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.
I was driving my hire car along a rough dirt road to Tarcoma, a property about 25km from Parkes in country NSW that Joel’s family has owned for a few generations. As I was driving, the AC/DC song “Highway to Hell” came on over the radio. There was a huge cloud of dust trailing me and I disrupted a huge group of galahs who swooped down from a tree and led me down the road. I followed them for about 100m or so before they flew off but in that moment, I couldn’t help but think how quintessentially Australian that moment was – it was so strange that I could do nothing but smile from ear to ear.
I remembered back to the first emails that Laura sent me earlier that year. She told me that her and Joel had been together for 9 years and after years studying and traveling, they had just returned to where they had both grown up. Parkes is kinda in the middle of nowhere – it’s about 4 hours drive from Canberra, 5 from Sydney and about 12 from Brisbane so regardless of where you’re driving from, you’ve still got a long way to go. Joel’s family’s 3000 acre farm grows wheat, canola and barley and Joel and Laura moved back to start learning about what tending for that much land feels like because one day, it’ll be theirs to take care of. Their land overlooks the Parkes Observatory aka ‘The Dish’, the location of arguably the world’s best radio telescope. The Dish and Joel’s family have a long history – Joel’s grandpa was one of the engineers who was responsible for routing the TV signals from Apollo 11 to the world on the day of the moon landing. He was also the guy that hurriedly managed to figure out a way of getting the stranded Apollo 13 spacecraft’s radio signals from Parkes to NASA in Houston as the 3 astronauts clung to life after an on-board accident. I was so excited to hear this story and the connections so when I told Laura about my love of astronomy and astrophysics, she told Joel who in turn organised a guided access-all-areas tour of the facility for me. Yet again, I had a smile from ear to ear.
This is me giving the telescope a hug.
Parkes and other small towns in the Grain Belt are a parts of Australia that most city folk don’t ever get to. But there’s something beautiful about the land and the people that live out there. Their lives are filled with hard work, uncertainty about rain and crops and even more hard work – it’s a thankless task sometimes. But there are other days when it’s probably nice to not worry about traffic jams or crowds at the supermarket and the fact that the person you just walked past on the street looked at you, smiled and said hello. These are of course just trivial superficial things and there’s so much more comfort for the soul in a place like this than I can simply express in words. Being out in Parkes with Joel and Laura made me realise WHY two young people like them would want to move back to a country town – it sometimes doesn’t make sense until you feel it. And I truly felt why this town was special to the two of them – after all of the places they had been in the world, they had come back. It was home, it was where their love blossomed and it was their place. I was humbled and honoured to meet two such kind souls and to share in their amazing wedding celebration and I left their wedding smiling, once again from ear to ear.
I shot this wedding with the help of my wonderful friend Cass. She drove an 18 hour round trip to be a part of this celebration her beautiful images are interspersed through this post.