Story and Photos by Sunny Kirby
I don’t do weddings.
This has become my motto as a photographer. Friends and acquaintances still ask me to do their weddings; family members constantly recommend my services to coworkers. The guilt trips are abundant, and the justifications are many. I have learned, however, anytime a wedding ceremony is described as “just a laid-back gathering.” It is instead, nine times out of 10, an overblown nightmare. So, I decline.
Now, let’s be clear – this isn’t the fault of the bride or the groom, the couple at the center of attention. Brides talk to photographers. They tell us what they want, we do it, and their requests don’t generally veer far from the original plan. The trouble lies in the other women in the wedding, namely the mothers of the brides – the MOMZILLAS.
Agreements for wedding photography generally include a planned set of photos that the bride and groom would like taken before and after the ceremony. In my experience, this itemized list is most often the trigger for disaster. The Momzillas have no qualms about bossing, yanking, and torturing the bride and photographer alike at picture-taking time.
“Let’s get Great Aunt Esther in this one! You know, she made the trip from Jersey,” a Momzilla might say just as her daughter the bride poses for a fun group shot with the bridesmaids. She follows up with a not-so-quiet whisper: “You know, she may not be around for the next wedding.”
The bride doesn’t remember Great Aunt Esther, an ancient and particularly unpleasant woman. Esther is also nigh impossible to locate, as she is likely smoking cigarettes, in her wheelchair, at the side entrance of the church. Also, the Great Aunt Esthers of the world do not want to be pulled into this Pinterest-inspired photo, or any photo, for that matter. But what Momzilla says goes.
So, no, I don’t do weddings. But have I ever done them? Oh, yes.
Let me tell you a story about the very last one. I’ve changed some names and details for client privacy – and to protect myself from the very mother of all Momzillas.
Beth and Dylan had a beautiful wedding ceremony. Everything went as planned without one hitch. As light streamed through the stained-glass windows, they were pronounced man and wife in a perfect pool of golden sunlight that settled at the altar. It was a photographer’s dream.
Beth’s mother, Cheryl, could be heard, crying just a little too loud, in the front pew, but that was to be expected. She had flitted and hovered all day, but the entire wedding party, knew to expect as much. Her sobs and sniffles were barely on their radar.
When it came time for the post-ceremony photos, I met everyone at the pillared front of the church, where we reviewed the plan and got to work. The newlyweds were in high spirits, and everything started off well. Funny how quickly things can change.
Cheryl had an attitude as big as her over-coiffed beehive. She had already mentioned to me, at least three times during the day, that she was a former model. Beth had quietly explained that her mother’s modeling career consisted of two fall fashion ads in a department store catalog. In 1978.
Beth and I had planned for several pictures later that would include her mother, but at this moment I was photographing the bride with her matron of honor.
I watched, through the lens, as Cheryl made her way into the frame, at a brisk stroll. She then heaved her way between bride and bestie, with a toothy grin. Well versed in the antics of this Momzilla, the matron of honor slunk away. Cheryl’s smile widened, as she clutched at her daughter with one arm, and help up two fingers in the peace sign, with the other. “We’re just the best of girlfriends” she gushed, donning a cringe-worthy duck face.
This went on for a solid 10 minutes. Though the whole situation was awkward, and Beth was beginning to look slightly annoyed, it was basically harmless. Everyone had a good laugh, and we attempted to move on.
Cheryl, however, had a different idea.
“Let’s get the groom in on these pics!” she chortled, adjusting her generous bosom. Dylan, who had been watching the scene with some degree of amusement, was prepared to play along. He joined the two women on the church steps and beamed at the camera.
I’ll give him credit. He kept that million-watt smile going for 10 frames, while Cheryl made a spectacle of herself at his side. He did not break character until she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket, licked it, and began to “wipe the schmutz from his cheek.”
From that moment, things went downhill quite rapidly.
Cheryl decided that that the makeup artist had failed to adequately accentuate her daughter’s eyes.
“Don’t you worry, sweet pea,” she announced, forcing Beth into a chair and pulling a cosmetic bag from her purse. “Mama’s always got some of her good mascara on hand.” She proceeded to lather said mascara onto Beth’s lashes. Dylan watched from the sidelines as his new bride received an impromptu makeover.
Next came the hairspray. “Remind me how much I paid that stylist!?”, Cheryl fumed. “You need more volume. Volume is the key, you know. I recall that from my very own modeling days.” Beth sank down into the folding chair, as her hair grew.
Cheryl pinned a huge corsage to her daughter’s dress. “You remember Donna, down at the florist? Well, she was just going to throw these roses out! Can you believe it?”
She wound a strand of gigantic, faux pearls around Beth’s neck. “I know you said you preferred not to wear a necklace for the ceremony, but I thought this would look great for some classy snapshots.”
Somehow, imperceptibly, Cheryl had taken over this carefully synchronized photoshoot. She gave Beth a swift, but solid 1980’s makeover. She smooched red lipstick all over Dylan’s cheek. She pestered and bossed me to take dozens of unplanned photos (“I just came up with the cutest idea!”) She fussed and manipulated while remaining upbeat and rather proud of herself, until Beth yelled, “Mama! Enough! You are ruining my wedding day!”
Then came the waterworks. Cheryl disintegrated into a hysterical puddle of knock-off Chanel and misery. She wailed, incoherently, for a time as the disheveled bride and groom looked on in horror. Finally, Momzilla calmed herself long enough to sob, “You’re leaving me forever and you won’t even let me be a part of your wedding photos!”
Dylan hung his head, and moved to scoop up his brand-new mess of a mother in law. Beth joined him, “I’m sorry, mama. Let’s do some more pictures together, okay?”
The last photo I took that day was of the three of them, together. Momzilla was wedged right in the middle. The newlyweds were wrinkled and smudged, but submissive, and Cheryl was beaming like a kid on Christmas morning.
Momzillas. They are overbearing, overdressed, hairspray toting terrors. Sure, most of the time, they mean well. That does not change the fact that they have surpassed flying, flaming spiders on the list of things that scare me most.
And that’s why I don’t. Do. Weddings.