When Jules and I first met, it was 1993 – we started out at the same high school in Wollongong. We didn’t really hang out in the same circles nor could you even describe us as friends and I honestly don’t remember ever really hanging out or even talking to her at any point during our 6 years at Smiths Hill High. And being the awkward young man I was, I guess I’d developed opinions on who the cool kids in the grade were (it sure wasn’t my group of friends) and I think Jules was lumped in to there (even though she now ever denies they were the cool kids!). But things changed a few years later; Jules worked in the local music store in Wollongong and I’d be in there pretty much every 2nd week checking out the new guitars, amps and pedals. Or more usually, to buy replacement strings for one’s I’d broken while rocking out just a little too hard. And what I remember from this time was that Jules was really down to earth, normal and completely friendly. She even hooked me up with discounts for nearly everything I bought. I realised that I might have made an error in judgement when it came to her – I started thinking she was alright. Over the next few years, as my musical purchases decreased, we fell out of touch and I didn’t hear back from her until our 10 year reunion in 2008. Getting a chance to talk to her and all of the other people I’d gone to school with but had never really become friends with made me realise that I’d had things completely the wrong way around. It’s not that everyone else was unfriendly, it’s just that *we* were awkward and never really made an effort to get to know anyone. But maybe that’s normal when you’re in high school, but as an adult, it seems just a little silly. I guess all of my ideas about these people were misguided because at the end of the day, I think we were all just normal high school kids. Time has a weird way of making you gain some perspective.
About 6 months ago, Jules shared one of my images on FB and mentioned that she was so damn excited that I would be her and Iain’s photographer. That little gesture in a period of really huge change for me from science to full time photography was actually far more significant than Jules could have imagined. It gave me confidence knowing that someone else trusted me, and not only that, they actually looked forward to having me around photographing for them – it’s a feeling I honestly can’t get enough of. Another few months passed and Jules happily mentioned that she was pregnant and it made me think about something. We’re not kids anymore, we’re grown up and we all have our own lives and experiences. We should know what we want in life and how to get it, but I fear a lot of us don’t. But having spent a day with Iain and Jules it was obvious, connecting with other people and having relationships with them are at the core to our existence as a human beings; money, success and recognition mean nothing if there’s no one else around you to love you, relate to you and be supportive of you. Spending time with them was a nice reset to my life and expectations about people and friendships.
A lot has changed for me since 1993 and it was a great experience to go back a little in time and talk, relate and catch up with people from my childhood. It was my chance to reassess what I’d always thought about myself (and other people). It was an opportunity to re-do the things that I had mucked up the first time around.
Where do I start with this wedding? Well I guess we can go right back to the beginning.
In 2007, there was a French exchange student who was in Wollongong, Australia studying for his Masters in Medical Radiation Physics. I was doing my PhD at the time and because everyone I was studying with was pretty friendly, I ended up meeting this Frenchman whose name was Nicolas. Since we already had a friend called Nick, Nicolas became known as Nico, French Nick or the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey Nick. He had a great sense of humour and warmth and we became friends. I looked through my archives and found these two photos of Nico and I think it was on the day these photos were taken that he said “Lucky, when I get married one day, I’m going to hire you to photograph it.” It doesn’t sound like a big deal considering I’m a wedding photographer now but you need to remember I’d owned a camera for about 6 months by this point and as these images show, I wasn’t really that good. But Nico apparently saw something in me that I didn’t.
Fast forward 5 years, Nico lives and works in Boston, USA with his partner Stephanie. We hadn’t spoken for 3 or 4 years and one day I receive an email from Nico saying, “Guess what? I’m getting married and I haven’t forgotten what I said to you.”
So that’s how I ended up in the middle of Texas photographing a wedding for a Frenchman and his beautiful southern American belle.
This was my 4th visit to the USA and probably the most eventful. Kristen and I were stranded in NYC after Hurricane Sandy and almost didn’t make it to Texas in time; La Guardia Airport’s runway was damaged from the hurricane storm surge and we desperately changed our flights to leave from Philadelphia (which included a very nervous 2 hours behind the wheel of a left hand drive rental Mustang – incidentally the only hire car that was available due to the exodus from NYC following the hurricane). But I admit we were better off than Nico and Steph who had driven 10 hours overnight from Boston to Cleveland to catch their rearranged flight. But thankfully, we all made it through.
We met up with Nico and Steph on the Saturday morning in the small town of Leander about an hour from Austin, it was rehearsal day. Even though Nico and I hadn’t seen each other for 5 years, the jokes flowed, the laughs were free, the funny face pulling was out in force and it was as if nothing had ever changed. And getting to know Steph was just like being with Nico, she’s just a quieter version. But the warmth and kindness was there to see and I could see so very easily why these two people loved each other. We enjoyed catching up during the wine tasting session that Nico and Steph had organised following the rehearsal and even though Texas wine makers probably have a little work to do, it was a great way to spend an afternoon with old and new friends.
This is a mammoth post of images but I feel like I need to tell the story properly. Nico and Steph poured their hearts and souls into organising this wedding on the other side of the country to where they lived and their families and friends came from all around the world to share in their celebration. A pair of excited photographers from Australia were allowed a glimpse into another life for just a few days and the adventure we shared in is worthy of telling the world about.
A while ago, I put forward the idea of photographing weddings in exchange for non-money payment. I figured it would be a good way to meet interesting people around the world and also an outlet to experience the culture of wherever the couple were. Anya was so frustrated with the all-business-no-niceness model that she had encountered from a lot of photographers she had already looked at and was excited about the prospect of exchanging something with me to photograph her and Srijan’s very small and intimate NYC ceremony in Central Park. I had spoken to them via Skype a few weeks earlier and I knew that this was exactly the kind of thing that I imagined myself doing. Besides the fact that the wedding was a mere 8 hours after we landed in the USA from a 30 hour journey from Melbourne, it sounded perfect.
So many people out there are probably have strong opinions about this business model – effectively, we’re back to a bartering system. But in this case, the kindness and generosity shown to Kristen and I more than made up for the fact there was no money exchanged. In fact, after we finished photographing for the afternoon, Anya and her mum and dad invited us to their celebratory dinner as not photographers, but their guests. Alas, Kristen and I were severely jetlagged and both suffering from viruses so we accidentally slept past our alarm and missed the whole event, but random acts of generousity like that restore one’s faith in the world a little more. Both families will be having ceremonies in their home countries (Anya is Sri Lankan and Srijan Nepalese) and I was asked to photograph either or both of these weddings as a result of meeting and working with Anya and Srijan in NYC which was deeply humbling. Unfortunately, their dates clash pretty badly with my bookings in May so I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer to experience another amazing cultural extravaganza!
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been speaking to Anya’s mum via email and she has asked us to come and stay at their beach house in Sri Lanka when we’re visting over the new year. Again, this is not something we ever expected or even felt we deserved. They’re simply opportunities that happened because by chance someone saw my post and I valued something other than money for my time and services. I guess the point of what I want to say without hopefully sounding too sanctimonious is that opportunities open up to you when you put yourself out there in the world. These things are random and they’re not things that you can ever predict or expect. You simply have to do it and just see how it goes.