Before I begin this post, let me preface by saying these images are not the family I'll be talking about below. I chose these demonstrate my point. Stick with me; I promise it will make sense....
Years ago, maybe even a decade ago (I've been doing this for so long I can't even remember when this happened), I got to be a second shooter for my mentor at a wedding. This definitely wasn't my first wedding and I'd shot small weddings independently by that point, but this wedding? This one was different and incredibly special. I think I'd been a photographer for at least 5-6 years, and I had come to understand that my job was greater than just taking a pretty photograph; it was documenting people's lives. Now, while I understood that, it hadn't really settled in the importance of it. Until this particular wedding.
You see, the couple had buried their young son from a very rare disease about a year prior. He battled hard and long and was such a brave little guy and it devastated our tiny community that a spirit so young could be taken from this world. I personally didn't know him, his parents, or his family prior to the wedding, but after that night, I will never forget them. Their love, their devotion to each other and their son would leave an indelible mark on my soul. And, in a surprising twist of events, would come back into my life, years later in a small, but profound way.
My mentor and I were to meet the wedding party a few hours prior to the ceremony for their formal portraits. The vibe was carefree, fun and calm. You could tell they were just so happy and ready to be married, but there was an unmistakable, unspoken heaviness that lingered and inwardly, I didn't pretend to know why. While we were shooting the bride and groom in their intimate portraits, I noticed an embroidered blue heart on the waistline of her wedding dress. As we were prepping them for their next shot, my mentor straightening the grooms tux and I adjusting the bride's hair and fluffing her train, I softly asked her, "your blue heart; is this for your son?" She nodded slightly and I asked her if we could take a few special images, highlighting the heart. Her eyes filled with tears and I said nothing, other than to smile and direct them into the pose. I can still see that image in my head and I think it will stick with me until my dying day.
The day continued on and it came to their first dance. As the newlyweds took the dance floor, a slideshow of their life together up to that point began playing and their song was playing over the speakers. I wish I could remember the name, but I know if I heard it, even now, I would sob. There was not a dry eye in the room; including mine and my mentors. We captured that bittersweet moment between our tears, watching the groom lovingly guide his bride across the floor as she cried into his sleeve. The rest of the evening passed by in such a beautiful way, with touches of their beloved son sprinkled throughout. I remember leaving that wedding emotionally and physically spent, but I also left feeling incredibly blessed and honored.
That night I finally grasped why I love what I do so much. As a photographer, you get to be witness into the window of lives as they grow, learn, come together, separate, find joy and even sorrow. We see moments very few are privy to and every once in awhile, I'm reminded that it is in fact nothing less than an honor.
I hadn't seen or spoken to that couple since their wedding, but I often wondered how they were doing. I had heard they were blessed with another child, but beyond that, I knew nothing. In 2020, my brother and sister in law had the opportunity to purchase their very first home. It was wildly exciting and I was so proud of them. A couple of weeks after they settled in, we went over to their house to celebrate and they shared that the couple they bought the house from had a special story about it. There was a tree planted in their front yard my brother and sister in law refused to cut down because it was in honor of the couple's son they had lost from a rare disease. My breath caught as I asked who the sellers were and wouldn't you know it; it was that same couple. Visiting that house now has a special meaning to me beyond just pride in my brother's family.
So, the family in the photos above? They're a representation of getting to be a part of a family's special moments. Watching them move from one to another. No family is perfect and each have their own problems and trials, but that's the beauty of life; conquering them all, growing stronger as a unit and capturing the love in between with just a not-so-simple photograph.