My husband, an aspiring politician, revels in public relations. I knew what I signed up for when I married him. There was always an event around the corner where I’d be expected to pose at his side, his supportive (so beautiful) spouse, and tackle the ever-dreaded question. The one that inevitably falls from every stranger’s mouth when meeting you for the first time: “what do you do?”
With time and experience, I learned the best answer was a simple one: I’m a photographer. I learned quickly to drop the wedding tag, because there’s nothing that irked me more than their next line: “that must be such a fun job!”
As if it was a game. As if it were easy.
When I say I’m a photographer, nice and simple, it’s perceived as art. “I’d love to see some of your work,” they say.
Oh, how the absence of two syllables takes my career from fun to serious.
There is a reason weddings are thought to be fun. That they’re cemented as beautiful memories. It is because the photographer made them that way.
When the pictures are posted on Facebook of the bride gleaming, arm in arm with her bridesmaids, there’s no hint of the champagne laced arguments that morning while getting ready.
The downturn of a lip.
The flicker of jealousy.
I turn my lens away and they go unnoticed.
I’m paid to capture happiness. Everything else is to slip into the background to be forgotten. The bride, stricken with worry, pressured like a rice cooker, demands happiness.
And I capture it. I snap brief, fixated smiles, right after she snatches the train of her dress from her mother’s hands.
I’d become a master of knowing the right moments to click, turn and click. It was a dance, and I was the choreographed dancer, moving with the music that was my wedding party and improvising to their off-key notes. The truth is, capturing a wedding is an art form of its own.
The groom grins in a shot where he straightens his tie, and there’s no one to question that he had any doubts in his mind. Except the photographer. I’m there in the shadows, capturing the good, and weeding out the bad. I draw beauty out of an otherwise stressful and hectic day.
The sun beams down on them, the breeze lightly settles their hair, irritation at yet another photo transforms to glee with my countdown of one…two…three. And I’ve captured the gratitude emanating from them as they stand together as a new family.
For a stranger clutching a cocktail at one of my husband’s soiree’s, the concept was far too complex. They hear “wedding” and think of dancing and booze. My career is a pastime compared to my dear husband’s. They smile politely and turn to him, to ask his opinions on the city’s most recent budget proposal. I fade into the backdrop, a prop to his upstanding image, nothing more.
Tonight, will be no different, I think, as he offers me his hand and I emerge from the car, pulling my shawl tightly over my shoulders to shelter me from the cool breeze. Our destination is a gorgeous manor, with a lake behind it that spans for miles. Pillars line the porch, which is lit at intervals with lanterns. The windows held no secrets. The party ensuing inside was visible from the pavement. The brightly lit rooms illuminated the lawn.
The chatter carried too. As we climbed the steps to the door, my chest swelled with the anticipation of dodging endless awkward conversations. I let him enter first, a smart decision on my behalf, as he was bombarded with greetings upon crossing the threshold.
I trailed behind him, through the foyer and into a large sitting area where we were offered drinks. I was handed a glass of red wine and immediately indulged. The seating was limited, and my husband was deep in conversation, so I allowed my eyes to wander, appreciating our surroundings. They landed on a photo, enlarged, and placed over the fireplace in a gold ornate frame.
It was a wedding photo. The bride clutched her dress at her knees, bent over in apparent laughter. Her hair was wild, an updo that the wind had its way with. Her groom, a man with a shiny bald head, was wearing a tan suit with a red tie. He clutched her free hand and beamed. There were puddles at their feet, but they glistened in the shot. The sky behind them was dark with storm clouds, but the angle captured their best features, even in the conflicting lighting.
It was raw. It was messy. It was beautiful.
I considered it for a moment while the party buzzed behind me.
I tried to imagine the distress the bride felt when she discovered her day would be destroyed by a storm. The rage that she inflicted on her bridal party or coordinator, for any other inconveniences that arose to remind her that her day, the one she’d worked so hard to prepare for, wouldn’t be as perfect as she dreamed. The tears that followed. The tissues that were passed to her. The consoling pats on the back.
This photo defaced any inkling that they were anything other than delighted to be married in a storm. This perfect shot told the story of two people that were so in love, so happy to be married, even if it was while standing in a mud pie.
“Julie,” my husband’s voice drew me back to reality and I broke my gaze from the photo. He was surrounded by several other couples, who eyed me with curiosity. “This is my wife, Julie.” He introduced me to the crowd.
I offered a wave.
“It’s a pleasure!” An elderly man took my hand in his and squeezed it.
“What do you do, Julie?” This time it was a woman, about my age. She had auburn hair and wore a black dress that hugged her hips. Her proximity to the smart dressed man next to her told me that she, like me, was also here on duty.
I swirled my wine in my glass, before taking a calculated sip. “I’m an artist,” I said.