“Cut off as I am, it is inevitable that I should sometimes feel like a shadow walking in a shadowy world. When this happens I ask to be taken to New York City. Always I return home weary but I have the comforting certainty that mankind is real flesh and I myself am not a dream.”
― Helen Keller
This would be a really bad time to be at a loss for words. And yet as I sit on an airplane somewhere between Chicago and Bentonville with New York still on my mind and a rush of emotions coming out of this wedding I’m not even sure where to start telling this story. The reality is that this story started years ago. Before I met Raquel at a wedding in Connecticut almost 5 years ago, before Melissa and I started shooting together and calling this little prayer of a company our future, I had a small apartment in Hoboken, NJ and a cool little desk at a pretty amazing office in Manhattan. My love affair with New York was almost instant. The pulse of this city is something that scares away so many people and yet when I first stepped off of that path train in Herald Square on 34th and 6th my heart almost instantly lined up with the beat of this city. My time there would shape me in so many ways that I am still learning about. Walking through the streets of SOHO after a long day of work just to peek inside the designer shops that I couldn’t afford, or sitting on the curb with a camera on Canal St. in China town people watching and snapping secret photos of cultures colliding. In fact I can say pretty definitively that in the 24 years before I watched my own bride walk down the aisle to me I don’t think there is any single place or experience that has shaped me more than my time in New York.
Fast forward several years at a beautiful little vineyard in North Stonington, CT and I can clearly remember Melissa in the middle of shooting decor in a beautiful tent just beside the rows and rows of purple grapes. I looked up just in time to see a big smile walking towards her and though I was too busy to stop and chat that first smile was the first opportunity Melissa (and later I) would have the chance to shake hands with one of our favorite brides of all time. Raquel was working along side Sarah True (one of the very best wedding planners and designers in New England) and her personality and bubbly laugh was immediately magnetic. We all laughed a lot that night as we watched Geordan and Richard dance the night away and when we hugged Raquel and said goodbye we had really no reason to ever think we’d see her again. It was likely that night (knowing her) that she found us on Facebook but what has happened since has been so unique and fun for us. Raquel has never missed a beat. From that very first meeting she’s followed us as we travel, commented and chatted with us throughout the years encouraging us and supporting us as we grew and then several years later the call came that Dave had finally put a ring on her finger. We joke with Raquel that she knew she wanted us at the wedding before she knew she wanted Dave there - but in reality this couple together is one of the most perfectly fit pairs I can imagine.
Raquel is a big personality in every way. Bubbly, loud, exuberant, excited, happy, loud, loud, and loud. This girl hugs big, and holds the people that are close to her in this world very close. Her bright eyes and big smile say so much about her and even when a few things went a little wild on the wedding day (more on that later) and Raquel said “excuse me while I get a little bridal bitchy on this phone call” I can honestly say that I’m not sure the gentleman on the other end of the phone (who by the way likely deserved a pretty stern phone call) had any idea she was upset at all. In fact, I’m not sure Raquel has a truly upset bone in her body - but what she lacks in angry she more than makes up in style and attention to detail. Every step on this wedding day was something unique. I can honestly say that from the moment we started shooting I was almost overwhelmed at the amount of detail that had gone into this day. From the bracelets the bridesmaids wore, to the custom collar points that were to go in Dave’s shirt (except that we accidentally left them in my camera bag all day) the detail was everywhere. Dave on the other hand is the epitome of “roll with the punches”. This guy is so gentle with Raquel it’s almost hypnotic to watch. He calms her down in a way that isn’t easy to describe and with the most simple statements it was so amazing to watch her let her shoulders down. “Raquel - it’s ok that you forgot the rings in the hotel, we’ve made it 6 years without rings on our fingers and if we get married without them it’ll be just fine.” The rings did end up showing up, but to call this guy her hero would likely be an understatement. What’s better is that outside of that relationship - the one where a guy should be calm and supportive and kind, Dave is sarcastic and dry beyond belief. His sense of humor kept us on our toes all day and his group of buddies were nothing short of a perfect cast for a 3rd sequal to “The Hangover”. Even the bridesmaids at this wedding (potentially the one group of people at a wedding that can tend to either slow down a day, or add drama to it) did nothing but add support and smiles to every moment. In fact, if I’m honest this may go down as one of our favorite wedding parties ever, simply because we were so quickly brought into this group as friends.
I’ve jumped ahead in the story a bit so I should clarify. If you’ve kept up with us much lately you know that we (Melissa and I) have a 7 week old baby at home. As amazing as it is to watch our little family grow it also means that Melissa has had to ride the bench a little bit on the destination weddings playing mom and we’re so blessed to have Delyn willing and able to jump in and support me in that second photographer spot. Now don’t get me wrong - I’d clearly always rather be flying at 38,000 ft holding the hand of my favorite person on earth (Delyn just doesn’t seem like my type) but it really has been fun this year getting the chance to travel and shoot with one of my closest buddies. So as we prepped for this wedding and I told Delyn that he would be joining me in NYC the expression on his face was priceless. As we walked off the plane in NYC on Thursday afternoon I watched as that same pulse caught Delyn so much like it had me years ago. I knew we’d be in for a great trip and I’m excited to share more blogs about our adventures in Manhattan shooting street photos and wandering around. More on that soon but after a few days of street shooting and doing some shots for Lowepro (and about 50,000 steps in two days) we woke up on the wedding day with every minute planned down to the minute - but if you’ve ever shot a wedding you know that plans mean about as much as lottery tickets so it wasn’t long before we all had to get flexible.
The day started at the Brooklyn Bridge hotel - a super cool hotel right in the heart of old downtown Brooklyn. As the girls listened to 90’s pop and got all dolled up, the fellas were down at the Shake Shack getting burgers and fries to soak up some of the headaches from the night before. As we got closer and closer to the scheduled get dressed time the pace and anxiousness all started to settle in. There wasn’t a nerve in the room, but there was an anticipation that was pretty tangible. As Raquel slipped into her dress and her mom buttoned her up wearing a custom dress made by none other than the bride’s super talented sister (who I spent the morning trying to convince to start a men’s line just for me), all of the girls packed up their stuff for the rest of the day and we were off on the party bus, rap station set to “bump” and headed to the Brooklyn Bridge Park (or so we thought) for photos. If you’ve followed us for very long you’ve heard the catch line “adventure everything” come out of my mouth over and over. We love the opportunity to turn little moments into adventures - whether that’s climbing Killington Mountain in Vermont a few weeks ago, or jumping a fence that’s blocking some incredible graffiti in downtown Manhattan the day before this wedding. Any chance we get we love a little adventure - unless that adventure means we have about 30 blocks to walk with a bride and bridesmaids in heels. It turns out the driver we got for the day of the wedding was pretty unfamiliar with Brooklyn. In fact, except for hitting a world record for most potholes hit in a single day - the entire bus experience turned into a bit of a fiasco. Starting off about 6 blocks from the bridge we were dropped off by the driver about 45 minutes later than we’d hoped about 10 blocks from the bridge and with no more time to try and tell the driver where we needed to be - we were on a hike. If you’ve spent any time in New York you know that the crowds can be pretty intense around this iconic bridge. Mix that with the Pope, Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, and Miles Witt Boyer (heh) in town and the crowds were almost unbelievable. We had actually planned on this a bit with our ideas for the first look shots on the bridge - but hadn’t prepped to run an hour behind, walking through Brooklyn with girls in dresses and heals. Nonetheless - this group of girls didn’t miss a beat and the entire shoot was a blast. A long walk and a lot of laughing (and dragging around every bit of my gear since I couldn’t send it in the bus) gave way to an incredible first look right in the middle of the most famous bridge on the East Coast. With complete strangers stopping to clap and watch these two stop time as Dave walked about 200 yards right down the white line and wrapped his arms around his wife to be. The moment really was pretty amazing to watch and as Raquel turned around magically the crowds stopped o just a few seconds to give these two a very real sense of isolation and privacy for a second. Dave stared and grinned as Raquel choked back tears during these few moments and with all of their friends just a few steps away we took off to a little gem of a location hidden right in the heart of NYC. The only problem - we were about half a mile to the other side of the bridge and another 12 blocks to the far side of the World Trade Center where these shots would take place (and our favorite driver in the world would be theoretically waiting for us).
Block after block after block went by and Raquel’s smile never faded for a second. In fact as we rode the escalator down under the Brookfield Place mall where we would be shooting in a completely white marble room directly under the new World Trade Center (without the correct permission it turns out) Raquel and Dave stopped completely in awe of where we had brought them. Full disclosure here - I rely a lot on a big smile and a respectful tone to get myself into places that plenty of photographers can’t. It had occurred to me that we might be on some thin ice shooting down here - but the risk was more than worth taking and it wasn’t long before I had made quick friends with the head of security who told me to have a blast and be quick and this set was one of my favorite moments of the whole day. Back at the venue that we hadn’t even been to yet, there were oysters, cheese, beer, and wine waiting for us and yet after hours of walking and waiting on this little adventure the driver had set us upon, lunch was a very appropriate hot dog right off of the side of the road in downtown Manhattan. (Side note : I wouldn’t ever recommend eating from food trucks in NYC but at this point I would have probably stolen a PB&J out of a child’s hands if I had the chance so a big beef hotdog covered in ketchup sounded pretty good.) Our adventure (we thought) would end just after these photos as we jumped back onto the bus and headed to Red Hook Brooklyn to the Liberty Warehouse for a beautiful sunset wedding.
The next hour or so was pretty typical. We grabbed snacks and a beer, shot decor and laughed with the wedding party about the whole experience of walking from the Brooklyn Pier to the World Trade Center and got ready for guests to arrive. As they did the mood changed a bit as everybody began to notice that a few very important people hadn’t yet arrived. 6:00 rolled around - the start time for the wedding - and this select group, which included all of the parents, grandparents, and close friends of Raquel + Dave were still not here. About 6:15 a phone call finally came in from the group who (you guessed it) were back on the same bus, only this time the driver had missed his turn and ended up driving through the tunnel back into Manhattan. By 6:45 the sun was just about to dip below the horizon and the family arrived in enough time to literally jog to their seats. I can say that one of the things I love the most about this job is the curve balls. YES - there was a lot of stress to these changes of plans. And YES it isn’t how we had imagined it. But if I can digress for just a second it would be to suggest that photographers would as a whole be a whole lot more respected in this industry if our approach to a wedding day wasn’t to get frustrated and upset when things don’t go our way.
We are constantly sent photos from photographers griping about people using their phones during ceremonies, or moving slow during family photos. I have to bite my tongue all of the time to hold back what I’m really feeling which is simply : get over yourself. I don’t mean to sound short here - but in reality we’ve been hired to do one thing very specifically. That one thing is NOT simply documenting a wedding day (so the fly on the wall photographers don’t get a cop out here in my opinion). But it is also NOT to direct, boss around, and over perfect a wedding day. Just because we have been to a lot of weddings does not give us the right to control it and we’ve been hired to (wait for it…) be a part of a wedding day! We’re a part of the story! Our photos, our mood, our energy, and YES even our clothes affect the day! The way we smile, encourage, support, at times direct, dance, laugh, and interact throughout the day plays such a huge role in the feel of our photos that I would go out on a limb and say that any photographer who does not consider themselves in a service industry is completely missing the point. Why jump this far off topic? Because I’ve been looking for a reason to say all of this for one, but on the other hand simply to say that even though we watched a bride walk down the aisle for an outdoor pier wedding with the Statue of Liberty in the background nearly an hour after it was scheduled and just as the sun ducked below the horizon line our job wasn’t to sweat and stress and complain : it was to fix the problem. The ceremony was short and beautiful and as Raquel + Dave kissed and walked back up the aisle the last bit of daylight was gone.
I have to take a minute to brag on this venue. In typical New York fashion I can’t exactly say that the people running and working at the Liberty Warehouse are the most friendly people - but they do have this thing down to a science. Dinner was fantastic : arguably one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten at a wedding, and the downstairs room where the reception took place (along with the pier outside where the groomsmen would retire for cigars later in the night) set the scene for a literally perfect wedding party. The caveat to a good wedding reception is a mixture of so many things but perhaps the most important is a good Emcee. We have the chance to work with DJ’s all over the country as well as bands that range from 80’s cover bands to 20 piece orchestras. It really doesn’t matter who’s in charge of the music as long as it’s good, it connects with the guests and there’s somebody with a good voice to control the momentum of the night. Prior to this wedding I had only ever worked with one DJ who really pulled off every single element of their job. Everybody around Arkansas knows the name Brock - and I have no doubt that Duane Wayne is likely the same way around New England. This dude is completely on point with his job, and from the very first song with a solid beat up until we waved good bye to everybody at the end of the night the dance floor stayed completely packed.
I think I could go on about this wedding forever. The story didn’t end when we left. Of course it kept going for quite awhile as we walked through a pretty sketchy neighborhood in Brooklyn in full suits at midnight carrying all of our gear because we couldn’t get an Uber. And it kept going the next morning as the Bride and Groom sent us a picture of them in bed with their best man (the groom’s twin brother) and bridesmaid (his wife) and told us to come and cuddle. It even kept going through our flight home as we were greeted with a video that we didn’t know was taken of Delyn and I doing the Whip (Nae Nae) along with about half of the wedding party. I can sincerely say that since that first meeting with Raquel all those years ago up until now I’m not sure if the story is every really going to end. Her wedding was beautiful - perfect - and full of adventure. Dave is an incredible guy full of amazing taste, not only in Raquel, but also in his ultra rare $300 per case Belgium beer that may have ruined other beer for me forever. Delyn and I tackled this wedding in NY full force and of the more than 37 miles that we walked in those 3 days (thanks to Apple Health for keeping up with that for us) every single step was a blast. A HUGE thanks to Raquel and Dave for asking us to document a massively important time in their lives and even more for including us as guests, friends, and family on such an important occasion. I can sincerely say that I don’t think I’ve ever felt so important to a couple before and I hope to be a part of the lives all off these new friends for years to come!