There was a moment during Jamie and Nikki’s wedding where I probably felt prouder of myself than I ever have before. The thing is, I’m not normally a very confident person – I always joke that I have just enough self-doubt to push myself to be better and better each day. But to be totally honest, there’s just more than a hint of truth in that. But first, a little history.
Nikki is a an amazingly talented photographer and exceedingly kind human that lives in Glasgow, Scotland. She had been in Australia quite a few years ago and when one of her close Aussie friends asked for a recommendation of a wedding photographer, Nikki suggested me. This recommendation came after her only having briefly met me when I spoke at Folio Albums’ Final Fling in Birmingham in June 2013 – it was very kind of her I must admit. Unfortunately, I wasn’t available for her friend’s wedding but that was the start of my friendship with Nikki. We tried to catch up when she came to be part of her friend’s wedding (alas it didn’t happen as we simply couldn’t line up schedules), but when time came for her and Jamie to get married the next year, I was asked to share in it with them and their beautiful baby son Ollie. That’s how Kristen and I ended up in the wet and wild highlands of Scotland.
Jamie and Nikki were married on the edge of a loch in a small town called Aviemore about 3 hours north of Edinburgh. I feel like the beauty of a place like this can’t be just seen, it needs to be felt. You need to breathe in the clean air and touch the chilly water – there’s just something magical and pure about an experience like this. I kept thinking how unreal it was to be there – the history of this country, the house, the people – it all needed to come together for me to feel that way and it was amazing. I pinched myself for the thousandth time and felt so privileged to be a part of this.
So back to my story – it was during Nikki’s dad Dave’s speech that everything hit me. I was standing at the back of the room, looking over this beautifully decorated tipi and seeing the smiling faces of all of Nikki and Jamie’s guests. I was so busy trying to find that next photograph that I almost didn’t realise that Dave was talking about me. I must have heard something and looked up – it seemed that everyone was now staring at me. Dave continued and thanked me and Kristen for being there and spoke a little more explaining that I had been such an inspiration to Nikki as a photographer. I was a little shocked and must have looked a bit strange to everyone as I stood there – I don’t consider myself an inspiration at all and it was a little confronting to be told I was. The self-doubting Lakshal was trying to find excuses to justify why this wasn’t the truth and that Dave was clearly just being very nice to me. But as Jamie and Nikki both spoke later in the evening, I realised that my self doubt wasn’t needed that night. I could indeed feel truly proud of myself and that I needed to recognise that I actually can have a tangible difference in peoples’ lives. I’ve always believed that photographing weddings is bi-directional – it’s not just the couple that get something out of me, I benefit too and this was a perfect example to remind me. The feeling that I had that night is like a drug, I hope for it everywhere and each day I experience it, I feel just that little bit more confident. But Nikki and Jamie were so important to the start of that process – their love for me helped me love myself. Simply photographing their wedding feels like it’s just so insufficient to repay them – it’s something I will return to them forever with my friendship.
It took Niki and Tom 10 years and 4 countries to make it to the day they married each other. They met in Brisbane where Tom was a local and Niki a visiting Masters student from Scotland. She knew she would only be there for a year and like my lovely Kristen, Niki was an independent woman who had grand plans of traveling the world and helping humanity using her skills. Following her studies, she left to work in Bangladesh and sadly left Tom behind, thankful at least for the year that they had together. Six years and a lot of life and experiences passed, they kept in touch but with a hollow feeling of loss deep within. Niki had moved again, this time to Uganda when Tom decided to visit – they were complete and neither wanted to let go again. Niki returned to the UK to take up a job where Tom, a few months later, taking a brave leap, left his life in Australia to join her. It was in the heat and dust of Africa that their love blossomed but under they grey skies of Manchester their life together began.
Niki is one of the best friends with my dear photographer friend Nikki – they both grew up in Scotland and went to high school together. Nikki with two k’s had asked me to photograph her wedding in Scotland in earlier this year and when Niki with one k found out that we would be in the UK when her and Tom’s wedding would be as well, it all became a possibility. She said to me “It is my close friend Nikki Leadbetter who brought your beautiful work to my attention. Nikki and I were an in separable terrible twosome growing up, and it is incredibly exciting that we are now organising our weddings at the same time. Nikki takes the most beautiful photographs I can imagine, so when she raved about your work I knew it would be something special. Having spent the weekend looking through them all, she is right. They are filled with love, light, warmth and intimacy – you feel like you are looking at pictures of people that you know, certainly not at pictures of strangers on the other side of the world.” I felt like Niki totally got me and we sent a few emails to each other working out whether it would be possible for Kristen and I to be part of their wedding day. Thankfully, it was.
Over the next few months, I got to know Niki and Tom and after spending time with them at their wedding as well as Nikki’s wedding, I could see how these two amazing people traveled the earth searching for contentment, yet came back to each other. And I’m so happy that I can count them as my friends now, wondrous at the fact that there are all of these amazing people all over the world that I get to meet because of what I do. But then again, knowing Tom and Niki’s story, it shouldn’t be a surprise to me at all that people can find others to connect with across the vast darkness of the oceans.
This wedding is truly one for the “pinch me” collection – never in a hundred years would I have expected to be shooting a wedding in Paris. I couldn’t believe it then and I think back to the experience and it still feels surreal. I know I was there but it feels like I was in auto-pilot or it’s just a fabricated memory.
Having visited Paris last year to spend time with my friends Joana and Marcio who run French Kiss the Bride, I was excited to be going back but with Kristen this time. We spent 3 wonderful weeks there and experienced a different Paris, one away from the tourists and crowds. We caught the Metro, went to the boulangerie and bought bread to eat with our cheese (who knew I could still remember French from when I studied it in year 7) and walked the quiet streets. We lived as Parisians and meeting Selim and Nawal was one of the highlights of our time there. Traveling for us is never about seeing stuff or doing things, it’s about glimpsing a part of a different culture and meeting its people to find out about them. To Selim and Nawal, we were total strangers but they very much welcomed us like old friends.
Both Selim and Nawal’s families are French-Algerian Muslims. As with tradition, there would be two weddings, one for the bride’s family and one for the groom’s. We weren’t able to make the first wedding which was held in Bordeaux a month earlier but honestly were nothing less than ecstatic to be part of the Paris celebration. We had been warned though, it would be a wedding with many outfit changes throughout the night which we needed to be prepared for and the friends and family would dance until 4am. I initially though Selim was joking about that last part, but I can assure you that as Kristen and my heads hit the pillow at 5.30am the morning following the wedding day after a 20 hours working, it was very much true. But we had just experienced a colourful, energetic and passion filled day with these two kind souls. I was in Paris with the woman I loved and sharing in the love of these beautiful people – I won’t ever forget it.