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Wednesday
Feb172010

Groomzilla

As I arrived at one of my very first weddings, the bride glowed, a long radiant gown and train befitting a formal ceremony. Her father stood with chiseled features absorbing every pore in her face as memories of her childhood danced on her face. She swept through the courtyard, her dress flowing in the breeze as I captured black and white imagery of her leaning over and whispering in her grandfather's ear. This was going to be the most amazing wedding ever. The stage was set, the characters were in place, the guests had arrived, and suddenly in the depth of my soul I felt the odd vibration of the theme from Jaws reverberating in my spine. I turned around, he stood tall, basketball player tall. He was big, his groomsmen towered over me like Soprano henchman in bowties. Although startled, I smiled and held out my hand as this was the groom, the precious enigma which had eluded me for 6 months, the knight in shining armor who had swept this beautiful girl off her Cinderella heels. My Groomzilla had arrived...


My outstretched hand waited, his eyes glared an absent gaze as though his soul had drifted into the middle realm until this unfamiliar exercise in manhood recoiled at midnight and he could then come out to play. He turned to the grunts of his fellow Neanderthals, pointed forward toward the lair which housed his maiden of sacrifice, and left, leaving my hand as a receptacle for fly waste. In that moment, my heart imploded, my ID deflated, and everything I thought I knew about human beings flew into the apse of that cathedral. It was at that moment I realized that not only will there be clients you don’t connect with, there will be some who could care less if you even exist. You see, I had never met the groom, only the bride, and the last thing he cared about was photography.


As far as he was concerned, I was a gnat to be ignored or swiped at if I came within the parameters of his bubble. He had a very thick bubble, one with walls of selective hearing, as though only the bride could hear me speak and she had to translate my directives to him in Neanderthal.


I picked up the pieces of my psyche and slinked into the cathedral, my assistant by my side staring at me, waiting for my affirmation that all was still right in the world. My second shooter stood firm in the upper balcony blissfully unaware of my emotional crux. I smiled, all was fine. I was a professional dressed in a lovely black dress appropriate for such an affair. I could have actually been a guest had I not been schlepping lenses and batteries or had a 2-inch blister on my shooting hand from last week’s mitzvah. The groom was simply nervous, he didn’t really understand that I was that photographer his fiancé had been speaking about for months, who’s images she adored, and wanted to name their first born after….OK, I digress…


It must have been a simple misunderstanding, I was sure. Had to get my head back in the game, the same game these Soprano henchmen were in. I lifted my chin, got out the long lens, readied myself as the groom stood at the alter, the organ began to fill the stained glass with shards of deliverance. As the doors to the cathedral opened and the light poured in behind her, I grab her figure in the center of my glass and then out of nowhere, like the antichrist whispering in my ear I hear, “my dear, whatever you do, do NOT use flash and do NOT cross the aisle”. I whip my head around to see the nun in piano key garb flit through the side door, returning my gaze rapidly to the money shot about to go down the tubes. Once again my nerves rattled, I regrouped, my second shooter still in the balcony. The bride walked down the aisle with a beaming father, but this time each step this bride took ebbed to the soundtrack of the single woman’s death march. Her lilting expression quivered like a child learning to ride her bike, her daddy attempting to steady the handlebars, and at the end of the aisle he let go. She smiled at him to comfort his broken heart, protecting him all the while knowing that she was the one who needed saving. Don’t let go of the bike, Daddy, stay just a minute longer. The guests won’t go anywhere, don’t let go, don’t let go…..And yet just as is scripted, in every wedding she’s imagined and played over in her dreams since she steadied those handle bars, just as she had planned for 6 long months, he let go...


She turned to her groom, his face pocked with fossils of adolescent acne and eyes demanding her gaze, and in that moment became the very woman she knew her parents wanted her to become. She knew now that she had the perfect union, the perfect future, the perfect life…with my Groomzilla.


The ceremony came and went. Now it was time for the portraits. Portrait time with the hearing impaired, I mean the groomsmen. As I attempted to raise the level of my voice to garner the attention of the bridal party, the groomsmen meandered through the lawn like elephants swinging their tusks, whipping nibbles from the bridesmaids’ bouquets and lapping their tongues in the air as they guffawed their many tenors. It was then the groom leaned into the same ear blessed by the antichrist and said, “if you don’t control this crowd, no one will…” He turned, and returned to his herd. Instead of being the true gentleman and husband of his new bride, and simply directing his pride to the portrait location, he waited for me to assert myself, to earn my right to life, to pass this test of credibility. I succumbed, I channeled the town cryer, announcing each shot. The suggestion to move in close to one another was met with questioning jeers from the henchmen as though I were speaking in Swahili with a French accent. We proceeded to the sand...a dream of the bride. The bridesmaids were amazing, gleefully flitting off their heels and running into the sand, leaving in their wake the bevy of buffalos snorting at the sea of sand as though each grain were from the planet krypton threatening the demise of their people upon contact. They stopped, a frozen breed, one by one their heads cocked in my direction, eyebrows inverted and palms to the sky…..the leader of this pack….my Groomzilla.

I love my job. I truly love my job, but everyone has that one day in their career when they stop and say to themselves, "Someday we'll look back and laugh at this". This writing is my laughter. As a matter of fact I'm absolutely gaffawing inside.


We finished a perfectly executed portrait session. They huffed and puffed and blew my heart down. I swore, if I lived through that day, that hour, that reception, I would never eat anything unhealthy again….I would become a saint and build homes for children in Malawi…..

The band played on. The moments of the bride trying to talk her groom into certain poses, her playfulness ignored, his cool hand luke now baring the golden ring he obtained through the grace of gods, were dissolving into misty ocean fog parading by the windows. To all in attendance, this was the most magnificent wedding they had ever seen. I turned around the images in a matter of a week with each and every image catered to as I would the most blissful of shoots. To top it all off, the images of this wedding were published in a major magazine. But the accolades were bitter sweet. This entire experience could have been completely different.


You see, the groom is the leader of the groomsmen. His energy will dictate their energy. He will lead and they will follow. It’s up to you to learn beforehand what makes your client tick, who he is as a person. I may have seethed a touch of sarcasm during my telling of this tale, but truly everything that happened was ultimately my fault. I’m the captain of the ship. I needed to know who I was working with so I could better understand how to direct. How can you conduct music without knowing the instruments in the orchestra? You can’t promise a quartet and then have a trombone show up and expect to create soothing music. I was so thrown off by this seemingly illogical and antisocial groom, that I immediately overcompensated in trying to make the bride especially happy that I ended up a puppy chasing its own tail hoping I’d catch it and that my owner would notice.


In the end, even with the images published in a magazine and their wedding a featured article……I received a call from the groom. Hoping for a moment of gratitude I puffed for a lovely conversation, only to sense a slight hesitation……,”Micaela, we love your work, but we were hoping there would be more close-up images like you see in the magazines…”


If life is about lessons, I learned a lot that day. I learned that even the worst of days breeds herds of knowledge for me to pull from, bits of experience hopefully not lost in the Swahilian translation. But most of all, I learned that it's essential not only for my client to like me, but for me to understand my client. I must have a solid grasp of who they both are. It's OK if photography isn't his thing, but if I had taken the time to meet with him as well, I could have garnered this jewel of information and chiseled it as armor for the big day. I have encountered but one Groomzilla in my career so far. I understand there are others out there, captured in fumbling shadows, lurking amidst the herds...I stand ready in wait with my cross-hairs, I mean my camera, loaded...

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