May 2, 2013

Witness to History: Bridging two Worlds

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I kept checking in with myself throughout the night and into the wee hours of May 1. I asked myself: “What is my role? Why am I here?” For years I’ve covered events similar to Wednesday’s event in which the first Civil Unions recognized by the State of Colorado took place. Seldom have the past events affected such a large swath of the community. And, for the first time I was not covering an event for a news organization.

Finding a Way to Bridge Two Worlds Amidst the Joy of Civil Unions

Here’s how it has gone historically for me: I make a photo. I smile and walk up to the subject and ask for their name and some more pertinent info that goes into the caption under the photo. I say thank you and move onto the next photo. Here’s how it went Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning: Make the photo. I smile and walk up to talk to the subject but there’s no caption info to gather. Now what? I was supposed to talk about our plan. How we were offering our services for free, but this is where I got hung up. Was I there as a photojournalist or a wedding photographer? Eric and I had talked about it in advance and the plan sounded solid: It was a good way to meld our past and present. We would make photos of the celebration and offer them for free as a way to help celebrate the initial break in the wall that differentiated so many of us from friends and family members in the eyes of the law.CMS_4627

My mind didn’t want to square this new role as wedding photographer with what I used to do for newspapers. I had already encountered one person who thought I was there to sell photos. This as a result of my inability to communicate just why I was there. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Eric and I were there to make some great photos and make them available to the happy couples to help celebrate this momentous occasion. I was still struggling with this encounter and my reason for being there up until the time I climbed onto the wall behind Denver Mayor Michael Hancock inside the Webb Municipal Building lobby and looked at the sea of faces before me. Then my lizard brain that houses all things photography kicked in and I forgot all thoughts of why and what my motivations were and waited for the photos to happen in front of me.

Two realizations struck me as I knelt atop the wall watching Anna and Fran Simon exchange vows in front of the hundreds gathered for the occasion: First, this decision to allow Civil Unions in Colorado will affect more than just the couples. The ripple of this moment will spread to their families and friends who have watched them take this step. It will spread further to the larger community that will have to learn how to accept this change. Second, I realized that the why didn’t matter, what mattered is that I was there to document what was going on and to help tell the story of that night and what it meant to everyone there and beyond.CMS_5039

A third realization struck me as I climbed down from the cement wall. My knees were killing me and I wasn’t as young as when I first started covering events like this, over 10 years ago. I shrugged off the pain and moved on to make photos armed with a renewed purpose. Ceremonies were happening all around at this point so I bounced around making images from one station to another. I witnessed a different kind of joy than I had before. Couples were not just happy to be joined in union – their joy seemed a bit deeper – they were happy that they were finally allowed to be joined in unions. And, while it was great to witness this profound joy, I can’t help but wonder if it will soon be replaced by a more commonplace joy when same-sex marriage itself becomes legal and more commonplace. A strange paradox that such injustice can result in so much joy.

Eric and I were again shocked by the response to posting our photos on Facebook. We wanted from the beginning to make this about the celebration and about the couples rather than about what we do. To that end, we have created a gallery of photos from the Civil Union event and made them downloadable for all the couples. Just enter the password: civil unions (lowercase with space between) and please enjoy.

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Chris Stark
Wedding Photojournalist at Stark Bellamy Photography
Chris Stark is an award-winning photojournalist and former news photographer who honed his craft at several Colorado newspapers. Documentary wedding photography translates perfectly into Chris' fly-on-the-wall style. Chris lives in Longmont, Colorado with his wife and daughter and spends his free time on the bike or hiking with his family.
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