So, here’s the scene. Several years ago, I was living in Florida and trying to get steady income, and one of the avenues I explored was working as a wedding photographer. I was working alongside a couple of established photographers in the area doing backup and creative shooting – photojournalistic style, candids, B&W, that sort of thing.
One particular morning, ten minutes before I was to be picked up by the photographer for a wedding, she called me and asked what I was wearing. Ummm, standard black shirt and slacks, why? Then I was asked, did I have any leathers? This photographer was a biker on the side (no, really) and did custom leather work, so I knew what she meant, though my answer was still in the negative – even though I used to ride for quite a few years, I never liked the Harley/biker style and didn’t dress up to use my motorcycle.
“Well, I just got reminded that this is a biker wedding,” she told me.
“Uhhhhh,” I said alertly.
“Don’t worry about it, as long as you’re in black. I’ve got some leathers you can wear.”
“Uhhhhh,” I repeated, in case she had misinterpreted me.
“It’s cool, it’s just a theme wedding. I’ve got you covered, and I’ll be there in a few.”
I dug out some black boots, but that was the best accessory I could scrounge for my ensemble. When she showed, I complemented those with a black Harley cap, black fingerless gloves, and a dark brown leather vest that said, “Property of Robin,” on the back. If I’d had even just a little more forewarning, I would have skipped shaving. This was before I had the beard, and trust me when I say I was more mistakable as a Best Buy salesman than a scooter-jockey.
On the way to the wedding in the photographer’s white hearse with a skull on the dash (you think I’m making this up, don’t you?) I drew more than a few interested looks from passing motorists, undoubtedly due to the dashing figure that I cut in my manly duds. Our first stop was at a motor lodge to pick up the bride, since she wanted to arrive in the hearse. No, wait, listen: the wedding was at a park pavilion and there were no facilities for getting ready, so the parties had to get dressed off-site, and the motor lodge was already in use for some of the guests, okay? And some people just like to be different.
So, I’m in the front part of one of the rooms, waiting for the bride and ‘maids to get ready, and of course the dresses are still around. My keen senses alerted me to the fact that the bridal gown and bridesmaid dresses didn’t really have much of a biker flair, and wouldn’t have been out of place at any other wedding I’d been to. I started wondering about this, but then caught sight of myself in the full-length mirror and almost scared myself, I was that bad looking. No, I lie, the biker thing wasn’t working at all, and I have to say the vest and cap put me more in mind of a National Geographic photographer. I have a friend that wears a photo vest all the time when meeting with clients – the vest serves no serious purpose, but it seems to say “professional” to them. Nevertheless, I have yet to purchase a photo vest.
So, we bundled the bride into the hearse (she had the sense to ride up front, so I stretched out on the platform in the back) and headed to the park. Once there, I noticed a curious absence of biker gear, or even bikes. I pointed this out to the photographer, who said that other guests would probably be arriving more thematically. Now, let me outline something from shooting a few dozen weddings, at least in Florida. No matter how upscale, no matter how old or young the happy couple, some guest would show up in camouflage pants and a cap. We always had to shove them into the back of the party pictures and get them to hide the cap.
But not this wedding. Even the guests that wore cowboy hats were in nice slacks and a dress shirt. The entire wedding party was in tuxes and dresses – appropriate to their gender, even. There was just the photographer and I making our hoodlum way around the proceedings. Even worse, a videographer that I knew from photographers’ club meetings was there, and pointedly asked me what the hell I was wearing. All I could say was that I was told this was a biker wedding.
Nothing in that wedding was “biker,” with one tiny exception: a pair of plastic motorcycles on the wedding cake. Not the happy (and perhaps giggling) couple, not the minister, not the ceremony, not the guests, not the reception music, not a damn thing. Yes, I was undoubtedly set up, but I really don’t know by who. The only saving grace was that the photographer who had contracted the job was in her own leather getup and bandanna.
Now, here’s another little thing: photographer’s assistants get to do things like prepping the couple for the formal shots, which means straightening the bride’s dress and arranging the accent flower bouquets. Are you picturing this? The groom certainly didn’t miss his opportunity to point out how good I was at flower arranging, but he couldn’t keep a straight face through it.
And because I know you don’t believe me, I provide proof. That’s me in the shot, though I’d shucked the vest by this time (the reason you see bikers wearing a vest over their bare torsos is because the damn things are hot.) You can’t even tell that I wear glasses, which of course simply added to my badassedness. This is the only memento I have of that occasion, and it’s a scan from a weathered print. The awkward position I’m standing in, besides showing off how badly my slacks were cut, was to try and get the best framing possible. The background down the dock wasn’t working too well, but across the dock, aiming downriver, was much better. I had to stand with my heels on the edge of the wood and lean back to get the framing right, and the happy couple was instructed, should I go backwards, to catch the camera as I threw it into the air. Hell, being soaking wet at that wedding wasn’t going to make anything worse, but there was no way I was taking a chance on losing the camera.
I have little doubt that somewhere, one or more of those guests show off their own photo of me to their friends when flipping through pics, and have a nice giggle over it. That’s okay, I’m cool with that, have your fun. But I charge a lot more for theme weddings now…