The stories that Dean and Renee tell about how they met are quite different. But I think it’s one of those cute stories that couples often tell about it not being perhaps an immediate love story but a slow burner that turns into something quite amazing.
Renee was working in an office and the damn air conditioners kept breaking down. It was often warm, uncomfortable and it was a hassle to keep calling the air conditioning guy to come back. At least he was friendly and nice looking.
Dean was working as an air conditioning technician. He kept getting called back to this building where the occupants kept complaining about the AC breaking down. But every time he checked it, the unit worked fine. At least the woman he spoke to each time was friendly and nice looking.
I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle but to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. Dean and Renee realised that there was something a little special between the two of them and that’s the real heart of things. I could see it too – there is a beautiful respect and admiration they have for each other, I think that says a lot about them as people. If I had known them before, perhaps I would have tinkered with that damn AC unit to make sure they met because truly, Renee and Dean are beautiful and wonderful individually and even more so together.
I photographed this wedding with my dear friend Steve Koukoulas, a lovely man with a heart of gold. His lovely images are interspersed through this post.
Shanna and I first spoke over 5 years ago, in fact it was on January 25th 2010. I was still living and working as a research scientist in Brisbane and she was contacting me to see if I could photograph her sister’s wedding. Sadly for both of us, I was heading off to a physics conference in Barcelona which meant that I wasn’t available – but we had a mutual respect for each others work (she’s a rad graphic designer) so followed our life happenings via social media. A little over two years later, I received another email saying her and her long time partner Michael were in the initial planning of their wedding and I was pretty much at the top of their list of who they wanted as their photographer (which was pretty awesome I thought!). They had no idea when it would be but it would be somewhere, most likely their backyard, in Brisbane. We parted saying with me saying I was of course keen and them saying they’d be in touch when the time came to confirm things. Sure enough, I heard back from them when the ball started rolling.
The day before their wedding, I was picked up from the airport by a smiling Mick and Shanna. We went and collected the rings, organised some decorations and ate some dinner together – it was all very low key and it was genuinely a treat to be able to spend time with them. It was strange to be honest, they weren’t distracted by the wedding nor were they stressed, they simply felt like dear friends that I was catching up with even though we’d only really interacted on Instagram and Facebook. Perhaps our obsessive love of cats and desire for equality and understanding in the world were what bound us, but when you’re around people like Shanna and Mick, it’s hard to feel like you’re not in their inner sanctum. I could see why they felt a connection with me all those years ago because I truly felt a connection with them.
But it’s kinda funny to think back to the beginning of things. Their love started where all great loves start, in the aisles of the discount department store Big W where they were both employees. Mick looked like a member of Oasis and Shanna was Pink before Pink became pink – it was all very early 2000s. Their lives (and hairstyles) moved on, they bought a house and they got cats (which in my crazy cat man mind is pretty much the same as deciding to have kids). Tweleve years later, they still work together each and every day at a design firm in Brisbane and even after all of that time being in such close quarters, their love and genuine affection for each other makes their faces light up when the other is around – I think that’s a pretty amazing thing. All those years ago they couldn’t have possibly imagined what their meeting would mean or what was ahead of them but when they decided it was the right time for them to publicly commit to each other, I was honoured to be there on a day that will stay in all of our hearts.
When I met Clarissa and Richard for the first time, just a few months before their wedding, I developed a huge friend-crush on both of them. They’re just warm and enjoyable people to be around – you can’t help but love them! Richard loves cats (scroll down for a picture of his amazing cat Zach) and photography and Clarissa is a strong, intelligent and independent woman who has a soft side too (it sounds kinda familiar, hmm…). In the hours that we spent chatting at our local pub, I found out about their histories and one of them and this indirectly led to an pretty amazing experience for Kristen and I.
Anyone who knows us absolutely knows that we love South East Asian food – Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, the list goes on. But if I could name any one dish in particular that Kristen loves above all others, it’s Xiao Long Bao, a type of Chinese dumpling. She would eat more of these in one sitting than I thought would be possible for a woman of her size. But sadly, in 2013 she was diagnosed as having coeliac disease (an auto-immune condition which prevents her from eating gluten which is present in all wheat, barley and rye). This diagnosis sadly meant had to say goodbye to so many delicious things she loved, including dumplings. But Clarissa and Richard offered her hope, at least on the dumpling front. We found out that Richard’s dad Simon is from Hong Kong and works as a chef in a Chinese restaurant. He’s been involved with food since the age of 13 when he started off as a dishwasher in his home country and he’s owned a bunch of restaurants but now, simply prefers to cook. And it turns out that Richard could organise to get his dad to teach us how to make dumplings (including gluten free ones). The deal was well and truly done!
A few months later we drove to Richard’s parents’ place in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne to share in an experience was pretty special. It turns out, dumplings aren’t actually that hard to make, even the gluten free ones – but you can be assured, they’re ultra delicious! We both appreciated that culturally, it’s not particularly normal for two people to come in and simply ask someone to teach them a skill which has taken years of training to master but Simon was gracious and extremely kind in showing us how to do everything. A part of me hopes it was even a little exciting for him to be able to teach two rookies like us! We were humbled that Richard’s mum and dad allowed us into their lives so generously, especially considering that I was yet to photograph Richard and Clarissa’s wedding! I guess it was no surprise that their wedding was filled with love, kindness and smiles – just the way they are. I don’t need to really say anything about it, I think you can feel it from their photos.
I’m going to stay at Richard and Clarissa’s house next weekend before shooting a wedding near where their place is (this will be sleepover #3 now). Who knew that cooking dumplings and spending a wedding day together would forge a friendship like this! But that’s honestly the beauty of this career, I meet the most amazing and wonderful people that I can count as friends and as a bonus, Kristen gets to eat her dumplings too.