Sarah & David - Unitarian Church & Anglers Rest, Dublin
There’s very often a backstory that runs through a wedding day – a sub-plot, if you like, that influences the day in a way that is not immediately obvious to the guests. It might be the bride’s ring that was originally her great grandmother’s and has been handed down from generation to generation, the best man who realized an hour before the ceremony that his suit was two hours away, the bridesmaid who took ill the morning of the wedding. The story can range from funny to serious, from emotional to entertaining, from happy to sad. But I challenge anyone to find a story that will give you a warmer fuzzier feeling than the one I’m about to tell you.
Because it illustrates not only the kindness of strangers or the importance of family past and present, but also the significance that a bride and a groom can place in what others might think of as one of the more mundane aspects of a wedding. Sarah and David told me this story a few weeks before the wedding when we met to talk through the plans for their big day, and my apologies to them if I get some of the finer details wrong, but I will hopefully do the story justice. It starts with a car. Because for Sarah and David’s wedding, their wedding car was not just any old car. Far from it. In fact, you could say it was one of the most important guests at the wedding.
The car is a vintage 2.4 litre Jaguar. I don’t know the model, or age, but I do know that it was painstakingly restored by David’s father over 20 years ago. David was a young boy at the time, and has memories of “helping” his father with the restoration. I say “helping”, because, as he said himself, you can imagine how much help a young boy might actually be when his father is working hard on a project like this.
But he was involved, and remembers it fondly. One recollection he told me about was his father giving up cigars for a week to buy the leather cover for the steering wheel. That gives you an indication that this car was a labour of love for his father.
And so, over I don’t know how long, David’s father worked on restoring the Jaguar to its former glory. And glorious, it was. But David’s father sadly passed away when David was still a young boy. The car was sold not too long afterwards. That, you might think, would be the end of that particular car in David’s life.
And it would have been, were it not for a thought that Sarah and David had after their engagement, as they were planning their wedding. “Wouldn’t it be nice”, they thought, “if we could somehow track down that car that Dad restored, and use it as our wedding car?”.
It must have seemed like an impossible ask. Something close to twenty years had elapsed, and the car could be anywhere. It might not even necessarily be in Ireland.
And then, in what some might call a twist of fate, others good luck, they found it. And it was no further than a couple of miles from where Sarah would be leaving on the morning of her wedding. If I recall correctly the car might even have been listed for sale on a website. But somehow they tracked it down. And the owner was that same person who had bought it from the family all those years ago. Not only that, but it was in beautiful condition, and still running.
Explaining the story of the car to him (and the significance of it being obvious to the owner, I’m sure) he kindly allowed them to use the car on their wedding day. And so you could say that David’s dad drove Sarah to the church and he drove his son, and the daughter-in-law that he’ll never meet, to their wedding reception. After the ceremony, at David’s suggestion, I took a photograph of him with his brother, sister, mother and the car. We were about to head across to St. Stephen’s Green for the family photographs, but of course you could say that the photo of them with the car was really their family photograph.
I captured the image of Sarah and David alone standing in front of the car after we arrived at the Anglers Rest for Sarah and David’s wedding reception, and there’s a nice symmetry in it echoing the photograph of David’s mum and dad that sat on the table next to the wedding cake inside the function room.
The last photograph I took at the wedding will, I hope, prove to be a special image for Sarah and David. They had placed a photograph of David’s dad alongside the photograph of the car above on the table with the cake. I broke all the rules of documentary photography, and took the liberty of moving it for the briefest moment before I left the function room to capture this image of it, with their guests in the background sitting down to dinner. I thought it made for a fitting end to my coverage of their wedding day.
The day, however, wasn't just about the car. It was, first and foremost, about Sarah and David's wedding. So let me tell you a little bit about, and show you a little big of, the non-car related parts of the day.
When you photograph weddings, it’s probably a dangerous thing to admit you have favourites, but I’m going to take a gamble here and tell you that Sarah and David’s wedding was, and remains, one of my favourite weddings to photograph. There are a lot of factors which influence my own impressions of a wedding – the weather, the venues, the families, the light, the bridal parties and of course the couple. And absolutely every aspect of their wedding ticked all the boxes. I was looking forward to it from the moment, months earlier, that Sarah told me their mantra for the wedding: no stress. I like that mantra. It’s mine for the photographs too. This was going to go well.
Then the day before I visited their reception location – a deceptively beautiful venue in Chapelizod – and got excited. The weather forecast that morning predicted perfect photography weather (dry, possibly overcast), and I got more excited. And I arrived to Sarah’s house and met her lovely family and lovely bridal party and I knew it was going to be a good day. And it was. It’s one thing to have a mantra of “no stress” – it’s another to stick to that mantra and still take on the task of creating your own bridesmaid’s bouquets, but with a trip to Grafton Street the day before the wedding, that’s what Sarah did, and had I not known, I would have been certain they were professionally put together.
She didn’t make her own shoes, but they weren’t your run of the mill “standard” wedding shoe either, and I thought – not that I know much about these things – that they were pretty cool. They photographed well too. And they had sparkles!
The dress was simply beautiful, both on the hanger, and on the bride, and I liked that I was able to frame a photo of it in the architecture of Sarah’s parents lovely home.Sarah’s niece very nearly stole the show during the morning as she toddled around the house. She also very nearly stole a couple of handbags – taking a particular shine to the mother of the bride’s bag, which caused only a minor panic for a couple of minutes!
The ceremony was at the Unitarian Church, on St. Stephen’s Green, which can cause a bit of a parking headache for people, in theory at least, if not necessarily in reality. Sarah and Dave had a plan for this, and arranged for a bus to take all their guests from the ceremony to the reception, meaning they could leave their cars at home. And in keeping with the way the rest of the day went, I got lucky with a space about as close by as I could want as I headed in a little ahead of the bride. What’s more, the church was unusually bright thanks to the lovely day outside, which made my job a tad easier.
After the ceremony we had a bit of a whirlwind stroll around St. Stephen’s Green which is about as central as you can get in Dublin. And it was perfect for photographs. It was also, the girls would tell you, a little bit chilly – but that’s what the men’s jackets are for!
Despite the cold, the Green was surprisingly busy, so Sarah and David had to adjust to lots of onlookers having a gawk as they strolled around. At times I kept my eye on the onlookers too, including their reactions in one or two of the photos also.
Photoshoot over, we headed on towards the Clarence for a quick stop off at the penthouse suite, and then onto their reception. Before getting into the car though, the bride and groom walked along the south side of the Green, where I captured one of my favourite unposed bride and groom photos. I love the light, the colour, depth of field, the expressions, the moment and, perhaps most of all, the fact that despite it being the very centre of Dublin city on a Saturday afternoon it almost feels like they have the city to themselves.
That deceptively beautiful reception venue I mentioned was the Anglers Rest in Chapelizod – it’s a bar which feels a bit like Johnny Foxes (or O’Connor’s in Salthill if you know there) downstairs, but upstairs has one of the most gorgeous intimate function rooms you’ll find. At one end is a fireplace beneath a mirror, where I took a quick portrait of Sarah. What makes that shot for me though is the reflection of David in the mirror.
Photographically speaking, taking shots in the bar downstairs during the drinks reception was the most challenging part of the day, being dark, small and busy with guests. So I swapped on the 50mm f/1.4 and looked for pools of light courtesy of the small windows running along one wall. The fact that the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom sat in one of these pools of light was yet another bonus.
Is it any wonder this wedding proved to be a favourite?