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.
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.
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.
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.
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.