July 25th, 2016
Today feels like a good day to talk about why I’m a wedding photographer. This is a long post, but I hope you read on, because I think it’s important to talk about, and I’d like to share this with you. Plus, there’s a really awesome picture at the end. :)
I hope it doesn’t make you sad, but rather makes you turn to your spouse or a loved one and tell them how much you love them, and how much you enjoy having them around.
I’ve always loved weddings. I actually thought I wanted to be a wedding planner before I realized how much I loved photography. (Ask my mom – I think I watched the movie “The Wedding Planner” about 1,000 times growing up.) Weddings always fascinated me because of their significance. Not the dress, or the flowers, or the pretty venue… But I was always just blown away by the fact that at this one event in a person’s life, all of their family and friends would come from near and far to celebrate with them and encourage them as they joined lives with this one other person. When you think about it, it’s really kind of crazy, right? What an incredible expression of love it is to be a guest at a person’s wedding…
I think my fascination with weddings started with my parents’ wedding album. We didn’t pull it out very often, but I remember very clearly looking through those pictures when I was very young. My absolute favorite picture in their album was always the picture of my mom and dad as they were recessing back down the aisle, just moments after they had become husband and wife. My dad is looking directly into the lens with the biggest, most genuine smile on his face. Whenever we looked at that picture, we always said that he looked like he had just won the lottery.
I’m writing this today, specifically, because today marks 10 years since my dad passed away suddenly of a heart attack. It’s something you never, ever think would happen to you, especially not when you’re that young. I was supposed to have so much more time with my dad. But (literally) one day I had a full, complete, “normal” family, and the next day I didn’t. As a high schooler I watched my mom become a widow, my sister went off to college a few weeks later, and our whole lives shattered to pieces. He wasn’t there to watch me get into Bucknell, he wasn’t there for my high school graduation, or my college graduation, he never met Tyler, and he didn’t get to walk me down the aisle or dance with me at our wedding reception. I miss him every single day, and even though I’m now used to living without him, I’m reminded so often of the fact that losing my dad so young truly changed everything about me – my relationships, the choices I make, how I see the world… And it made me the photographer that I am today.
Now here’s where I hope I don’t lose you…
I see and interpret moments at weddings specifically through that lens of loss. I’m not sad and crying and thinking about my dad every time I shoot a wedding, but I am thinking about the days shortly after he died when we sat on the living room floor with dozens and dozens of photos of him strewn across the carpet. We were making collages to put out at his funeral, so that our family and friends could remember all the happiness and laughter he brought to everyone around him. That was when I realized how incredibly important pictures are. At his funeral, I remember everyone stopping and really looking at the collages of my dad as they came through the receiving line. They pointed and “awed” and cried and laughed… I remember being amazed by the fact that even in the midst of such horrible pain and sadness, a simple photograph could make our loved ones laugh. And what sat in front of the collages at his funeral? My parents’ wedding album, opened to the “winning the lottery” picture. He was so, so happy.
As joyful as weddings are, it is unfortunately true that there’s a small chance that it might be one of the last times you get to spend with certain family members or friends. And one day (again, I hope I’m not being too blunt here, I know this is tough to think about), some of your wedding pictures might end up framed or collaged at someone’s funeral. 99.9% of the time, you’re looking at your wedding pictures because you’re happy and you want to relive those memories. They will be displayed at your children’s weddings, and they will be the pictures you look back at joyfully on your anniversary.
But they also might be the pictures you look back on to remember the happiness on a loved one’s face because they are no longer with you. They might be the pictures that sustain you through loss, and remind you why you have to keep pushing through the pain even though someone in that picture might be gone.
So that’s what we shoot for when we shoot weddings. Keeping the joy of the day in mind, but always remembering both the joys and hardships that the future might hold.
To this day, my favorite picture to take at weddings is the “winning the lottery” picture. Because that moment is probably one you’ll really remember. One you’ll want to relive one day. When you turn around and you’re married and for the first time you can look at both sides of the aisle and call every single person there your family. But I also love taking that picture of your mom crying as you dance with your dad, or of grandpa out on the dance floor, or of you with your very best friend just before you walk down the aisle. Because those moments are the ones you’ll look back on in times of both hardship and joy. And as someone who wasn’t even alive at the moment that wedding photographer snapped that photo at my parents’ wedding, I can tell you first hand that that picture is incredibly important to me. That look on his face embodies everything that I loved most about my dad.
That’s why I’m a wedding photographer. I really, truly mean it when I say that it is an incredible privilege to be the one who gets to take some of those pictures.