Food is love. This simple thought completely encompasses my experience photographing Gary and Cheryl’s beautiful vintage wedding on Niagara on the Lake.
I’ll start by saying this - the food at this wedding was out of control, legitimately some of the best I’ve ever had, not just at a wedding, but ever. Leading up to the wedding both the bride and groom emphasized how the wedding was meant to be a beautiful celebration of their long-lasting love for one another, with the key ingredient being food, something both Gary and Cheryl value highly, and I’ll be the first to say, that the food did not disappoint. Outside of the wedding I’ve photographed at the Chase in downtown Toronto, I’ve never had a meal at a wedding stick with me in this way before.
Gary and Cheryl have been together for a long time, and the wedding was filled with highly personal touches and many avenues of nostalgia. To start, the entire wedding was held in Port Dalhousie, Cheryl’s hometown that has as much character and Canadiana as any place I’ve ever been to in Ontario. The groom got ready in a beautiful country home along with his two sons, providing beautiful candid moments between the three of them, offering a unique family experience and bonding moments as they anxiously prepared for the day ahead. The bride opted to get ready in her childhood home. A place filled with fragments of Cheryl’s youth, her family’s history, vintage old photographs, and of course, one of the coolest, most authentically retro basements I’ve ever had the privilege of stepping foot in. When I say this basement was retro and vintage, I genuinely mean that it was an actual time capsule back into the 1960’s. The furniture in perfect condition, seemingly modern at this point, red and orange lights create the ultimate mood for anyone hoping to relax and take a moment. The walls were covered with images of Cheryl, her parents, family members, trophies and vintage artwork. I was utterly obsessed with the space and was so excited that both the bride and groom (and the bride’s father) were so willing to let me capture portraits that were downright strange and thematic to something out of a Stanley Kubrick flick.
The personal touch of being in Cheryl’s parents vintage home didn’t go unnoticed, and it truly added to the depth and detail of the entire first part of the wedding day.
The backyard is home to a beautiful cherry tree, a monument within Cheryl’s family and their lives. The perfect place for a candid and emotional first look between the bride and groom.
The first part of the day was concluded with the bride and groom celebrating with their immediate family, toasting to the celebration ahead.
St. Catherine’s rowing club was the perfect venue to hold an intimate outdoor ceremony among trees, and the perfect vintage venue to hold all of the bride and groom’s friends and families for an incredible dining experience. With the help of a cartwheeling flower girl and a young ukulele musician and vocalist, the very excited and joyous bride made her way down the aisle, captivating the entire audience as her father escorted her to the groom.
As the night went on Gary and Cheryl decided to take in the beautiful pink sunset for some golden hour and blue hour portraits by the lake. The stunning scene and natural beauty of our surroundings made for the ultimate quiet moment for the bride and groom to cherish and enjoy together. To highlight the importance of the organic, locally sourced meal we were about to have, Cheryl made a small speech about the food we were about to eat and highlight the elevated level of work done by Treadwell, the restaurant who catered the event, which allowed everyone to have a deep understanding and appreciation for the complex and beautiful meal they were about to enjoy. The tomato water soup was unforgettable, the whitefish and beef short-rib were just as incredible. A complete dining experience that left people in awe and with their stomachs full.
While people took in the incredible meal both the bride and groom shared some beautiful speeches. The groom actually read an old letter he had written to the bride in the earlier stages of their relationship, providing a deep and heartfelt look into the intimate part of their relationship. The nostalgia wasn’t lost on anyone in the room, as nearly every single guest was forced to wipe tears from their eyes and the groom choked up reading back through his thick book of letters that kindly reminded him , and everyone in attendance, that their love for each other, and their love for their family, was present since the start.
The night progressed, wine was drank, Gary and Cheryl enjoyed a beautiful first dance both inside and outside the venue below the stars and string-light, friends and family mingled and laughed the night away. Dances were shared, moments were cherished, and I couldn’t help but smile when I caught the bride’s mother and father share in a deeply intimate moment as they shared the dance floor together. Love was definitely present that day, felt by all, highly contagious and unavoidable.
Food is love, and that night, nobody went home hungry.
Song of the day
Orange Sky - Alexi Murdoch
I’ve been lucky that my summer has been spent alongside some incredible people doing beautiful things. Prior to Mary and Pascal’s intimate wedding at the Toronto Island Cafe, I had the pleasure of grabbing some craft beer with them and really get to know the essence of who are and their vision for their wedding day. Coming from creative industries themselves, I immediately recognized that they were preparing to create a memorable experience for their friends and family, allowing spectrum of emotions to amalgamate with deep thought and reflection.
The authentic vintage aesthetic of the Toronto Island Cafe Clubhouse made for the perfect milieu for Mary and Pascal’s intimate ceremony and reception. Pascal opting to get ready within the clubhouse itself, surrounded by vintage decor such as trophies, old photographs and a stuffed deer head, made for an understated atmosphere that seemingly was the essence of Pascal.
On the flip side, Mary and her close friends got ready inside a beautiful and authentic Toronto Island home that had an incredible garden and the perfect kitschy decor within its interior. The flowers from the garden were only superseded by the beautiful florals of Mary’s bouquet and Pascal’s boutonniere courtesy of their friend Sarah Wu of Petite Studio, adding yet another extremely personal touch to their already highly intimate and personal wedding day details.
Staying on trend with who they are, the bride and groom most definitely approached the wedding day with an alternative twist, creating their own traditions and status quo on what a wedding should be. Unlike 99.99% of weddings that have first looks, Mary and Pascal opted to flip the now trendy tradition on its head by having Pascal walk up to Mary while she waited anxiously in a pocket of forest within Toronto Island. There was something utterly cinematic and romantic about that entire scenario and how it unfolded. The joy and wave of emotions was palpable, a beautiful and candid display of the bride and groom’s love for one another. The surprise on Mary’s face after seeing Pascal wearing a tie she had designed was only surpassed by the shock and joy she felt from receiving her mother’s watch as a surprise gift from Pascal. An incredibly touching moment considering Mary’s mother was unable to attend the wedding.
We followed the first look by talking a walk around Ward’s Island, taking in all the natural beauty that Toronto Island had to offer. Something that really stood out to me during the portraits was when Mary and Pascal decided to take a quick break and sit by Lake Ontario, absorbing the sights of the Toronto Skyline. That in itself creating a stunning sight for me as a photographer, but what stuck was when I overheard Pascal telling Mary how incredible it will to be revisit this very place in 20 years and recognizing how much will have had changed over that period. To have that sort of introspection and thoughtfulness on your wedding day, a day full of anxieties and range of emotion is truly amazing. I wish more people had that sort of self-awareness on their wedding day because it does truly fly by, fleeting moments merely become fragments of our memories and sometimes it’s incredibly important to take time in our lives to just look around and recognize where we are in that moment in time and cherish it with the one’s closest to us.
With her mom back in the US, Mary’s siblings stepped-up and simultaneously walked her down the aisle, providing one of my favourite moments of 2018 as a wedding photographer. The display of love and unison was touching and the perfect kickoff to their incredibly thoughtful and beautiful ceremony. Along with friends and family reading beautiful pieces about love and its meaning, Mary and Pascal echoed powerful vows written to express their own thoughts and feelings.
As the bride and groom looked into each other’s eyes during the reading of the vows, we were seemingly suspended in time. Despite Ward’s Island being an incredible busy and popular Toronto hotspot on the weekend, we felt seemingly alone, their friends and family completely enthralled by the display of love right in front of them. Strangers watched in silence in the distance, stray cats made momentary and timely appearances throughout the ceremony. An incredible experience for all those who managed to catch a glimpse.
The reception was opened with a margarita hour, instead of the usual cocktail hour, once again, staying on the alternative wedding theme. (Many) drinks were had, lawn games were played and hugs were given throughout the mingling, providing beautiful candid moments and memorable conversations, including a quick FaceTime chat with the bride’s mom back home. As the sun set on the Island Cafe, the bride and groom snuck away for some portraits at the nearby tennis court, as the glowing pink light slowly faded on them, Mary and Pascal enjoyed another quiet moment together, but this time as bride and groom.
The Island Cafe’s specialty is tacos, so that’s what Mary and Pascal decided on for dinner. The perfect accompaniment to the strong margaritas. As the stars began to shine over Toronto Island, friends and family gathered for speeches that ranged from the funny, the embarrassing, and the powerfully metaphoric. The night finally kicked off by intense dancing and partying into the dead of night. As I took my ferry back to downtown Toronto, I took a page from Mary and Pascal’s book and took the time to settle into that moment in time. In the distance I could hear their celebrations, and as the ferry got closer to dock, I could slowly see the light of the Island Cafe fade away in the distance, but not before allowing the powerful experience of witnessing true love and the power of friendship and family enchant me one final time.
Songs of the day - RHEYA - Gold / Sandals - Polished
I’ve probably said this before, but it’s always worth mentioning, part of what I love about being a Toronto based wedding photographer is the ample opportunities I get to embrace different cultures, lifestyles and people from all walks of life. It’s rarely the same experience, regardless of where or what I’m shooting.
Rajni and Aron’s wedding days were the epitome of this perspective and new experiences for me as a wedding photographer.
Their wedding celebrations were a beautiful experience of culture and diversity. So much so, they couldn’t just hold a 1 day celebration, but they had a two-day wedding celebration to ensure that that both elements of their cultures and lives can be celebrated and experienced by all their friends and families.
To add to my immersion on the wedding day, I had the privilege of using analog film, both 35mm and 120 formats to capture the contrast and beauty of both wedding celebrations. Aron is an avid film photographer himself, and including my analog film package was a no-brainer for him. His excitement for the bridal portraits to be taken on medium format film had me looking forward to the wedding day as much as them both.
With my Hasselblad and Leica in hand, I felt like a true documentary photographer on the first wedding day. The Sikh and Indian traditions were unfamiliar to me and I was absolutely captivated by the influence of colours, the vibrancy of the traditional garments and accessories, but most of all, I was engrossed in the candid showcase of emotions and family values.
Seeing Aron being completely thrown into Rajni’s culture and tradition was in itself a showcase of love and beauty between the two families being bond together through a traditional wedding ceremony. Once the ceremony was done and everyone returned to Rajni’s parents home, I was unprepared for the level of emotion about to reveal itself. After we captured some beautiful portraits or Rajni in her traditional Indian bride dress and Aron in his sultan-esque garments, which I will add, were absolutely stunning and the colours were made to be photograph with analog film, the bride and groom return into the home for Rajni’s send off.
The tradition of sending off a bride was new to me and I wasn’t ready for how emotionally powerful it would be, especially since Rajni is the only girl in her immediate family, with four older brothers, there were many hugs and tears shared between her and the members of her family. An absolutely beautiful display of the love they had for one another. It was a cinematic and passionate ending to day 1.
Day 2 followed Aron’s cultural traditions, with a church ceremony and reception in Hamilton Ontario. We got the opportunity to explore Dundurn Castle for a few portraits of the bride and groom along with their bridal party. What was particularly great detail about Rajni on day 2, was how she kept her Henna tattoos intact along with her jewelry from her previous wedding dress, an immediate and impactful display of cultures intertwining paving the path for their own traditions while still holding on to who they are.
The day continued with great food, emotional speeches, a slideshow of old analog film photos of the bride and groom as children and teens, an incredible recipe for a timeless gathering of friends and family.
We capped the day off with a quiet moment during blue hour at sunset, letting the wave of emotion of two wedding days sink in for one last time, giving me the perfect setting to finish my rolls of film and shared experience with the bride and groom on their wedding day. I look forward to hearing from Aron and Rajni in 20+ years when they stumble upon their negatives and slide, reminiscing over the now vintage film of their wedding day, something they can actually hold and show future generations.
Looking back on days like Rajni and Aron’s wedding(s) , I’m reminded that not all weddings need this obvious alternative twist to them, sometimes, holding on to your traditions and blending them with your own, is equally as beautiful and meaningful. This wedding had emotion, it was intimate, it was genuine, that is the real recipe to timeless weddings.
Song of the day
Saint - Blood Orange
Since moving to Toronto nearly a decade ago my summers have always been highlighted by adventures to Toronto Island. The relaxing ferry ride across the lake provides a fleeting view of Toronto’s skyline, providing a rare and beautiful quiet moment within the chaos of the city.
This very mood was analogous to Chris and Andrea’s aura and personalities.
The Toronto Island Cafe was practically tailor made for their wedding day aspirations and inspirations. Authentic, unpretentious vintage ambiance and atmosphere, the vibrancy and sincerity found in these characteristics were echoed in the bride and groom’s wedding and all its details.
Their appreciation for vintage aesthetic and meaningful creation enforced their no-brainer decision to have us photograph their wedding on analog film. The bride and groom’s appreciate for cinema film pushed me to use a unique 35mm and 120 film created and based on Kodak's Vision 3 5219 motion picture cinema film, something I knew Chris ( who is a technician for ARRI Cinema cameras ) would find deeply meaningful and personal.
With my Leica in hand and some black and white film, I was mesmerized by my surroundings capturing the candid elements of the wedding day with my documentary photography approach. With some medium format cameras in hand with slide film and colour negative film, we captured Chris and Andrea’s true selves and all the intimate subtleties of their partnership. It’s always a deeply meaningful experience for me as a wedding photographer when I’m completely entrusted to capture timeless memories on analog film, and to do so for people who have such a deep understanding and appreciation for the cinematic flair found within art, is truly a privilege.
I’m not lying when I say I remember every single frame I shoot when I shoot a roll of 35mm or 120 film. I lose myself within the experience and process of photography, knowing that each individual frame will be held, touched and looked at for generations to come. These negatives will outlive me and the significance of that isn’t something I ever overlook.
Elegance in simplicity, the bride and groom’s timeless style was exceptionally fitting with every element and surrounding detail of the venue and mood of the wedding day. The combination of film and fleeting candid moments fostered an atmosphere of creative inspiration. Analog film brought out the palpable emotion in the seemingly unnoticed moments, creating scenes I can only compare to some of my favourite album art from bands and musicians I constantly listen to at home.
The Toronto Island Clubhouse allowed for both an intimate outdoor ceremony and a beautiful vintage clubhouse that oozed with character for their reception. The stage was set for a finger-licking good BBQ catered by the Island Cafe followed by emotional speeches full of laughs, tears and sincere gratitude. The whole day would not have been enjoyed without the company of their cute terrier, Otto, who witnessed everything from the ceremony to the first dance.
By the the time the sun began to set behind Toronto’s skyline, Andrea became the barefoot bride seemingly carefree and lost within the excitement and intimacy of the wedding day. The warm sunset light is every photographer’s dream, and sunset’s like the one we experienced was one any Toronto wedding photographer would hope for on a summer's night.
With the moonlight shining through the windows and the string lights above, the bride and groom joined their friends and family to dance the night away before catching the final ferry ride back to Toronto. A bitter-sweet return to our lives in the city as the glow of the Toronto Island Cafe’s clubhouse dims and we leave behind another delicate and deepening human experience.
You never know what you’re leaving behind until you leave behind.
I look forward to grabbing a beer with them again in their neighbourhood of Vegandale… I mean, Parkdale :) and reminiscing about the beautiful forgotten moments and deeply impactful subtleties of that summer's evening.
Song of the day
Leave Behind - Eddie the Wheel