard sometimes.
    But I have never once thought a family was boring. There are so many stories, and when they don’t go the way you would have expected, as they often or even usually don’t, man. That’s the best part.

  8. Thank you so much for writing this! I greatly admire your eloquence. Keep shooting and writing; you’re an inspiration. :)

  9. Reading this gave me chills. This is why I’m pursuing this dream. This is why it’s worth it. This is why I’m going to work to have a “career” that moves me to tears and laughter on a regular basis. Thank you.

  10. Deep. Speeches I’ve always found to be the most honest part of the day. Why do we have to be standing in front of a room full of people before we say the nicest things and express our innermost feelings? Thank you for an interesting read Jonas

  11. Jonas, you have such a gift of putting into words what so many others feel, but can not express. I often feel that when i read your blog. I too, am questioning why and what I do. I also love the speeches and cry every time even if i’ve just met the families! And I just expressed to someone that my greatest dream is to express, through my photography, that we are all the same no matter our race, religion or class! I just didn’t share my dream as eloquently as you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and being vulnerable! You are awesome!!

  12. Your manifesto-of-sorts was one of my first impressions of you back in 2011. I went full-time that winter after shooting as a weekend warrior for many years. Thanks for being you, and reminding those in the industry not to loose sight of that which we individually hold dear.

  13. I know you’ve been wanting to search deeper. To have dialogue about motivation. Why is vast house of rooms.

    It’s quite a coincidence you quote Billy Collins. Billy’s Introduction To Poetry perfectly describes how I’ve always seen the world.

    All the best Jonas.

  14. Man Jonas Peterson Photography… I’m constantly thinking about the vulnerability involved in what we do. And couldn’t agree more about the speeches! Sometimes I get carried away listening that I forget to shoot… Recently a Brides’s Father spoke so soulfully about his little girls early years that I literally had to put my camera down to listen… When it was over, I pulled out my iPhone with a photo of my three month old daughter set as the wallpaper, and wept.

  15. This post, right here, this feelings you describe, is also exactly why one feels authenticity , in every one of your frames.
    When everybody else is doing what everybody else tells them to do, it is refreshing and comforting to see you still photograph with your heart.
    The integrity you put in what you do is what makes you different.
    I look up to you quite a bit, Jonas.
    You make me believe in what we do, and the meaning of it.
    Thank you.

  16. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being as truly human as you can be.

    It’s hard to see the similarities between us all sometimes but when we look hard enough, there it is, right under our noses. And it’s a beautiful thing.

  17. Very much agree with this, wedding are a place that we all become one, I am so often accepted into the fold, the family and the friends circle with hours if not moments during these special moments. It what makes our job the best in the world. Thanks for sharing Jonas.

  18. Hm lite silverfishish…..Gillar det och hur du skriver och vill se mer av det…

  19. I needed this, I go through much of the same thing. I’m trying to write about of this. Why I do this. Why others do this. What the images we take for people mean to them. I love speeches, you nailed it. I’ve never really figured out why I love them so much. Cheers! Thanks so much for writing this.

  20. Yes! Thankyou so much for this Jonas Peterson… The vulnerability of being human. So perfectly expressed.

  21. Thank you Jonas Peterson Photography for expressing what I feel and share and have not the gift with words to write myself. And you`re right about the speeches. I too have been thinking / re-evaluating / questioning. It`s a constant. Not just about wedding photography but what it means to be human, a man. The “I`m not good enough” energy too often swirls in me and I find myself hiding, almost comfortably in that shadow, unable to step out. There is such amazing connecting power in the realm of vulnerability. Fear loses it`s strength. The sun lights the shadows. Weddings do have that incredible culture as a public space to be vulnerable and be yourself and I love them for that reality. I leave with a sense that I have met everyone before. That I see myself in others. It`s about connection. I also advocate a creation of culture for the intention to be vulnerable in other public / group situations. This is what you do here. Cheers to your early morning vulnerability and inspirations.


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