The Saint Louis Basilica Cathedral, Jon & Josephine Havlak,1979.
I often get asked what made me want to become a wedding photographer. The answer is simple: it was my own parents’ wedding album.
I was a fledgling fashion photographer when I first discovered it. I had just begun photographing weddings on the side, and although I was surprised to find that I actually really liked it, I was still too stubborn to admit it. My mother is herself a wedding photographer, and somehow it just seemed too easy to follow in her footsteps.
Then it happened. While looking for a book to read on a visit home to Saint Louis, I stumbled across the album. I couldn’t believe the set of images in front of me, and that I hadn’t discovered them sooner. I stayed up until 3am pouring over every photograph. They were perfect.
Unlike most couples who got married in the 70’s and wound up with a handful of stiff posed photographs, my parents had hired a friend who was a newspaper photojournalist to shoot the wedding, and the result was this amazing collection of totally documentary black & white images that capture my parents exactly as they were: Young, broke, a little wild, a lot of fun, and ridiculously in love.
They met in college at Rice University in 1973. My father was hilarious in small groups, but reserved in large ones. My mother was lively, feisty, and outgoing no matter her audience. My father developed a crush on my mom pretty much right away. It took my mother three years to notice him. But when they finally had their first real one-on-one conversation, it took her all of an hour to realize that she’d found The One, and the rest was history. Thirty-three years later, they’re still one of the happiest couples I know.
It was a simple wedding; They had just found out that my grandmother was sick with cancer, and my dad knew how important it was to my mother to have her at the wedding. They planned the entire thing in eight weeks. They got married in November at the Saint Louis Basilica Cathedral, which was designed by my mother’s great-grandfather, George Barnett, an architect like my father. My mom borrowed an old wedding dress from a family friend. My father wore black snakeskin cowboy boots under his suit. It was 1979. They were twenty-four.
No one remembers the photographer’s name or knows what he is doing now. But wherever he is, I will always be grateful to him – not only for preserving this moment in my parents’ life, but for inspiring me to take the plunge into a job that I absolutely love in the hopes that I can give other couples and their someday-daughters the same kind of gift that he gave me.
Happy birthday, Mom! And thank you, Dad. I’m so grateful for everything you’ve both given me: For a lifetime of laughter, support, love, and hilarity. For never sugar-coating the truth, yet always finding the humor in the worst situations. And, most of all, for being living proof true love is a real thing, and that it lasts.
(The is one of my favorites from the whole album. I never got the chance to meet my grandmother, who passed away while my mother was still pregnant with me. But between my mother’s stories and photos like this, I feel like I knew her. Here she is, as elegant as ever, undaunted by her cancer, and wearing a fabulous fur in place of the hair that chemo took from her.)
(My mother laughing at my father’s toast with the same hilarity she gives his most dad-worthy puns today. It took her a solid twenty minutes to recover from a recent joke he made about how living near the Scientology center must make me feel “alienated”. Aww, Daaaddddd.)