CITY HALL ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHER
My first dip into photography began as a city hall City Hall elopement photographer. However, becoming an elopement and wedding photographer was not my intent. Instead, my focus was on completing a street photography class assignment.
In early 2009, I had just started learning about photography.
My gear, eleven years ago, was not at all professional. I barely knew how to use my camera.
I had my first darkroom class under my belt and I was itching to learn more about photographing people. So, I began taking classes at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan (ICP) with an emphasis on street portraiture. NYC was very accessible to me and I simply enjoyed walking around with my camera. I loved where my camera took me and the people I met along the way. This still holds true today.
One of my early photography classes at ICP focused on creating a long term project. A few months prior, I had visited the Manhattan Marriage Bureau with my mother who was seeking a copy of her marriage license to my recently deceased father. As we stood in line I was awed by the contrast between the bureaucracy of the then Manhattan Marriage Bureau and the people waiting in line to get married – first come, first served as appointments were not permitted. Some couples dressed the part in tuxes and wedding dresses and others in jeans and t-shirts. It just seemed wildly fascinating and romantic to me.
At the time, my own marriage was failing. I think by focusing my long term project on people getting married at city halls, I was looking for hope and substance in my own situation. I was under the assumption that people forgoing large and more traditional weddings were placing more meaning on their marriage rather than their wedding. After photographing about fourteen couples, across the United States, I realized that the reasons for eloping varied wildly.
For instance, one couple both came from very conservative families. They had met only weeks before at a church camp. He lived in Florida and her (pictured in purple) in Brooklyn. The groom wanted the bride to move to Florida so they could pursue their relationship further and they needed to make it official before doing such. Usually, couples have to wait 24 hours after receiving a marriage license before getting married. This couple sought a Judicial Waiver that enabled them to get married the same day.
Another couple (man with long brown hair and women in the black dress), from San Francisco, had been together many years already but had prior balked at the tradition of marriage. However, when they realized they were expecting they traveled to NY in secret to elope. They did not know anyone in New York and therefore did not have a required legal witness. They asked me to be their witness!
One couple had been together for thirty years and had seven children before they decide to have an intimate city hall wedding – without the kids.
The couple pictured above eloped at the San Francisco City Hall after meeting briefly online. She was from Japan. They barely spoke each other’s language. He borrowed a robe from a local Japanese restaurant to wear at their ceremony.
I remember the first day, I started this project. I was very nervous. Back then I did not have the photographer’s muscle to simply walk up to a stranger and ask for their photograph. Never mind a couple waiting in line to get married – in NYC! Had I not already committed to doing the photo project in class, I don’t think I would have had the gumption to do it. It was ballsy.
In the end, it was not the reasoning behind these couples choosing to forgo a traditional wedding that had an impact on me. Rather it was their trust, in granting me a complete stranger instant access to one of the most important moments in their lives, that gave me the most hope. It was an honor, actually.
I ended working as City Hall elopement photographer in four locations: Manhattan, Brooklyn, San Francisco, and Albany, NY. I just so happened to be on vacation in San Francisco when I thought – why not just walk into the city hall and photograph some elopements? Another instance I hightailed it up to Albany’s city hall at the last minute upon hearing that the first same-sex marriages in the state were about to happen. They were performed by Albany’s mayor at midnight. It was an AMAZING experience that I will always cherish as a City Hall elopement photographer
I really enjoyed this long term project documenting couples eloping at city halls across the country. The project even went on to place third in a national photography contest. I had no idea at the time that I would eventually end up being a wedding and elopement photographer full time.
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