Disclaimer: This is NOT family friendly. And it may be triggering for those who’ve been violated. This is not my usual content. Initially, I tried to “soften” it more than I already have, but I felt it didn’t do justice to the reality of the situation. So I chose honesty in the sharing of my truth.
You know… I’ve sat with this post for a LONG time trying to decide whether to write it or not. I think for a few reasons… at first because I didn’t give it weight… I didn’t acknowledge the reality of what happened fully for a long time. I think another big part is that I didn’t like the idea of taking something that happened to me and placing it on someone else. But the truth is I realize I’m unable to not do that at this point. I thought I could – I attempted to – and was made aware of how wrong I was even in the best of circumstances.
I know I’ve said it before, but I’ve now made the very firm decision that I will not be doing anymore big weddings. The only weddings I’ll be doing are very, very small, very simple weddings and even those I’m being very selective about.
You know I think a lot of people assume wedding photography is where the money is. In fact, I’ve had a lot of people say this to me. But this thought totally overlooks everything that goes into a wedding day. It’s a ton of work the day of yes – but there’s so much more that’s not realized by the outsider. There’s preparing for the wedding before the wedding day, the stress of the day of, all the editing after the wedding (which usually takes weeks of focusing solely on that wedding), preparing everything to share with the bride and groom, and then creating all their products. But that’s not even what this is about… there’s another side to weddings for those like me… a side very rarely discussed… and even now as I write this I feel my stomach turning and my chest tightening with dread.
This truth starts several years ago now. I was second shooting a wedding with a dear friend who I’ll be referring to as Susan. I’d done this many times before and we had developed a system and rhythm that worked well for us. We’d ride together, going over the agenda on the car ride, prep our gear upon arrival, and then Susan would go to photograph the girls while I’d go to photograph the guys. But this time was different.
This wedding was out in the country at the bride’s parents’ home. The girls were getting ready there while the guys were getting ready at the couple’s home at least a 15 minute drive away. So Susan and I decided we’d drive separately – she’d be with the girls and I’d be with the guys as usual. When I arrived, I quickly realized they had all been out drinking the night before. Some clearly were more sober than others. Initially it was just irritating trying to get them to get ready as I watched them continue to play games in the yard rather than prepare for the events of the day. There was one man in particular who was exceedingly belligerent making inappropriate comments. I started by telling him I was married and didn’t appreciate his remarks. Unfortunately that did nothing to deter him. He continued to make inappropriate comments that left me feeling incredibly uncomfortable. I did my best to ignore his continued commentary, telling myself he was just drunk, and focused on doing my job. Eventually I managed to get them moving inside to start getting ready. There were various rooms in the house available for them to all change in so I felt no real reason to be concerned.
I had stayed outside until one of the groomsmen told me they were all decent and I could come back in. I remember that I was focusing on capturing one of the groomsmen buttoning his cuffs or pulling on socks – some sort of detail shot – when suddenly his voice was right behind me, which made me jump (although whether that was just internally or externally I cannot say). I remember abruptly looking in the direction of his voice. He stood just behind me in nothing but his far too revealing underwear. I abruptly looked away as his hand started to shift inappropriately downward. Horrified, I turned back to the groomsmen I’d been photographing and prayed he’d just go away and put on his clothes. In what felt like an instant he was practically on top of me. I could feel his body pressing into mine and his hands on me. I tried to get away from him but he clung to me and told me my husband wasn’t here to stop him or keep us from “having some fun.” I remember my eyes searching the room for someone to stop him – someone to speak up – someone to do… anything. I locked eyes with the man I had been photographing – the one person I had sensed from the beginning felt uncomfortable about the whole situation – but even he did nothing more than utter a few unconvincing words at him to leave me alone.
I honestly don’t remember exactly what happened after that. I remember struggling through to get the vital shots and at some point muttering that I think I got what I needed and I was going to go. I remember feeling panicky as I gathered my things and hurried to my car. I also remember that as I got to my car door, he was on top of me again. I remember the fear in me rising as he kept insisting on getting in the car with me, getting more physical and demanding, trying to force his way in. I don’t know how I managed to get in the car and keep him out because not one of those other men helped me. I remember immediatly locking my car doors when I got in the car. I remember my heart racing and holding off tears, focusing on breathing the whole way to the venue (the bride’s home). I remember going inside and not wanting to distract Susan from her work by telling her too much of what happened. I think I told her that one of the groomsmen was particularly drunk and I wasn’t comfortable being out there anymore. She didn’t question me at all and let me stay and assist with the girls. (Of course, later when she found out what happened, she was incredibly upset and angry that I had been put in such a position.)
He continued to be obnoxious and billigerant the rest of the day. He repeatedly dropped his pants to moon us during group shots. He would throw crude sexual comments at us while we tried to work. He loudly commented about my breasts on multiple occassions. (And anyone who knows me knows I’m super self conscious about my chest and always strive to dress ultra-modestly.) And the whole time – not one member of the bridal party said or did anything to make him stop. “This is just how he gets.” By the time we reached the reception it had only gotten worse. The staff were made aware of the situation and planned to escort him out if needed though this never happened while I was there. And in all honesty – for me the damage had already been done.
I actually quit second shooting after this incident and it was definitely a contributing factor to my decision to let go of weddings originally. When one of my friends messaged me about photographing his wedding, I thought it’d be fine. He’s a good friend – I know him well. He’s someone I trust. It wasn’t until the day of the wedding on the way there that I realized I wasn’t okay. I started thinking about the day and what I’d need to be doing when I arrived – photographing the guys getting ready until the girls got there. And that simple thought set off an extended panic attack the whole way there. I actually got there early enough that I had time to calm myself but it started back up again as I recalled the guys and girls often get ready in separate buildings at this venue. It ended up that everyone was together in one main room so my fears about being isolated with a room full of men was unwarranted. But I’ll be honest and admit it was eye-opening to discover that even with a friend – someone I know and trust and know wouldn’t hurt me – these fears, anxiety, and involuntary reactions were still present. Even just receiving an inquiry for a wedding this past week suddenly and inexplicable triggered me.
I spent a lot of years writing off what happened. I told myself that nothing really happened so it wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t sure how to label it either… was it sexual harrassment? but he pressed his penis into me so is that more? But he didn’t penetrate so??? And somehow I felt that if I couldn’t label it – it wasn’t real. I also questioned whether I somehow brought it on myself – I hyper-analyzed what I wore, how I talked, what I did… But again – I always dress super modestly and professionally when I work a wedding and I also behave in a professional manner as well. Of course, I also realize that by doing that I was blaming myself for this man’s behavior, and I am in no way response for how he treated me.
Looking back – I had every right to be afraid, to feel violated. I’m actually lucky nothing worse happened to me. I was alone and isolated in a small house in the country. The only woman in a group full of men… mostly inebriated men. And clearly the couple men who were sober didn’t have the fortitude to tell even one man to stop. These men easily could have overpowered me and there would have been no way for me to get away, stop them, or get help. No one would have heard me scream… And there was no one present who could corroborate the truth of what happened. No one to verify that I’m telling the truth now…
In all honesty – there’s a part of me that wishes I had reported him that day. I know from listening to the groomsmen talk that this man has a history of drunkness and had been banned from every bar in their town. In fact, they had to sneak him into one so they could go drinking. Obviously – it wouldn’t have changed what happened because I could only report him after the fact, but at least something would have been done to “stop” him. Who knows how many women he has hurt.
But this isn’t an isolated incident either. I’ve actually heard countless photographers recount similar experiences. And because this is our job, we overlook it, we power through, we’re expected to be okay with it – because this is just normal. That’s how I felt. I felt like I had to put aside what happened in order to not detract from the bride’s special day. I felt like as the second shooter for this wedding – it wasn’t my clients so somehow I didn’t have a right to react…And this is what we women do – we write it off, we tell ourselves we’re overreacting. We convince ourselves that nothing “really” happened to us.
I decided to share for a number of reasons…
First because this is a real issue. There are women walking among you – the woman who sits next to you at church on Sunday, a coworker who eats her lunch alone with her back to the corner of the break room, your best friend since high school, your sister, your daughter, your wife – there are women who are close to you who have faced similar situations or worse and had them shape who they are now and how they respond to a world of situations. I’ll be honest – I’m tired of victim blaming. I spent years blaming myself for some unknown thing that I must have done. (And spoiler alert – I did nothing wrong.) And I’m tired of excuses. I’m tired of the excuse that alcohol somehow excuses this kind of behavior or that men are just wired this way. Because I know so many amazing, intelligent, strong, kind, gracious men. And it’s not some unattainable standard. Any man can choose to be a good man. I guess too part of me is hoping that some of you who have had excuses for these people and situations might hear a story from me – someone you know – and maybe start to ask some really important questions that maybe you haven’t asked yourself before like “do I have a different standard for women than I do for men?”
Another big reason I’m sharing is because sometimes I feel pressure to do weddings from people. “It’s only 150 guests. Can’t you make an exception?” And the problem is my heart wants to! Truly! I have friends and clients I LOVE who I’d love to capture their big day for. It fills me with so much joy and honor to get to do that. And I feel really guilty saying no. But I physically, mentally, and emotionally can’t right now (or possibly ever). I’m not looking for pity or sympathy. I’m mainly hoping to raise awareness about an actual problem in our industry, in our society, and to make it clear why I don’t do these big weddings anymore. It’s not because I don’t want to capture your big day. It’s because I can’t do it and take care of me. And I’ve committed to being BOLD this year. So this is me being bold and speaking my truth and asking you for the grace to accept me and my why.