Ben Eckles received a Guinness Book of World Records as a gift when he was nine years old. He recalls spending hours thoroughly studying the book's various achievements, imagining how he could one day shatter a world record. Instead of aspiring to scarf down an unprecedented amount of doughnuts or embark on a sailing expedition across the seven seas, he decided to tap into his passion for photography.
Eckles, owner of Couture Photography, is planning to hold a world record-breaking photo shoot on Oct. 2 near the Folly Beach pier. He's summoning roughly 200 former brides to lace back up for the shoot, a quirky style of post-wedding photography known as fearless bridal photography, or "trash the dress" photography, which captures the bride in a unique setting that might damage her gown. The goal isn't to convey negative notions toward marriage, as some may think; rather, the movement celebrates monogamy with a modern twist.
"This will give them a chance to get back out in their dress and get some fun, creative shots," says Eckles, who hopes to capture participants' dynamic expressions while charging into the ocean in their cherished gowns. Eckles also plans to hold group and individual photo sessions with participants' friends and family.
Kristen Erickson, married last October in Georgia, says fearless bride photography is gaining popularity and captivating younger brides' interest. "If I wanted to get it cleaned, I could," says the 25-year-old, referring to her strapless, mermaid-style dress. "It's not like I'm planning on ripping it up and setting it on fire."
Erickson, accompanied by her recently married friends, says she's more than willing to hop back in her dress for the one-of-a-kind occasion. "I'll do whatever he wants," she says, referring to Eckles, who's shot numerous participants' weddings, including Erickson's. "I'm really amazed at his work — it keeps getting better and better."
Redefining traditional Southern wedding photography, Eckles' style emphasizes tightly framed perspectives, intimately capturing details, from the bride's elaborate footwear to her ecstatic facial expressions. "That's one of the things my mom passed down to me," says Eckles. "I'm very into focusing in on things and capturing the detail of expressions." In addition to his technical expertise, Eckles' success stems from his gift for lightening the mood. "I like to try and have a good time and make them laugh," he says.
Summer Tate, recently married in her home state of Texas, signed up for the event following her wedding ceremony, which Eckles shot. "You can kind of take it to the level you want to," says Tate, referring to brides' participatory discretion in the event. "It'll be a fun way to not completely trash it, but to do something fun with it." Tate's wedding dress, a strapless ball gown elegantly draped with lace overlay and elaborate flower stitching, carries sentimental value for the 27-year-old; however, she says she's willing to flaunt the ivory-colored gown once more for fun. "Our generation is kind of open to it," she says. "Our parents' generations tend to think it's a horrible idea. You really don't need the dress anymore after you use it, though, and this event symbolizes that."
Eckles credits an early fearless bridal shoot, in which the bride posed in a swamp, for spurring his interest. "That's when I realized I liked doing creative shots," he says. He sold a majority of his possessions to be able to buy state-of-the-art photography equipment and steadily expanded his customer base. Now, he hopes to exceed the Netherlands' current fearless bride world record — consisting of 150 photographed participants — in the U.S.'s premier wedding destination. "I really wanted to have it in Charleston," says Eckles. "It'll definitely bring the Holy City some exposure."
In order to secure the event, Eckles plans to appear before Folly Beach City Council to weed out any potential issues. Folly Beach City Councilman D.J. Rich says he's eager to hear the photographer's proposal. "It sounds like a great idea," says Rich. "I can't wait to hear what he has planned."
Eckles is preparing by carefully considering vantage points and natural variables, including sun angle and tides, but ultimately he views the event as an opportunity to capture fun, creative shots. "I want to turn this into something fun — something really big, but really simple," says Eckles, hinting at a potential oceanside cake fight.
Eckles says he hopes the event stokes record-breaking ambitions for future generations. "This could be inspirational," he says. "To do something that's significant to you and that you're talented at."
Registration is required before Sept. 30 for participants and onlookers and is not limited to currently married individuals. To register, visit shotbycouture.com.