Permalink to The Longest Homily

The Longest Homily

This is the true story of an unusual meeting that challenged my assumptions about love, marriage, and the task of photographing them both.  I share this with permission from the couple whose story it is to tell.  Details have been changed to protect their privacy.

Evan’s realness draws you in, a little artsy, a little awkward.  You could call our relationship business casual: work threw us together, shared interests kept us connected.

We hadn’t even exchanged phone numbers, so when he texted me, he had to identify himself before asking, “Can we meet for coffee?  I’d like to talk to you about something.”

“Meet me at three,” I told him.

At the coffee shop, Evan gave me a big hug.  He’s one of those rare, good huggers; the kind of guy who hugs like he means it, but doesn’t get creepy.

After a few minutes of small-talk, Evan drew a deep breath; I sat up a little straighter.  Getting down to business.

“A few months ago,” he began, “I reconnected with an old friend.  A woman.  We’d dated briefly several years ago, but it never went anywhere.”

I nodded, muttered something encouraging.

He continued, “When Amy and I saw each other again… we just knew.  We knew immediately that we had to be together.”  Evan was smiling, shy almost.  He was… in love.  ”Thing is,” he hesitated, “…she’s married.”

My breath caught. My thumb pressed my wedding ring sharply into my finger.

“Her marriage had been bad for a really long time,” he quickly inserted.  ”Like, REALLY bad.  He got violent when she broke it off.  They’re in the process of a divorce right now, but… it’s pretty ugly.”

I gulped my coffee, my head buzzing.  A married woman, soon-to-be-divorced; and my friend, completely, undeniably in love.

“As soon as the divorce papers are signed, we’re getting married.  Like, just us, two witnesses, and an officiant.”  Pause.  ”And we want you to photograph our wedding.”

As wedding discussions go, this one topped the charts in atypical.  Usually I meet with a couple; usually we talk about things like timelines and budgets; usually neither of them is already married to someone else.

Yet as he spoke, Evan’s eyes got brighter, and his voice grew warmer.  “I’ve never been so sure of anything in my entire life.  This is just… it.  I adore her, I respect her, I learn from her, I love her.  We have to get married as soon as we possibly can, because we are meant for each other.”  He was bouncing one denim-clad knee up and down, change jostling in his pocket, but he looked me straight in the eyes.

A lifetime seemed to slip by during the next few seconds, as Evan’s story filtered past years of my own hard-won happy marriage, a good Southern upbringing, roots well-soaked in convention and tradition.

I tried to envision the future for Evan and his Amy.  The intensity of their relationship would lessen over time — it always does.  Maybe they would find themselves dissatisfied with one another once the dust had settled.  Maybe Amy would realize that Evan was her excuse for leaving a broken marriage.  Maybe Evan would discover that he had been drawn to the romance of Amy’s story, a romance that would diminish once her clothes were taking up space in his closet.

But did it matter?

In meeting after meeting, with couple after couple, I hear clean, simple stories.  But there, in that moment, right in front of me, sat Evan, inviting me to bear witness to a love story of unthinkable complexity.  And I considered what it might mean to photograph this kind of love.

So I spoke from my heart, and I answered, “I would be honored.”

Over and over I have photographed love.  Love, rare and devastating.  Love, shattering and necessary.  Love, fleeting and forever.  The timing may be imperfect; the setting may be all wrong; but when we find love, we can do nothing but throw ourselves into it with our whole hearts.  It is a goal to achieve, a dream to fulfill.  It is a bet we hope to win, but may lose.

Father Charlie Donahue described photographers as the writers of the longest homily: a blessing reaching far into the future, a gift not of the mind but the soul.  If photographs could speak, I would conjure mine to tell Evan and Amy’s story in all its pain and beauty and hopefulness, anchoring their family in love until the day they leave this world.  Because maybe — just maybe — Evan and Amy will grow old together.  Their chances are as good as mine, or yours.

When the legal proceedings were finally settled, Evan put on a suit, and Amy wore a dress, and they walked under the open sky to be married, with two witnesses, one officiant, and me — their photographer.  And a determination to love, against all the odds.

You can also find this piece published on Huffington Post.

 


Permalink to Jill & Steven’s Queensberry Album

Jill & Steven’s Queensberry Album

Learn more about these stunning, handcrafted albums at Queensberry.com.


Permalink to Lena, George, & Render | The Woods | Atlanta, GA

Lena, George, & Render | The Woods | Atlanta, GA

Another year photographing this beautiful family! This year was special, though, because of this next picture.  Render isn’t really big on eye contact, but he came running up, sat down right in front of me, and looked right into my camera.  I could’ve cried.  It was one of the coolest moments for me, proof that I’ve slowly but surely built trust with this kid.

This is right before Render asked to take a look at the back of my camera.  How could I say no?  (Though Lena pointed out later, “You don’t even let ME look at the LCD screen!”)


Permalink to Maggie & Tyler | Town Brookhaven | Atlanta, GA

Maggie & Tyler | Town Brookhaven | Atlanta, GA

I shot Tyler’s sister’s wedding several years ago, so it’s a HUGE hour to be photographing his marriage to Maggie next year!  A full-on engagement shoot wasn’t really in their plans, but we got together for beers and about 15 minutes of photos — which was about all the cold we could stand, anyway!


Permalink to Ashley, Paul, & Opie | At Home | Acworth, GA

Ashley, Paul, & Opie | At Home | Acworth, GA

I look forward to photographing this family every year. Not only do I want to steal their kid, but I kinda also love their animals.  And I’m not even a dog person.  But seriously, just look at ‘em…

Every kid I know makes this face at some point:

And then this one…

Opie, explaining that Chester is being flat right now:

While yer gettin’ shoed is the perfect time to tease the cat with some pipe-cleaners.

v

I think Opie’s a cool kid because his parents love each other.  Really.


Permalink to Something Greater

Something Greater

“That’s totally Photoshopped,” I looked across the grocery checkout line to see a teenage girl, pointing at the cover of a fashion magazine. And of course she was right. It’s no big secret anymore that everyone who’s anyone on the cover of anything has been nipped and tucked and airbrushed to oblivion. Or maybe even metamorphosized into something no longer human.

In a recent e-mail from a fellow wedding photographer, I was told, “I was prepping a wedding for my blog, doing some retouching, and I thought to myself, why am I shrinking her arms? They are big, but who cares? Then I thought, why am I retouching her face, too? It just made me think about this work I do and why I feel the need to make these edits.”

I completely identify with this photographer’s experience. We’re so conditioned to expect beauty to be one thing (How limiting — ONE thing!), and to have absolutely no compunction about digitally modifying someone’s face or body to achieve the look we think they should have had.

In On Beauty, I wrote primarily to my clients, discouraging them from the destructive obsession with looking like a magazine cover. But I think discussions about retouching and beauty are crucial for wedding and portrait photographers as well, because the shift in our clients’ thinking begins with us. When we retouch, we say to our clients, “You’re better this way.”

“You’re better with a flatter tummy.”
“You’re better with skinnier arms.”
“You’re better with a rounder bum.”
“You’re better without that scar.”

Who do we think we are?

It is absolutely our job, as photographers, to make our clients look their best. We should understand what angles draw attention to their faces, what light flatters their skin, what lenses best fit the mood or the moment or the model. There was a time when that raw skill was all there was. You either got it right in camera or not at all.

Now, though, we’re overburdened by our access to incredible post-production tools — tools that enhance our work in so many ways, but which also have been misused to grossly alter the unique men and women we photograph, to mangle their self-confidence, to put upon them a flawlessness that exists only through the manipulation of retouching.

And I get it! I want a smaller nose, people! I want straighter teeth! (Invisalign: one of these days, I’m coming for you!) But you know when I want these things the very most? It’s not when I’m with my friends and family; it’s not when I’m working hard on a project I care about; and it’s definitely not when I’m home by myself, listening to music and reading on our cozy couch. No, it’s when I engage in media that is loaded with made-up, plastic-skinned, all-the-same men and women, who don’t reflect the diverse, colorful, dynamic people I know in real life.

Right now, as wedding and portrait photographers, I believe we are on the forefront of a revolution in the photography industry, because we, more than any other photography professionals, are flooding the market with images of REAL people. And we have the ability — no, the responsibility —  to make amazing, raw, genuine photographs of the individuals who place themselves before our cameras.

And so we must strive for something greater than pretty pictures: to know our craft well, and to tell true stories of real beauty in all its incredible shapes, sizes, and colors.  This is our calling.

You can also read this piece on HuffPost.

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