This past June 2014, I met Shelby Swink. We were meeting for the first time to see if we would be a good fit for her upcoming November wedding. I remember pulling up to the Starbucks in Germantown, TN and seeing a picture perfect looking couple sitting outside on the patio, sipping on coffee and tea. They had complementing outfits, were nothing but smiles; they were perfect looking – a wedding photographer’s dream. They looked over to me. I waved.
Even so, I remember sitting in my car wishing for a moment that my couple was NOT this picture perfect couple. I am not really sure why I thought that. I love beautiful people! In that moment sitting right there waiting to hear if Shelby had arrived yet or not I knew that I wanted to work with someone different- someone spunkier.
Just then, three cars ahead of me, a sporty looking girl wearing a sweatshirt and shorts, stepped out of her car. She had bright pink/red hair and had a mischievous twinkle in her eye. This was Shelby.
Fast forward to the week before her wedding. We had just finalized our shooting schedule and figured out where we wanted to shoot around her wedding venue. Final payments had been made and we were all completing last minute details to make her wedding the best possible day it could be for her.
Five days before her wedding, her mom called me. I knew the moment she asked to speak with me that something was terribly wrong. Through the emotion in her voice, Veronica told me that the wedding had been called off. I asked if it was going to be rescheduled or if it was off off for good. It was called off for good. Our conversation lasted less than a couple minutes. And for me it was those minutes that would help shape what has now become a number one internationally trending story. While my contract with the Swink’s had been fulfilled and there was no more wedding to shoot, I knew that I didn’t want to just end things there. There had to be something I could do. Someway I could possibly help in this hard time.
On the Thursday before her wedding (two days after the wedding had been called off) I messaged Shelby late that night:
She immediately saw the message. I then watched her type and erase, type and erase, type and erase for what seemed like forever. I was worried I had brought up something that would pain her, offend her, or bring her more hurt. Six minutes later she replied.
(A NOTE: Yes, I said 'girl power, boys suck.' This is what the majority of girls think like after a break up, including myself. But not Shelby. I didn't crop or edit that part out of the message because Shelby has changed even my thinking in the mist of heartache. You will have to stayed tuned to future parts of this story to see if I still think this way.)
We went on to figure out if her dress would be completely damaged by a water-based paint or if it would wash out, could all of her bridesmaids be there, would her mother be okay with her trashing the dress.
Then I said: “We would do it in stages for pictures. And take breaks for some pretty posed ones. I would buy all of the paint. And I am free Saturday (her would have been wedding day). ;-) So we could even do it then if you wanted or of course any other time if you didn't.”
Again. I saw she immediately saw the message. Type. Erase. Type. Erase. Oh no. I had offended again. Of course she wouldn’t want to spend her wedding day trashing her dress. That idea was insensitive of me. Seven minutes later she replied.
"I would be down to do it Saturday. Do something fun and liberating on the day that would have been my wedding day. Very therapeutic."
The next day we met up at our local Hobby Lobby. Shelby was in sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Hair a wreck with no makeup on. But she looked somehow freer- if such a look was possible. We shopped for maybe an hour or so. Shelby picked out all of her colors. We got more of her favorite colors. We got bottles for the paint. We got feathers and glitter. We got sponges. Anything we could think of we got. During all of this time I kept waiting for Shelby to cry or get mad; two expressions I would fall back on repeatedly if this had happened to me. But she never once said anything about her ex. She never teared up. Or cursed the relationship gods. She was paint shopping for a new future for herself. A new future that included feathers and glitter and friends and family and of course, me, there to capture it all in photographs.
(Trash the Dress, Shelby Swink: My Story, Part Two can be found here.)