Romeo and Juliet wedding fashion shoot - Whitaker Museum and Art Gallery, Rawtenstall

The team decided to base the shoot on the Romeo and Juliet story

The team decided to base the shoot on the Romeo and Juliet story - Credit: Archant

When a group of wedding specialists got together for a dramatic fashion shoot it all ended in tears, writes Roger Borrell

The Whitaker Museum in Rawtenstall created the perfect backdrop for the shoot

The Whitaker Museum in Rawtenstall created the perfect backdrop for the shoot - Credit: Archant

Every bride wants to look drop-dead gorgeous on her big day. It’s hard to imagine any who might want to be portrayed post mortem.

That didn’t stop husband and wife photographic team Lizz Riley and Danny Archer from staging what even they describe as a rather weird wedding shoot at the Whitaker Museum in Rawtenstall.

‘I was talking to a florist, Clare Evers, about Victorian weddings and how different things are today,’ said Lizz. The conversation went in two directions.

‘First, we were discussing how marrying for love was unusual back in those days. People usually had to marry for money or they had to marry someone from their own social class for reasons of status.

Vicki and Brian Ormerod created a Victorian cake for the shoot

Vicki and Brian Ormerod created a Victorian cake for the shoot - Credit: Archant

‘Then we talked about another strange thing the Victorians did. When a loved one passed away the family would sometimes gather together for a portrait with the corpse as a permanent reminder.’

Then it developed into an idea. ‘We thought why not stage our own shoot based on those two thing? We gathered together a group of people we work with regularly on real-life weddings and they were enthusiastic because it would showcase everyone’s skills.

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‘There are so many fantastically talented people in the industry, especially in Lancashire. Couples are always looking for different things for weddings – you have to keep the passion going and this was one way of doing that.’

The first challenge was to provide a suitable setting. ‘Danny and I often take our children to the Whitaker because it’s so family friendly,’ said Lizz. ‘It has some lovely rooms. They are gorgeous – perfect for what we wanted – and Carl Bell, who runs the museum, was happy for us to use it for the shoot.’

Next, they needed a plot. ‘Romeo and Juliet seemed to fit,’ she added. ‘It combined romance and death so we used that as the theme.’ Models Kate Robins and Sam Reay were recruited along with a florist, make-up artist, hair stylist, stationer and a cake maker.

‘It was a really exciting day,’ said Lizz, a mother of two. ‘The models were brilliant. Danny and I are the sort of wedding photographers who like to create a narrative to go with the big day but we also go for natural images. This was very posed but we think it worked.’

‘When it was time for the scene where the bride kills herself because she can’t marry the man she loves, the room went completely silent. It just had a special feeling and some of us still get goose bumps when we see the pictures.

‘We also discovered that a daughter of one of the previous owners of the property had been prevented from marrying her sweetheart which was quite a spooky coincidence.’

Creating the showcase has worked. All those taking part have used the pictures as promotional material and that has brought in new work.

Lizz and Danny are more used to photographing real weddings for the Bolton business they’ve run since 1999. So how did this match up?

‘We cover the whole of the north west and into Yorkshire so we have photographed some unusual weddings. Just the other day we covered a wedding of a couple who had the reception in the local chippy,’ laughed Lizz. ‘It was a brilliant day and, afterwards, they had their first dance in the backyard of an auntie’s house.’

More photos from the shoot

A local gem

The Whitaker Museum and Art Gallery was originally known as Oak House, built in 1840 for local wool baron George Hardman. It stayed in the family for more than half a century before being sold to the Whitaker family.

Mr Richard Whitaker, of Rawtenstall, started work in the mill aged just six but he worked his way up through the ranks and took on the Oak House estate to establish parks and playgrounds for the people of Rossendale and their children.

Over the decades, the museum collection has slowly grown and the natural history collection includes the dramatic Tiger and Python exhibit of stuffed animals.

In the 1980s original wallpapers, dating from the late 19th century, were rediscovered. These are of particular interest, because they are early examples of a rolling printed paper, rather than a block printed type.

In 2013 The county council stopped funding the museum and so The Whitaker Group stepped in to ensure the museum stayed open.

Whitaker Museum and Art Gallery, Whitaker Park, Haslingden Road, Rawtenstall. BB4 6RE. Open 10am-4pm Tuesday to Sunday.

Cast list

The shoot involved:

Photography: Lizz Riley and Danny Archer of DJ Archer Photography

Dressmaker: Charlotte Yates, of Legend Bridal Designs

Florist: Clare Evers of Blush Rose

Make-up artist: Kerry Baker

Hair stylist: Duncan Fisher by Gemma Wheeldon makers: Vicki and Brian Ormerod Bell, of The Whitaker www.thewhitaker.orgModels: Kate Robins and Sam Reay

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