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March 20, 2011

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The happiness catcher

PHOTOJOURNALIST Stephan Rauch sees himself as a storyteller who captures the happiest and most intimate moments of the weddings of people all over the world.

The Austrian, who is not yet 40, is one of the world's most famous and sought-after wedding photographers. He has captured three-days of festivities by Indian investment bankers in New Delhi and another three days by aristocracy in Salzburg, Austria. Both events cost millions of euros (not counting Rauch and his team).

He recently opened a Beijing studio, and plans to open one in Shanghai. His rate starts from 55,000 yuan (US$8,371), plus all expenses and travel for a team to fly in from Austria.

That shouldn't bother China's new rich.

To Rauch, weddings are "beautiful stories" and he gives them a "personal touch" - it's intimate and spontaneous and he captures the revealing and unguarded moments. Chinese weddings are highly choreographed and photos are overwhelmingly staged and posed.

Rauch thinks his style will catch on. "This sort of photography didn't exist in China," he said. "In a good (wedding) photo, there has to be a story. The story is one key, especially when everybody can take a good picture once a while, thanks to camera devices."

Rauch, known as the "happiness catcher" went on to tell Shanghai Daily about his career, philosophy and plans in China.

He also says he's engaged to a Chinese woman and plans to marry in October. Who will take those photos?

Q: How did you start out as a photographer and then decide to focus on wedding?

A: Back in 1990, I visited an exhibition of Magnum Photos in Paris. I was fascinated right away by the power of the images. As the saying goes: A picture says more than a thousand words ... I realized at that very moment that this (photography) is what I wanted to do. It then took me a few years to study photojournalism and develop technical skills. I am a photojournalist at heart. In fact, I don't like to call myself a wedding photographer but a storyteller. I chose to focus on wedding photography simply because they (the weddings) are very beautiful stories to tell.

Q: What makes your work sought-after by people around the world?

A: My team and I are often told there is a certain "je ne sais quoi" to our work. What makes it distinctive is the philosophy behind it. We don't just make beautiful pictures. Our aim is to make the images look nice, and at the same time carry out the "energy" and emotions behind them. A good photo is often a very simple one: it makes you "wow," and want to know more. We tend to tell these stories in a very personal, positive and hopeful way.

Q: You only take 10 jobs a year. Why?

A: Photography is all about artistic creativity. You have to limit yourself, if you really want to give your full potential to every job - I say "job" reluctantly because to me, they are not jobs .... what we offer are not products from an assembly line. There has to be a personal connection, an intimacy of thoughts between the photographer and the couple. We have big responsibilities for our clients ... it is the start of their new life, the first chapter in their new family story.

Q: Why did you decide to come to China?

A: It's the overwhelming response from Chinese couples, which I didn't expect. I had an exhibition of my wedding photos in Beijing in 2007, which a lot of people told me was "impressive." I was told that this sort of photography didn't really exist in China. It was a big surprise for me.

Q: How many Chinese couples have you photographed? Is there an especially memorable experience?

A: I don't really keep on track. Honestly, I don't think that number counts. However, thanks to my job, I had the opportunities to visit some incredibly beautiful places in Yunnan and Anhui provinces.

Q: Is there very special experience of the past decade?

A: It's very difficult to point out a single experience. The best thing about my job is that it gives me the opportunities to be invited by newly weds to every corner of the world, and to share the most intimate moments with them. I have photographed weddings on almost every continent except Antarctica.

Q: Where is your China studio and what are your plans?

A: Right now my studio is located in Beijing but I'm planning to move it to Shanghai. I'm also very much looking forward to teaching photography in a Chinese university. There are many excellent photojournalists here. I'm very confident that our kind of wedding photography will be warmly welcomed.

Q: Are you married?

A: Not yet, but I'm planning my wedding in October.

Q: Congratulations! What kind of wedding photos do you want?

A: I want my wedding to be small and intimate one, with people who are most important in my life. As for the photos ... Shall I get one of my photographers to take pictures, or all of them? I don't want anybody to feel left out, so I will probably have all my photographers take pictures on the very special day.


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