The universal truth that you can choose your friends but not your family, is especially poignant when it comes to messy family relationships and weddings. More than one of my couples in the past has dreaded it, and I’ve been making it a point to find out beforehand if there’s any dynamics I need to be aware of. It’s hard for me too. My family doesn’t have a ton of drama, but what drama does exist is rather stressful. So I hear you. I get that family formal pictures, choosing who’s going to walk you down the aisle, or whether or not to have a dance with your mom or dad can become a ride on the struggle bus. How do you choose and make everyone happy? A lot of times you can’t. And you default to the best option among a lot of crappy choices and you decide to make the best of it. If that’s you, these words and my imperfect thoughts are for you.
There’s no easy answer for how to navigate these situations. They frankly suck. I hurt along with the couples who share hard things with me. One thing I do to ease the tension is that when it comes time for different people with hard pasts to be in a picture together, I simply just ask them to gather around the couple, so that people can stand where they’re comfortable. I avoid excessive posing because I want to keep the focus in the moment, on the newlyweds. Another thing that has helped in the past is to gently ask if there’s any stress I need to be aware of, and reiterate that families need to be themselves on the day, and that I will do whatever I need to to ensure everyone comfort as I move things along.
One thing that I can say, even if you come from a family that’s seen its share of stickiness, is that if you had a parent who was supportive no matter what, always there for you, always, no matter what in your corner, that’s a strong relationship. And that bond will appear show up in your pictures. Some of the most powerful images I’ve taken have been between moms and daughters who made a life together, or between a father and son after the death of a much loved spouse and mother. I think that’s the beauty of documenting emotional connection between people on wedding days. These moments are made so much more sweet and poignant because of the experiences that lead up to them. I’ve learned not to shy away from making images of these moments because they are so powerful and become treasured pieces of personal history. Images like these bear witness to the strength that so many of us gain through our lives.
On a positive note, in the last several years, I’ve had couples with rocky relationships with their families, where people don’t hold warm or positive feelings towards each other the other 364 days of the year. But on the day of the wedding, there’s more often than not an agreement that they’re going to get along for the day. Sometimes that means they don’t talk. Sometimes it means they greet each other with hug and let it be. But I overheard once a father of the groom remark to the mother of the groom that the groom was the best they thing they ever did together. I think that’s a beautiful place to land, and a perfect way to express it. A wedding day has the remarkable capacity to hand grace to people who’ve had hard experiences in life because if nothing else, they have YOU, and their love for you is immense. I hope that for your family on your wedding day, there is such grace.