Photos and story by Jeremy
Yesterday, December 12, 2012, was the ubiquitous 12-12-12 date – most likely the last repeating numerical date of my lifetime. I read that courthouses were expecting an enormous spike in Justice of the Peace ceremonies because of the unique digits. A photographer friend of mine, a fellow lover of marriage and connections, once went down to the courthouse on a repeating date to photograph ceremonies for couples that had no photographer, and I borrowed his inspiring idea. I was already commissioned to be at the Collin County Records Building for a courthouse wedding at 12:12 that afternoon, so I ended up sticking around for the rest of the afternoon talking to anxious couples in the courthouse lobby.
Above all else, my goal was to share the power of a wedding photograph. And to not allow that very first moment in the creation of a new family to go undocumented. My offer was simple: if you don’t have a photographer, allow me to document your ceremony, and I will mail you five prints. Giving prints over digital images was extremely important to me. Specifically it’s the value of the tangible photograph that I wanted to spread… the joy, gratitude, and love that permeates your life when you continue to look back on your greatest experiences and connections because they are in print. I cherish the photos of my life that I get to look at every day in my house.
Here are the 5 images that I will be mailing each couple tomorrow, along with my experience and thoughts on documenting them.
Tonya and Clint were the first pair I approached. I was pretty nervous; in fact the game warden was on hand for their ceremony, and he pointed out that my hands were shaking more than the couple’s. I was confident my heart was in the right place here, but I had no idea how people would receive my proposal. As it turns out, Clint was really trying to avoid a big wedding, so it did take a little convincing from Tonya. I gathered that he said yes primarily because she wanted him to, and I think that’s admirable. He was a shy guy, and willing to get out of his comfort zone to make his lady happy. Maybe there was a quiet part of him that really wanted the photos too.
Right after the ceremony was made official, Tonya let out a triumphant “YEE-HAW!!!”, seen below, along with their joyful embrace right after. After five years together, they had made their heartfelt promises.
I can’t remember with absolute certainty the name of the man in the foreground shaking hands with the game warden… I think it might have been Rusty (let’s just say Rusty). I’m really happy to have captured this image, because it’s the only image of Rusty’s presence at his pal Clint’s wedding. After the ceremony, while family members snapped photos of each other, they asked Rusty if he would like a photo with Clint and Tonya. Rusty declined, saying he was in his work clothes, oil-stains and all. I wanted someone to encourage him to get his photo taken. A woman playfully jested, “no differ’nt than any other day!” Rusty laughed it off, and he left to go back to work. I regretted not speaking up or just taking his photo with the couple. Rather than thinking it wasn’t my place (I wasn’t hired), I should have made that photo myself simply because I believe it’s an important photo, and I have more experience with wedding memories than anyone in the room to understand that. No matter the size of the wedding: every guest is invited; every guest is valued; and every guest has a limited time on this planet. I was relieved to have this photo though.
The game warden and Clint apparently go way back, so it was really neat that he got to come to the wedding. The warden was overcome with juvenile excitement over his bunny ears prank, and rushed over afterward to giddily ask me if I had gotten that. I promised him a copy, it was too cute.
There was only one couple that refused me. They were very polite about it. Obviously I don’t have any photographs of them, but I’m reserving this space for them. I still think their wedding was important, and I genuinely hope they have something to remember it with fondness.
Thien and Keith were the youngest couple I met, by far. I wasn’t sure if I would gain access because their parents were fairly protective and concerned. But once I explained my intentions for approaching them, and the moments I wanted to preserve on their behalf, they warmly welcomed me in their entourage.
This is one of my favorite images of the day. Thien’s mother and Keith’s father were primping and perfecting their beaming kids right before the judge entered. Normally I have a few hours before a traditional wedding to find a meaningful parent shot like this to capture, but this was something that happened in the span of 5 seconds.
Judge Paul Raleeh appeared to truly love marrying people. He was passionate about the union of marriage, and even though I realized after the first two ceremonies that he had perfected and memorized the most efficient 4 minute wedding script you can imagine, he still managed to throw in a few thoughtful pieces of rehearsed advice (like, “it’s not about marrying the right person, it’s about being the right partner”). He was also adamant about the importance of photographs, encouraging ALL family members to take as many pictures as they like, and “don’t be afraid to climb on the furniture and crawl on your belly”. I laughingly wondered if he had seen me work before.
These two had a cuteness that was really innocent. Naturally we could attribute that to their youth, but I think there was something pure and deeply sweet about their connection.
Angie and Ollie have the most endearing connection to the 12-12-12 date: this year they celebrated 12 years together. Clearly there’s a bit of luck involved in getting to 12 years at the end of the year 2012. But I perceived that the unique date coincidence really excited them to tie the knot at last. Angie’s coworker, Keithen, is sitting with his fiancee in the background here as they wait for their turn to be officiated. Every other ceremony had only one couple in at a time. But Angie and Keithen took turns watching in support of each other, and got married a mere 4 minutes apart. I think it’s wonderful to have loving friends on board like that.
I adored her little veil, and I think it made everything just a little extra special for Angie. And it’s so sweet to want to make the day significant for your partner.
Having experience in a partnership that lasted over a decade, I understand the type of connection that can be built over the 12 years Angie and Ollie have been together. Angie was the most emotional individual I photographed, and I imagine those two observations are connected.
It’s difficult to tell at this image size and because it’s under her veil, but a tear is rolling down Angie’s cheek as she kisses Ollie. Without hesitation, this is my favorite image from the day.
In my view, the outpouring of love from family in support of a couple getting married is as magical as the energy between the couple themselves.
Keithen and Kerri were exceptionally intrigued by the idea of having their courthouse wedding ceremony documented. Everyone else was still extremely happy about my offer, but these two were really taken back. I realized immediately they were identical to the type of couples I seek out in my business. They had already thought ahead about photos and their importance, but unfortunately something fell through and the individual that was supposed to take photos couldn’t make it. I suppose it was all a little serendipitous to them. I couldn’t be prouder to have stuck around all day to give them these images that I know they will love. They had each been married in the past with big weddings, and wanted this new start to their lives to begin with the simplest wedding, and they included their children as “best man” and “maid of honor”. That sort of adoration always strikes me.
I didn’t make creative portraits for any other couple. Time mostly dictated this decision, because leaving outside for even 10 minutes would cause me to miss the next couple getting married. Also, since my presence wasn’t anticipated, I didn’t want to change much of these people’s days. But Keithen and Kerri were the final couple to be married so time was not an issue for me, and they were so genuinely eager when I suggested we take some portraits.
My first aim, when I pick up a camera, is to make meaningful images. Usually that involves my intimate style of candid documentation. But I will just as soon jump at the chance to make a straightforward family portrait. I believe they are extremely valuable and make a conscious effort to really enjoy and appreciate doing family photos at weddings. I’m making artifacts.
This little personal project was a wonderful charge to my photographic spirit. I am reminded, by the uniqueness of each of these couples getting married at the same time and place, that my job as a wedding documentarian can never get old nor repetitive nor stale. That I’m not just photographing weddings, but people and stories. We are all so very different in incredibly special ways… in ways that make us precisely us. Photography means, literally, writing with light. I love spending my weekends (and sometimes Wednesdays) writing thoughtful wedding stories.