FHF Interview: Charlotte Sibtain of Vintage Wedding Photos

Here at Family History Films we are great admirers of VintageWeddingPhotos on both Twitter and Instagram, so we asked Charlotte Sibtain, who runs it, a few questions:

There's something fascinating about looking at Vintage Wedding Photos. Can you put your finger on what exactly it is?

It is difficult to say exactly what it is as there are many different elements to Vintage Wedding Photos which people find appealing, but fundamentally I think it is about the people: Who were they? What did they do? And what happened to them? The questions are endless! Unfortunately it is not always possible to know the answers to these questions, but what is fascinating about looking at Vintage Wedding Photos is that people can create their own stories: the grumpy bridesmaid, the slightly enthusiastic vicar or the overbearing mother in law. I have also found that people love to look at the collection as a way of seeing how weddings and fashions have changed over the decades and how they were influenced by historical events of the time.

How did you start? Why wedding photos?

When I was young, I was surrounded by antiques, from old cameras to ancient ice skates and sewing machines, our house was crammed to the rafters! it’s not surprising that I love a good rummage through antique markets and car boot sales, in fact, this is how I first discovered the wedding photographs that kick started the whole collection. Nestled between some dodgy 70s postcards in a dusty corner of an antique market in Brighton, were a small collection of beautiful black and white wedding photographs. They were simple examples of 1940s and 1950s weddings and very typical of the time, you could even say that they were unremarkable. I however, immediately felt that each one was unique and special: the dresses, the flowers, the venues, the guests, each picture had its own personal story which I found endlessly fascinating, so much so that I framed the photos I bought that day and hung them on my wall……I now have over 400 vintage wedding photographs.

As they are images, Instagram seems like a natural 'home' for your collection. Would you agree?

Absolutely! Instagram is the perfect way to share visual content online. It allows you to create and curate your own photo album in a way that you cannot do on other social media platforms. It is also a great way to share large amounts of content in a clear and consistent way, which has certainly helped me to create a more cohesive look and style for the page.

What kind of reaction have you had on social media? Are there any specific stories you'd like to share?

The reaction to the collection has been fantastic. One of the great things has been seeing wedding photos from other countries. I have received photographs from Turkey, Israel, USA and Canada and each one has been so different and so completely specific to the country of origin. My Turkish followers can spot a Turkish wedding immediately!

A photograph which particularly stands out was sent to me by a follower named Judy from Canada. She sent me an original family photograph of her great uncle from 1927 with a brief history of those featured in the photo. To think that someone would not only send me an original family photograph but would also include so much additional information about them was incredible.

Your Twitter profile states that you'd like to 'reunite photos & people'. Has this happened? How might you go about doing this?

The aim of the project was always to try and reunite people and their photographs, however, this is no easy task! Often, the wedding photographs have been removed from their original albums and sold separately, or the family did not think to attribute names/dates etc. to the photograph. Because of the fragmented nature of the history behind the photographs, some detective work is needed to try and piece together key bits of information which requires a great deal of resources. Some things that can really help with this are: the names of groomsmen/bridesmaids and/or parents, wedding invitations, original envelopes with addresses, locations and/or name of the church or venue. I am yet to find the holy grail: the photograph which comes with the original marriage certificate!

Have there been any unexpected occurrences/benefits since you started doing it?

One of the benefits of sharing the collection has been meeting likeminded people. There is a huge appetite for all things ‘vintage’ at the moment which has helped to create this great online vintage community, so to be able to be part of that community has been fantastic and quite unexpected! One of the more surprising things has been the amount of people who send me their own vintage wedding photos, which I love to see! Often, they are found photos with no additional information but occasionally I am fortunate to receive a beautiful wedding photograph with a real rich history attached, which has been incredible.

What plans do you have going forward with the collection?

Ultimately, I would like to conduct a series of interviews to collate first hand accounts of people’s weddings from family members or the bride and groom themselves, (where possible). This will hopefully begin to answer some of the key questions posed by the photographs: Who were they? What did they do? What happened to them? I will also continue to share my collection with as wide an audience as possible as this has been the most enjoyable aspect of the project so far!

You can follow Charlotte and VintageWeddingPhotos on both Twitter and Instagram