Down with the gown

Stacey Larson perched on a 5-inch ledge about 3 feet off the ground, her elegant wedding gown a stark contrast with the rusted metal building she leaned against.


Stacey Larson perched on a 5-inch ledge about 3 feet off the ground, her elegant wedding gown a stark contrast with the rusted metal building she leaned against.

She tried to effect a serene expression while the sun blinded her; she fought to maintain balance as photographer Shawn Coulter snapped her picture from various angles.

Less than an hour into the photo shoot, Larson's $800 dress was covered in dirt. The formerly brilliant cream lacework along the bottom had turned a muted gray.

But she had some stunning photographs to show for it.

Coulter, who owns Coulter Photography in Fargo with his wife, Shellee, offers brides "Trash the Dress" photography sessions.


After the wedding day, Coulter takes artistic photos that will at a minimum get the dress dirty. It may also be snagged, torn or destroyed - depending on how far the bride wants to go.

"The brides that have done this have just had a blast," Coulter said. "It's very relaxed because there's nothing else to worry about that day."

Coulter, who describes his style as photojournalism infused with fashion, has photographed brides sitting in the middle of Broadway, lounging in a field and walking in a lake.

"At first I was a little taken aback, thinking, 'I don't want to wreck my dress,' but I thought, 'Why not?' It was a great opportunity to get the dress out again and not be stressed out," said Tara Kempfer of Fergus Falls, Minn., who, with her husband, Randy, participated in a "Trash the Dress" session with Coulter in October.

Larson's photo session also included shots of her lying in a field of dandelions, draped over a railroad track and sprawled across a fallen tree on the edge of the Red River.

Larson said her husband and parents weren't thrilled with the idea, but she thinks they'll change their minds when they see the photos.

"I'm just going to box it up, and it will probably never get worn again," Larson said of her dress. "My friend did it and I loved the pictures."

The idea behind the new wedding photography trend is it gives women more than one use for an expensive gown.


"I wanted her to do it," said Larson's sister, Jamie Johnson, who accompanied her on the shoot. "You actually get more use out of it and more money's worth getting the pictures."

It also gives brides, and in some cases grooms, a chance to express themselves in ways posed cookie-cutter photographs don't allow.

"We could let our personalities shine and have fun with it," Kempfer said. Coulter recommends that grooms who want to participate buy insurance for their rented tuxedos.

The Coulters started Coulter Photography in September 2003. Shawn Coulter also does wedding photography, senior portraits and photographs of children. He has been doing "Trash the Dress" photography for a year.

"I had seen a lot of these being done out West and I thought it was time to bring the Fargo-Moorhead market up to date with wedding photography," Coulter said.

John Michael Cooper, a Las Vegas wedding photographer, is credited with starting the trend. Some brides cut up their dresses. One popular Cooper photograph shows a bride wearing a wedding gown engulfed in flames.

Coulter said Photoshop was used to create that image.

Not all "Trash the Dress" sessions destroy the gown. In most cases it can be cleaned and preserved, Coulter said.


"I like to do them as high fashion as opposed to just shredding the dress or getting it really dirty," he said.

Though Kempfer's dress was stained and had been submerged in water, it was like new after she had it cleaned, she said.

"It was a nice way to show (Randy) that it wasn't about the dress and it wasn't about the material things. It was about him and me and if the dress got dirty it didn't matter," Kempfer said.

Coulter recently started offering "Trash the Prom Dress" photo sessions.

"It's a way to get some very high-fashion photos where they're looking their best," Coulter said. "It's something that they can look back on later and think, 'I was pretty good-looking.'"

Business profile

Coulter Photography

- Location: 14 Roberts St., Fargo


- Owners: Shawn and Shellee Coulter

- Contact: (701) 491-0489 or

- Web Site:

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526


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