Central Texas Wedding Photography

On Death, Love and Photography

Last week, some of my good friends traveled to Utah to celebrate their cousin’s wedding.  Their week was filled with celebrations of life, love and their enthusiasm for the mountains and winter.  The wedding was held at the top of a resort and everyone who was able skied down together afterwards.

The groom’s mother, Aunt to my friends, who had been suffering some significant health problems, watched her son get wed to his love, danced the first dance with him, and then passed away in the pre-dawn hours of the next morning.

Mother and Bride

I photograph weddings because I believe that the images that capture the relationship between you and your loved ones, on one of the most special and memorable days of your life, often become the only written and permanent history of your family and friends.   This weekend, I photographed my third wedding of 2017, fresh off the inspiration of Fearless Conference Europe, but introspective over my friends and their family.  I can’t imagine the roller coaster of emotions that must come from the high of a wedding day and the low of a death in such a short timespan.   I hope that their cousin hired an amazing photographer, because those images of the groom’s mother will be the last photos they have.  I think about my friend Nicky, whose wedding I will photograph in September, whose mother passed away from cancer on New Year’s Day a few years ago.  She will not have images of her mother on her wedding day.  I think about one of my oldest and dearest friends, whose mother was diagnosed with ALS and is rapidly declining.   The photos I took of his mother on his wedding day are the last professional photos they will have of her.  In them, she looks proud, happy and beautiful.

I photograph weddings because when an elderly grandmother leans in snarkily to me every summer with a wag of her finger and whispers in my ear with a laugh, “I know you’re taking so many photos of me because I’m going to die soon,” we both know that all things funny have an element of truth to them.

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At the wedding I photographed this past weekend, the mother of the bride hated being photographed.  She wore sunglasses the entire day and spent most of her evening avoiding my lens and abruptly turning around backwards with a scowl every time I tried to get an image of her.  She didn’t care for me much, but frankly, I decided I didn’t care whether she liked me or not.  Normally, I see it as part of my job to win over the extended family members of the bride and groom, but in this case, I wasn’t going to give in.  I took it upon myself, in light of how I was feeling about death and love and family, to rise to the challenge.  I was absolutely going to get a good photo of her so that her family members would have some images of her to cherish.

Later that night, while chatting with some family members on the dance floor, the bride’s cousin told me that most of the photos they have of the mother of the bride involve her holding her hands or a napkin up over her face.  When I showed her an image that I captured of the two of them together in the back of my camera, she cried.

Virginia City Wedding

At Fearless Europe this year, Emma Case talked a lot about her why.  She strives to make images that are personal to her clients, while photographing both the extraordinary and the ordinary.  She talked about how our images link the past, present and the future together and that by photographing weddings, that we are photographing something bigger than us.  While it certainly resonated with me at the time, the incredible importance didn’t really sink in until my friend’s Aunt passed away.  So while my heart is heavy for my friends and loved ones, I am inspired to keep doing what I do in the best way I know possible: trusting myself to continue to grow while capturing the moments that will tell your story for generations to come.   To be frank, I think it’s a hell of a lot more important for me to be photographing you facetiming with your grandmother in her nursing home than off photographing your shoes on a damn tree trunk.

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This week was a reminder that I am photographing not just for you, but for decades of your family members to come after you, as well as, for the friends near and dear that hold a space for you in your heart.  As photographers, even as wedding photographers, we are responsible for cataloging our culture, our traditions, and our relationships for all of time.  We are the record keepers and as Emma reminded me, even the mundane is important.

I love that my clients become my friends.  I love that I have a hard time untangling how I feel about them and what I see in a photo from the technical specifications of it.   That I can’t judge the compositional merits of my own images, because I’m too blinded by how happy my clients make me feel.  I love that when I look at a photo of someone’s wedding day that I took, it summons up how I felt about the day with a high speed retelling of the events and feelings and speeches and funny touching moments that I remember.  They whoosh by in my head with an explosion.  I can only hope that the images I hand over to my clients make them feel exactly the same way and that one day, a new generation of your family will cherish the images as well, albeit for completely different reasons.

I photograph weddings because I like people.  I think they are weird and quirky, entertaining and amusing, funny and touching.  I like watching them interact with each other, or not.  I like meeting them and dancing with them and sharing with them and in the end, I like cataloguing their day for them.  While the importance of my job certainly has never been lost on me, it’s nice to be inspired and reminded of just exactly why every once in awhile.

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RIP Ryan Hawks

This weekend at the Freeskiing World Tour, two athletes left the venue in a helicopter.  Unfortunately, Ryan Hawks, a young skier from Vermont, died from injuries sustained in competition.

I didn’t know Ryan, although I’ve heard of him before and a few of my friends knew him from their interactions at skiing competitions.  When he died, the internet seemed to light up with news.  People immediately began posting condolences on Facebook.  What an amazing thing the internet can be: it allows for small towns to generate petitions in favor of gay and lesbian rights, it spreads news or gossip like wildfire, and it gives people a forum to empathize.

When I called my mother yesterday, she already knew because my dad already knew.  How?  The internet.  She said, “It’s a shame that skier died.”  I agreed.  She told me, “You know, he died doing something he loved.  Not only that, but really, I would rather you die having fun than in a car on I-35.”

I said, “Thanks Mom.”

Buddy and I talked about it again last night.  I told him what my mom had said, half-laughing, but also half-pondering the implications of such a statement.  I had been upset the day before when, on a chain of condolences to Ryan’s family and friends, another parent of a skier posted that “inverted ariels” shouldn’t be allowed in competition.  That, in short, it was irresponsible of the officials to allow such a thing and that it wasn’t worth the loss of a life.   That people always “say they died doing something they loved” and that it “doesn’t make it better.”  I was somewhat furious but didn’t reply to that statement even though I desperately wanted to.  I wrote a message to Ryan’s friends and family and left it at that… because it wasn’t the place nor the time to start a discussion on what should or shouldn’t be allowed.

I believe that personal responsibility should always trump our all-too-eagerness to force rules and legislation on the general population.  At the basest of this feeling is the fact that our world is overpopulated; lets chalk it up to natural selection if one makes bad decisions and happen to kill him or herself.  If you choose not to wear a seat belt, or a helmet, or to smoke weed or cigarettes, or eat only sugar, that’s your choice.  I don’t think that my tax dollars should be used to target and enforce useless laws.  That is money better spent on education: education on why you should wear seat belts, or helmets, or sex education, or how cookies are a sometimes-food and apples are an all-the-time food, or how about just some math because America is terrible at math?

These athletes, particularly big mountain skiers, are intensely inspiring and extremely experienced competitors.  It is not as if Ryan Hawks had just decided that he was going to throw a back flip off a huge cliff into a field of powder in a competition having never attempted one before.  He was actually extremely well known in the world of big mountain skiing for this.  This was a high stake competition.  As I mentioned in my previous post there were a lot of big name extremely experienced athletes competing for a large prize and Ryan was one of them.  He was in the company of great men and I’m sure was energized by the experience.

I’m sure that Ryan’s parents are devastated as any parent might be.   I’m sure that his friends and family are horrified and shocked from their loss. I’m sure that Ryan, much like myself and my friends, was surrounded by people who loved to explore life with great leaps, adventurous bounds and hucks off huge cliffs as he did.  I’m certain that they will celebrate the life he chose to lead, in the best way possible: doing the things that he loved to do.  To the parent of the skier who chose to use the death of his son’s fellow athlete to leap upon a soapbox on what should and shouldn’t be allowed in competition: shame on you.

As Buddy said when we discussed Ryan’s death yesterday, “What that parent seems to be forgetting is that Ryan Hawks probably lived more of life in his short 25 years than most people do in a lifetime.”  It is often fear that keep people rooted in their homes: fear to leave the towns the know, fear to educate themselves, fear of the unknown, fear of those who don’t believe the same as you, fear of different.  Ryan, much like many of the people I know, had no fear.  Don’t take me wrong: I am certain, without ever meeting him, that he had an absolute respect for life.  The difference between him and most people is that in respect, he chose to live to the extreme every single day.  He traveled with friends in a van around the country competing at different mountains every winter.  He traveled to far flung continents to do what he loved.  He sent it huge, he did what he was passionate about every day, and he died doing what he loved.

I wish I had the skill and mastery of snowboarding that Ryan Hawks had of skiing.  One day, perhaps I might.  As I learn and grow, I will jump off bigger and bigger cliffs.  I’d like to compete one day.  My friend Rose is 8 years older than me and she’s still competing.   She is a daily inspiriation.

I looked today through past entries on the blog, like I do every so often.  It is a wonderful reminder of how much FUN I have.  I do a lot of amazing things and I’m proud of that.  It is reinforcement that I also have respect for my short life: I want to live, to love, to laugh every day and I’m doing that.  I want to travel as much as possible.  I want to feel exhilarated in the accomplishments of something I found challenging or scary in some way.  I want to die doing something I love, not in a car on the interstate.  And when I die I hope that no one has the audacity to post, “they shouldn’t let…” because it’s a shame when you put ceilings and restrictions on the lives of others.

My condolences to the friends and family of Ryan Hawks.  May he live on in your memories, your actions and your shared experiences.

>Lily Galli

>On March 4th, a young woman from Tahoe died tragically while vacationing in Panama. In addition to being extremely close to some very good friends of ours, Lily Galli was well loved by much of the community. Though I only met her a few times, I knew what high esteem she was regarded with by those around her. Never once did I see her without a smile on her face; she was always laughing. I remember this one day I ran over to Dana’s to grab Sierra since they had kept her for a night while I was in San Francisco. Dana and Lily were so enamored with the costumes they were constructing for Burning Man they could hardly talk about anything else. They had constructed large gigantic leg warmers out of something that could only be described as neon fur and Lily though it was awesome. And so it was. In the days after they came home, the two had already concocted crazy ideas for the next year and vowed to start sewing immediately – a full year before the event!

It’s always bewildering when someone is here one day and gone the next. Strange to think that you can just disappear so quickly. My mother always tells me that when she dies, we better throw her a keg party and none “of that crying shit.” Lily obviously would have wanted the same and her friends kept her memory alive with a beautiful memorial party on a pier on the lake complete with unbelievable amounts of food, keg’s from our local brewery, Mt. Tallac, coffee from Alpen Sierra and loads of other wines and spirits. Despite the frigid temps and the snowing skies, there was a huge group gathered. What a testament to Lily.

There were a lot of folks dressed up in Burning Man-like costumes to evoke her wild and fun spirit. Many of the pictures in the entryway tent were of Lily dressed up at one place or another. Two guys actually jumped into the lake – can you imagine! Here is Dana and her tail:

The pier was at a development called Lakeridge up near Cave Rock. In the mid afternoon the skies opened up: the sun shined down upon us and it was amazing.

I remember when my friend Dax died how odd it seemed. One minute, I would be doing something completely routine and normal and then all the sudden, I’d be crying. I wouldn’t even be thinking of him, yet, I would suddenly and inexplicably be sad. As the time passed, the hurt faded and Dax doesn’t really pang my heart anymore. Sometimes I think of him and smile at how much he loved to live and I laugh as I remember our wild adventures. I wish to Lily’s close friends and family the love and strength they need to remember her; I hope that they too can learn to keep her in their hearts, but also to let her go. Ideally, the hurt fades over time, but the memories and love she had never do.

>For Kristin

>Earlier this summer, I wrote a blog about how I obsessively check to see if I have new “subscribers.” This was partially inspired by the fact that a friend from highschool whom I hadn’t spoken to since graduation was a subscriber. It was thoughtful of her and made me feel awesome to think that she cared enough about what was going on with a random highschool friend to subscribe. I described her as always happy and bubbly and she responded, “Your blogs are fun to read! Thanks for the shout out. I didn’t know I was ever considered ‘cheerful’, :).”

I subscribed to Kristin in return. She was very very excited about a cross-country trip she was planning for Australia in January. This past Friday she died in a plane crash flying to Telluride with a friend, just minutes from her destination. Kristin, your cheerfulness will be missed and my thoughts go out to all of those who were close to you.

Kristin, it’s somewhat odd that you are still subscribed to my blog. That your dogs face peaks out at me when I obsessively check who is there. I like that even in your absence, you will still be here, remembered fondly. Here is to traveling – I know that you loved it. I’ll try to make it to Australia in your memory. Thanks.

>In Unexpected Places

>I started a new book tonight. Corey is out of town so I’m all by myself. Not to mention that I’m poor and my neighbors now apparently think I’m a charity case and gave me their leftover fried chicken. That, however, is not what is predominantly on my mind.

I started a new book tonight. 10 pages in, a small slip of paper falls out from the middle and I smile. I’ve had this book, unread and untouched, on my shelf for a long time. Perhaps, I considered reading it before and didn’t quite get around to it – that would explain the small piece of floating paper. All it had were phone numbers: Rae’s mother, Laura’s house number, and John Brand’s number, and someone that spells Marc with a “c.” And Dax. Dax’s number. Dax’s name and number were in the middle. Larger than the others, and messy, and my eyes went to it first. To his name. And I smile because I loved him.

I’m not sad anymore when I think of Dax; it’s been a long time. Instead, I am proud of him. Whenever I think of Dax, I am reminded of how he lived his life and the immense amount of happiness he brought to those around him. Everyone wanted to be around Dax. In highschool, he kept trying to break up with his girlfriend and couldn’t because he couldn’t stand to see her cry and would always take it back and I would laugh at him. Once, we drove around grapevine or duncanville or somewhere far out and sprawling for two hours trying to find a way to get to these radio towers in the distance. We harbored delusions that our adventure that evening was to climb them. Our dreams were dashed – we couldn’t find a road that would lead us there. Dax and I had many many many grand, delusional, and sometimes accomplished adventures together.

Dax and I gave each other jumps out of an airplane for our birthdays one year. At sky dive san marcos, you think you’re going to die before you ever get in the plane; I’m fairly certain it’s built with scrap metal and stolen engine parts. We dove one after the other and both hit the ground not speaking, but looking at each other with smiles, our faces colored with the rush of energy and life. That is how I remember Dax. Energy and life… bright red hair and cowboy boots, always smiling and laughing. And I am proud that he touched so many people and I am proud that he was my friend.

Tonight I have some tears reserved for him…just a few. Perhaps because I’m alone. Maybe because instead of coming across him by thoughts of my own devices, I discovered him on a small piece of unassuming and unexpected paper. And he took me by surprise and on once again, on another amazing journey. Thanks Dax. Love, me.