Book review: Framing the Bride

Cover of Framing the BrideFraming the Bride: Globalizing Beauty and Romance in Taiwan’s Bridal Industry by Bonnie Adrian is a fascinating anthropological study of Taiwan’s wedding photo industry. It also takes a broader look at the rites associated with marriage in contemporary Taiwan and the roles of women in society.

The author first became interested in the bridal photos while a language student in Taipei in the early 1990s and researched the book while on a Fulbright scholarship.

Most people in Taiwan will have at least some familiarity with the wedding photo industry. For those that have been married then that understanding may be quite intimate from having had wedding photos taken of themselves. For others then there would at least be a passing familiarity through seeing friend’s photos or watching couples being photographed in parks or other locations. No matter what the readers level of familiarity with the subject this book will reveal new insights.

Many Taiwanese people will claim that the wedding photos are a long time tradition, although the roots of this tradition only extend back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. Prior to that time marriage was simply recorded with two or three simple photos for documentary purposes. The development of the wedding photo industry was a result of Taiwan’s rapid economic development. The rapid changes in Taiwanese society also brought about changes in the role of women and traditions surrounding marriage that are explored in the book.

The book also looks at the making of photos and what the images reflect. Although the groom usually appears alongside the bride the bride is central and the entire process reflects an idealisation of the women. She is often portrayed in poses where she dominates the male. The author suggests that this represents a last chance to capture her freedom and beauty before she becomes burdened by marriage and family life.

Some people note that often the bride is barely recognisable in the photos. It gives every woman a chance to be like a model and also to realise that much of a model’s beauty is simply constructed through the makeup and photography process. It is not something unattainable and something that every women can have for at least a moment.

Bridal photography is a uniquely Taiwanese phenomenom but it has now been exported to China and Southeast Asia. A common question in the book is to what extent the bridal photography reflects globalisation versus local traditions. It is actually a complex mix and the re-exporting of the industry from Taiwan reflects this. It is an interpretation of “Western culture” adapted to Taiwan’s local traditions and then packaged for a pan-Asian market.

Framing the Bride is first rate ethnography and gives many insights into contemporary Taiwanese life.

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