Behind the Image: Rachel

 

I go on and on about how I love shooting weddings because they’re such happy occasions, because there’s so much laughter and the smiles as wide as a saveloy paint everybody’s faces. Truly, that’s because they are. For the most part.

But what weddings also do is remind us about the people that couldn’t be there with us to celebrate.

You know, one of my favourite parts of a wedding is when, during the speeches, a moment is given to remember loved ones no longer with us. I know that probably sounds really macabre but, for me, it brings the day back to what it’s really about – family and love.

This particular wedding image is one I’ve been wanting to share for a while. And with kind permission from the bride, I’m sharing it with you today. Not because I’m sick and twisted or take delight in making you cry. But just because it conveys the ultimate sentiment I’m always incredibly honoured to capture.

When I first met Rachel, while she was still on her hunt for her wedding photographer, I was overwhelmed and awed by how full of life and how infectiously happy she was. She had this great energy about her. Obviously talk centred around her wedding day and she started to tell me a little about her life story.

Rachel’s Dad was a real life hero. He was a Paramedic with Kent Ambulance Service. In 1998 he, along with his colleagues, was crewing the Kent Air Ambulance when it was involved in a crash near an area known as Blue Bell Hill. All three of the crew were killed. Rachel was just a little girl.

Rachel told me about how losing her Dad at such a young age, in such tragic circumstances had a massive impact on her life. She told me about how much she had struggled to come to terms with it and, as a result, she had become quite the rebellious teenager and young woman. But they say time heals all wounds (or dulls the pain at least) and now this vibrant young woman sat in front of me telling me about her wedding plans.

After telling me her heartbreaking story, I was absolutely over the moon when she mentioned that she wanted to incorporate her Dad into the day as much as possible. And one of the things she wanted to do was visit the memorial at Blue Bell Hill after the ceremony was over to lay some flowers down and have some photographs taken. I said yes immediately, which I think surprised her. She told me that some people had thought it was a bad idea as weddings are supposed to be happy affairs. “But this is your Dad we’re talking about,” I pointed out. “If you want him to be part of your day, as a Dad should be, then you have to go up there!”

On the day of the wedding, we met up with Rachel and her family at the family home. It was so lovely to see how her Dad was still such a presence in their home, with pictures all around and I about blubbed when I saw some of his Ambulance Dress Uniform on display. Of course, I went about capturing it all they only way I knew how.

After the ceremony, we headed on up to Blue Bell Hill along with a small group of family and friends and quietly paid our respects while we waited for the happy couple to arrive. When Rachel got out of the VW van, I immediately started quietly crying because the emotions were obvious all over her beautiful face. In absolute honesty, I shot the images at that moment through a flood of tears and wasn’t entirely sure of exactly what I had captured.

Until the following day when I was uploading images to my computer and this one appeared on my screen. I immediately burst into tears, this time loudly sobbing as I didn’t have to worry about upsetting the bride, her family or friends. It’s a very simple photograph which, without the back story, may not mean much to most people. But knowing how much Rachel’s Dad meant to her, knowing that this was the one spot she felt closest to him and that, over the years, she had spent many a time sitting at this exact spot when she wanted to be close to her Dad, the photograph suddenly carried so much more meaning.

Given how much the image had upset me, I spent a long time agonising over whether I should include it in the couple’s final set of images. I kept telling myself how weddings were supposed to be a happy day, with happy memories. The last thing I wanted to do was make anyone sad by seeing this image. But I quickly came to realise, with the help of some awesome fellow photographers, that I couldn’t NOT include it. This moment was a part of this girls special day. She had wanted to be up there. She had wanted it photographed, otherwise she wouldn’t have invited me to be there. And so I realised, of course, that it had to go in.

It was this wedding that really made me think about why I do this. About why I love photography and can’t see myself ever giving it up (despite how frustrating it can be at times!). It made me realise how every single moment matters, even when you think it doesn’t. Even when a moment seems completely inconsequential. Even when it seems so small. It really is about wishing you had those moments back once they are gone, once the person they involved has gone. And so I try to capture all those little moments, as much as possible. To give you something to hold onto when they are gone.

It’s what makes my job totally worthwhile.

In memory of Graham Budden, Mark Darby and Tony Richardson

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