There is a photo from 1936 sitting on my piano. It’s a grainy black and white image of a beautiful 17 year old girl in a simple dress snuggled into the arm of a handsome 20 year old man in a shirt and tie. They are smiling and holding hands with their eyes locked on the lens of the camera. The day this photo was created they had married in a small ceremony with just close family in attendance. This photo is the only one taken on that day. All there is of the start of a decades long marriage. Two people, becoming a unit and creating a photograph to commemorate the day their lives changed irrevocably.
Those two are my maternal grandparents. That photo is the start of a family that lead to my mother that lead to her own wedding photos with my father that lead to me and my wedding photos with my husband that led to our children and perhaps someday to wedding photos of their own. All of that history – life lived, love given, grief and joy deeply felt and all of the shining hope for the future sits in a silver frame on my piano. I walk past it every day. Sometimes I don’t even notice it. Sometimes I find myself staring into the eyes of those crazy kids getting married and wonder what they would think of the lives lived by their children’s children’s children. I think about the life that came after this one photo was taken on this one day. How the story didn’t go how they thought it would – for better, or for worse – because life so rarely goes according to plan.
I’m can’t express just how grateful I am for that tiny piece of history sitting in my living room. That photo is constantly reminding me why I do the work I love doing. Reminding me in the simplest and most profound way that wedding days are not about wedding photos. Wedding days are about people. They are about the couple who are choosing each other and the people they chose to be there to celebrate and support them. Wedding days are about sacred moments – genuine, complicated, breathtakingly human moments. What an honor it is to witness all these little moments that have been knitted together over the course of lifetimes to bring us to right now – to this day.
When I am invited into your wedding day, I am invited as your witness. Because of how intimate and once-in-a-lifetime the nature of your wedding day is, inviting me to be part of your day requires a deep trust between us. You are inviting me into sacred spaces that I don’t deserve access to because those spaces are filled with your people – the people who have championed you, picked up the phone in the middle of the night, laughed with you until you ached, held you when you hurt, loved you even when it was hard to do so. You are inviting me into that space to unflinchingly witness your story and make truthful images that matter. You are not a prop to be manipulated into pretty but meaningless images. Your wedding day is not for the latest photo trend, a magazine or website or social media. Images made in the service of these things will not last or be important 10, 50, or 100 years from now. If it doesn’t matter then, it doesn’t matter now.
The importance of the images we create together will outlive us. Your story has been telling itself for decades before I arrived, and it will go on long after we are gone. When your wedding photo sits on your granddaughter’s piano she won’t know my name. But I hope she stops every once in a while and stares into the eyes of the people who are why she’s there and think of the life you lived and the love you shared long after that photo was created.