This story begun for me on the 18th of May 2008. I vividly remember the day when Steph got in touch to say that she wanted photos taken while she still had her vision. We took photos of Steph running through fields in a white summer dress as the sun shone.
Shortly after this both Steph and I went through break ups and we messaged each other a few times just checking in on each other to make sure we were both doing ok. In one of those messages Steph said to me, “I know I will find someone that will treat me like a princess and in the end it is prob for the best.”
Fast forward to nearly 10 years later and I find myself on the phone to Steph as she tells me she’s getting married and she would like to speak to me about photographing her wedding.
I very hesitantly asked “May I ask how your vision is these days?”
“I’ve lost the majority of my vision and I only see some shapes and shadows.”, Steph replied.
When I was speaking with Steph one thing that was very clear was that planning the wedding was going to be a rather unique experience for Steph. Steph explained to me that she wishes she went and tried on dresses while she still had her vision. She decided not to as she didn’t want people to think she was strange. I think we are all guilty of not doing things because of what others may think.
The image above is taken from the balcony of Steph & Rob’s apartment. The majority of the image is dark, with the buildings below in shadow, heavy, dark cloud cover making up most of the image with a strip of golden sunlight below the cloud cover and above the buildings.
Steph & Rob met at a party that was happening on the rooftop of their apartment building. Steph explains, “That night he made sure I always had a drink in my hand”.
The image above shows Steph in the apartment that they now share. Steph is on the left hand side of the frame, lit by a wireless flash. I was photographing from the balcony and the reflection of the sunset is visible in the glass.
It turns out that Steph & Rob lived next to each other in the apartment building, but didn’t meet until they met at that party. Steph remembers walking past him in the hallway while she still had some vision, but didn’t want to look up as she was in her pyjamas putting the rubbish out. At that time Steph still had useful vision and if she looked up she would now know what Rob looks like. I asked Steph what colour eyes Rob has, she said, “I think I heard they’re blue, but i’m not sure.”
The photo above shows Steph & Rob in the middle of the frame sharing a moment on their balcony. They are both mostly in silhouette and the image is cropped in a panoramic way.
Steph has a condition called Cone-Rod Dystrophy. It’s a condition that first started affecting her when she was 19 years old and over the last 13 years she’s gradually lost her vision. Steph explains to me that she can see some light and dark shapes but bright lights can be quite uncomfortable.
Above are two images side by side. The left hand side image is a photo of Steph and Rob on the balcony once again. Steph is on the left and she is facing Rob as the sun sets behind them both. The image on the right hand side has Steph sitting on Rob’s lap with them both facing each other on the balcony however they’re both facing slightly more towards the sunset while Steph holds her hair away from her face.
At the party where Steph & Rob met, one of her friends told her, He’s your neighbour! Steph said, “You mean the pothead?” No, there’s no way he’s a pothead, he’s a policeman.
The image above shows Rob standing behind Steph with his arms around her. They are both standing on the balcony with golden light on their faces. You get a feeling that Rob is the protector of Steph, yet you can see in Steph’s eyes that she’s really the boss. The camera was pressed up against the glass and the couples reflection is visible on the glass.
As I mentioned earlier, Rob is a policeman and was heavily involved in the Bourke Street tragedy where the man ploughed through many innocent people. Rob explained to me that after he experienced this he now became so much more worried about Steph on the streets of Melbourne.
Above, there are two images side by side. One image that shows the golden sunset taking up most of the frame with building at the bottom of the frame while the image on the right shows Rob with a beer in hand pointing out towards the sunset while Steph’s dad watches on.
Steph has really fine hair. It reminds me of my mum’s actually. Steph describes it as baby hair.
The image above simple shows a close up of the back of Steph’s hair blowing in the wind, bathed in golden light. Steph, with her left hand is brushing her hair out of her face with her engagement ring being shown off.
While I originally met Steph in high school, Steph was also my real estate agent when I lived in an apartment above the real estate agent she worked at In Armidale. These days Steph is retraining as a masseuse and has just been given approval to start doing this in a room in the same building she lives in.
In one of the two images above you’ll see a black and white image of Steph walking towards the elevator, holding her cane. In the other image you’ll see Rob firing up the BBQ in the same spot that they met on the rooftop of their apartment building. The image is in colour and Rob is on the other side of a clear glass barrier.
When Steph and I started talking about her wedding I explained that with her permission I’d like to be able to tell more of the story than just the wedding day. I asked her if she would mind if I brought a videographer on board to help tell the story.
There are two images side by side above. The image on the left you can see Shaun from Lemon Tree Film House holding a microphone as we chatted to Steph in the lounge room on the rooftop. The image on the right hand side shows Steph back in the apartment on the left hand side of the frame as Rob sits the meat on the table that he has just finished cooking. Steph is looking towards her mum who is sitting on the couch on the right hand side of the frame.
I asked Steph, are there foods that you avoid these days? “Yes, I don’t even attempt burgers anymore”. Steph also went on to explain that Rob explains to her what’s on her plate and where she would find it on the plate.
In this black and white image above you’ll see Rob leaning over Steph as he finishes setting the table. Steph has her plate in front of her, bread roll on the right hand side of the plate and salad on the left.
I asked Steph’s dad if he ever felt like he needed to pull Rob aside and show him a few things. I asked this because Steph’s mum has the same condition and has no vision whatsoever. Steph’s dad explained to me that it’s just something you’ve got to work out for yourself and that both Steph and her mum have different needs.
Above there are two images side by side. On the left there is a close up image of Steph with her knife and fork in hand as she cuts a sausage. On the right is a photo of Rob on the left hand side of the frame looking off into the distance while Steph’s dad is on the right hand side of the frame looking over to his wife (who can’t be seen in this image).
Myself (the photographer) and my wife recently found out we are having a baby. We got talking about witnessing births and we got talking about a birth that I photographed recently and how I also photographed his big brother at 3 days old just before his parents were forced to say goodbye because of a condition that meant he wasn’t compatible with life. I explained how they had to have genetic testing before having their second child to see if they might have another baby with the same condition.
Above you’ll see a photo Steph’s mum rubbing her eyes as she cried while I told her this story around the dinner table. The angle is of Steph’s mum in profile, with a tissue scrunched up in front of her.
Steph has 3 brothers, 2 of which have the same condition. This is Cal and he’s the only sibling that has been cleared of being susceptible to Cone-Rod Dystrophy.
In the black and white image above, Rob greets Cal with a handshake as he arrives at their apartment after flying in from Sydney to help Steph choose a dress the next morning.
When Cal arrived we started discussing a little more about what tomorrow would look like. Tomorrow was the day that we were to go dress shopping with Steph.
The image above shows a tripod and camera with a microphone mounted to the top as Shaun from Lemon Tree Film House talks with Steph while the rest of the family talk.
It’s now Tuesday morning. We jump in a 7 seater car. Rob has the day off work and he is chauffeuring us all to the first wedding dress shop which is about a 30 minute drive. While Rob is driving us to the shop, he’s not allowed to join us as Steph doesn’t want Rob seeing her in the dress she says yes to.
There are three images above. In the first full size image Steph’s mum (cramped in the middle between myself and her husband in the middle row of the car) smiles as the sun streams into the car. Her husband is out of focus behind her as he wears his signature hat. The photo is taken while we travel and was taken very close to Steph’s mums face as we were sitting right next to each other. The other two images are sat side by side and the image on the left features Rob & Steph in an embrace in the middle of the frame. Rob is facing the camera and is wearing aviator sunglasses while Steph has her back to the camera and is facing towards the dress shop which is directly across the road. The next image shows Steph & Rob out of focus and behind them the words “Luv Bridal” is in focus across the road from where they stand.
Navigating the busy streets is something Steph is able to do, but she also isn’t shy to ask if she can hold onto your arm. When Steph did this to me, there was something quite intimate and special about it. I actually felt quite privileged to be able to help guide her down the street.
In the black and white image above you’ll see Steph and her brother arm in arm on the left hand side of the image as they cross the road with Steph’s mum and dad walking arm in arm also as cars wait.
I imagine that most women have walked past a wedding dress shop and stared in the window and critiqued what they saw.
While we waited for the shop to open for our 9am appointment, Steph’s brother Cal described to her what he saw.
In the image above you’ll see Steph & Cal standing in the middle of the frame peering into the dress shop window. There are 4 dresses on mannequins on display and Steph and her brother are centred between them. Steph’s cane is visible on her right hand side and the image is taken from the middle of the road. On the right hand side is a photo of Steph in her leather jacket, with one hand around her cane, with engagement ring visible. Her other hand is placed on top of the cane. The photo is a close up and shows off the hands and ring.
Shopping for a wedding dress without vision is a little more challenging. Steph explained to me that it required all of her attention as she did her best to gather up all the information to help her imagine how the dress would look. First it starts with walking up to the dress to touch it, but luckily Steph also had her friend and bridesmaid Jess by her side who explained every dress to her in great detail.
In this image we’re now in the dress shop. The very helpful staff member is on the left hand side of the frame with a dress in her hands ready to take to the change room. Jess is to her right and is looking across at Steph as they smile at each other while being surrounded by dresses on racks.
I said to myself that I wouldn’t get involved. However when Steph walked out wearing the first dress she touched as she walked in the door I said out loud “This is going to take a lot to beat”.
In the image above Steph is wearing a beautiful white wedding dress and is standing right in the middle of the frame on a small platform. In the foreground you can see the backs of the heads of Jess, Cal and Steph’s mum and dad. Steph has a massive smile on her face.
With Steph’s mum having the same condition, the way she experienced the dress was by walking up to Steph and touching the dress.
The image above shows Cal walking his mum towards Steph. There was a small step up that lead to where Steph was and the image shows Steph between them, out of focus, standing in her dress.
As Steph stood there patiently, she would wait for people to say something. Steph told me she was waiting for everyone to just say, “that’s the one”. However, Steph’s family and her bridesmaid were a little more reserved at times as they waited for everyone to take in all the details. This brought on a little anxiousness in Steph. Eventually however everyone would jump in and give their feedback based off what Steph said she was looking for.
Above there are 6 images in a montage together. The top left image shows Steph’s dad gesturing with his hand while Steph’s mum, brother and Jess are alongside him. The next image shows Steph’s hands on her hips, with the photo taken from the side and shows off Steph’s engagement ring. The dress that Steph is wearing shows off the beading and lace of the dress as having something that has a tactile response was important to Steph. The next 4 images are in black and white. The first image shows Steph’s dad on the far left of the frame looking forwards Steph and Steph’s mum on the far right of the frame wiping tears out of her eyes with both hands. The next image shows Steph’s mum’s arm reaching around to touch the back of the dress, while the next image shows her hand on Steph’s hip as she runs her hand down the side of Steph’s body to get a feel of how the dress sits on her. The last image shows Steph’s mum and dad’s holding hands, with a glimpse of the dress in the foreground.
The pressure really was on the ladies in the dress shops to explain to Steph and her mum in great detail what each dress was like. I must say, they did an exceptional job. While they could explain the dress, it was up to Steph’s entourage to help interpret Steph’s vision for her dress.
In the image above you’ll see Steph guiding her mum’s hands to different parts of the dress while both her brother and the shop assistant look on.
Steph’s mum articulated so beautifully what each dress was like. As I was listening to her describe the dress I realised that she could see things that I couldn’t. Her touch senses were so heightened that she was able to describe things that the eyes couldn’t see.
In the image above you’ll see a pulled back shot of the scene above. Here you’ll see Dad on the left hand side of the frame sitting on a couch with Jess next to him. Cal and Steph’s mum are on the podium admiring Steph’s dress while Steph stands there with a subtle smile on her face.
I asked Steph, do you think you could do a twirl so we can see it from all angles? “That may be a little difficult as I might fall over”. Slowly but surely Steph twirled around.
In this black and white image you’ll see Steph’s dad in shadow on the left hand side of the frame and Steph spinning around towards the right hand side of the frame. Steph’s face and the top of her dress is lit brighter than the rest of the frame and you can see her massive smile.
“No, not this one”. It was almost a bit of a relief when people’s responses were a resounding “No”. We started getting a bit of an idea as to what we were looking for. You won’t see the dress she chose here nor will you really get an indication of the style of dress she chose in the end!
Above, in the black & white image you’ll see Steph’s mum admiring the detail of the dress. The image is generally quite dark but Steph’s back and her mum’s face are lit quite brightly. You can just get a glimpse of Steph’s dad looking on as he smiled as he admired his daughter.
You may be wondering why I wanted to photograph someone dress shopping. Not only do I care about Steph, but I also care about her story. To be able to help others get an insight into what her life is like is something that I want to be able to be a part of. I also hold hope that one day she may be able to relive these moments if medicine progresses and they are able to restore her eye sight.
Above you’ll see Steph’s dad guiding his wife’s hand to appreciate the detail in the chest area of the dress. Their hands are in focus and the rest of the image is slightly out of focus.
Cal is the only sibling with full vision and shows no signs of having the condition. The condition characteristically leads to early impairment of vision. An initial loss of color vision and of visual acuity (due to loss of cone function) is followed by nyctalopia (night blindness) and loss of peripheral visual fields (due to loss of rod function). To find out more about degenerative retinal conditions – visit http://www.retinaaustralia.com.au
In the image above you’ll see a photo of Cal sitting on the couch, in profile with a light hitting him and him only. He is sitting alone.
We take photos to remember moments, but during this journey it’s got me thinking about the ways that photography can be experienced even when it’s not seen. The reason for sharing the explanation for each of the images is so that Steph can get an idea of what I saw in each of the images.
In the image above, you can see a slightly nervous look Steph as she stands before her entourage as the shop attendant attaches a veil to her. The veil belongs to Steph’s mum who wore it to her wedding all those years ago.
Someone remarked to Steph’s mum, I guess the nice thing is, is that you can remember what the Veil looked like.
There are two images above, on the left hand side the image is of Steph’s mum sitting beside Cal who is holding the veil, as they both laugh and smile. On the right hand side Steph’s mums hands are visible as she runs her hands across the veil as it’s attached to Steph’s hair.
I love hands, they say so much that words can’t express.
There are two images above. On the left hand side you can see a close up of Steph’s hand with her engagement ring as it sits in front of her dress. On the right hand side there is a close up of Steph’s mums hands as she plays with her own engagement ring.
It was now time to head off to the next shop for our 11:30am appointment. We were running a little behind schedule as we discovered that it takes a little longer than we expected to try on dresses and to take it all in.
In the two images above the left hand side image shows Steph holding onto the videographer Shaun while Shaun also holds his camera. The right hand side image is a photo taken from above, looking down to the pavement where Steph’s mum’s feet and her cane as well as her brothers feet and also Steph’s feet and cane can be seen.
We all have our struggles, however some struggles are a little more visible.
There are two black and white images above and they tell a story about what we rely on to help keep us safe.
In the first image you’ll see a close up of Steph’s dad’s arms folded, while holding his wide brim hat on the left hand side of the frame and on the right hand side of the frame you see Steph’s mums hands leaning on her cane.
The next image is of Steph’s bridesmaid driving us all to the 2nd location. The view is from the middle row, left hand side and shows Jess’ reflection in the rear view mirror and also shows her hands telling a story passionately.
I started to learn by this time that being aware of your surroundings in unfamiliar places is important. When we walked in I explained to Steph’s mum how this shop differed in appearance and atmosphere to the first shop. I explained that the first shop had lots of rows of dresses, this shop had all the dresses hung around the walls.
In the image above you’ll see Steph’s mum in the middle of the frame sitting in a comfy chair, surrounded by dresses.
Once again, I told myself I wouldn’t get involved, however I suggested she check out this dress. It was a beautiful dress, but it ended up being rather impractical as it weighed a tonne! Moving around in that dress would have been incredible difficult for Steph.
In the image above you’ll see a few dresses hanging with Steph in the middle of the frame reaching out to touch the dress and it’s multiple layers of tulle. Jess is in shadow on the right hand side of the frame.
Everyone there had something to offer when it came to helping her choose a dress. Steph’s dad would explain what he would see and Steph’s mum would explain how it felt to touch.
There are two images side by side, on the left hand side image which is in colour you’ll see Steph’s mum Linda out of focus on the left hand side while Steph’s dad leans towards Cal and points towards the dress to point something out. On the right hand side the black and white image shows a close up of Steph’s mum’s hands on the back of the dress as she describes the almost 3D like texture to the dress.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a few tears in this experience and I know that we all felt something as we shared this moment together.
In the image above you’ll see a view looking through Steph’s mum touching the dress and through to Steph’s dad looking on with his hands on his hips with the biggest smile on his face. You can see just how happy and proud he is.
It was almost as if something shifted during this moment. It was like we were getting close, but we really needed to start communicating more clearly what we were seeing/touching and helping communicate to the shop assistant what Steph wanted. The discerning looks and the critiques were getting harsher.
In the two images above you’ll see Cal with a discerning look on his face as he searches for the words to explain what he’s seeing. On the right hand side you’ll see a wider angle shot that shows the whole shop with Steph’s entourage waiting patiently as she tries on another dress. Cal has his arms stretched out in front of him while the rest talk with each other.
This was the moment where Cal really stepped up. Steph really wanted to know what his true feelings were. He asked the shop assistant if there were any other dresses that fitted a certain style that Steph was looking for as nothing on display felt like the right one.
In the image above you’ll see Cal shot between Steph’s arm which is on her hip and he has his hand covering his mouth.
Moments after I left to fly back to Sydney the shop assistant asked Steph, “Will you say Yes to the dress”?
Now we’ll just have to wait and see which one she chose at her wedding in November in Maleny, QLD.
Pictured above is a close up of the detail of one of the dresses that Steph tried on with her hands on her hips and the engagement ring in focus.