There’s fewer better ways to end my 2018 wedding season than with a pop-up wedding at the Drake Hotel in Queen St. West.
I’m lucky enough to be part of this “one-stop-shop” that the Drake Hotel has for couples looking for a no-hassle, low-key elopement. A collaboration between some of the Drake Hotel’s favourite like-minded vendors, Courtney & Justin opted to take advantage of the Drake’s Hotel pop-up elopement option and instead focus on the most important element of the wedding, each other.
There are few places in downtown Toronto that would make for an ideal all-in-one location for a wedding, and with their modern-vintage aesthetic, the Drake Hotel provided an atmosphere that highly resonated with Courtney & Justin’s appreciation for the arts and their love for the unordinary.
Getting ready in the same hotel room, Justin suited up while Courtney finished the final touches to her hair and makeup, surrounded by the Drake Hotel’s iconic bizarro vintage decor and aesthetic, including a creepy painting of the Queen (?) with her eyes poked out. Those little details, as subtle as they may have been, without a doubt added to the vibe of the wedding day.
The bride’s background as a ballet dancer was very apparent, with her grace and sophistication being the perfect partners for her authentic vintage dress and style. I’d like to point out, that when I say vintage, I really mean VINTAGE, a real ANTIQUE of a dress. Dating back to the 1930’s, Courtney’s dress provided this long-lost subtly and simplicity no longer found in modern-day wedding dresses. It was truly a time capsule, and Courtney’s personality fit it perfectly.
Usually couples tend to choose to elope because they want something highly personal and deeply intimate. With a total of 6 people (counting the Bride and Groom), the Drake Hotel’s sky lounge modern artistic flair set the stage for the intimate and emotional ceremony.
Another bonus of the bride and groom’s choice of eloping at the Drake Hotel was our ability to have the entire hotel at our disposal for beautiful, natural and intimate portraits. With every room and every corner of the hotel adding a new dimension and character to the ambiance, providing endless opportunity to document the bride and groom’s first moments of marriage, absorbing every minor detail, but most importantly, allowing them to gather their emotions and take in the fleeting moments.
It was a beautiful experience to be a part of such an intimate wedding, but what truly made it great was being able to witness first-hand the deep affection that resonated between Courtney and Justin. There seems to be something about elopements that brings out this unwavering love and affection between those involved. It’s incredible and something I look forward to being part of again sometime in the near future, and hey, if it happens to be at the Drake Hotel again, then all the better. It’s an amazing feeling to have two highly-creative people trust you enough to capture something so deeply personal and important to them, and it’s also humbling that such a fantastic venue trusts me enough to include me in such a personalized and intimate experience.
So to the Drake Hotel, to the bride and groom, thank you.
Song of the Day
Labyrinth - Toro y Moi
Kelly and Tyler’s East Room wedding in downtown Toronto was the perfect mix of old and new, it’s only fitting that two extreme horror movie buffs would pull off such a modern industrial wedding with cinematic flair.
There were a few amazing coincidences that really brought out a natural and heightened creative perception in me when I was documenting Kelly and Tyler’s wedding at the East Room. First, I’m a huge cinema fan, horror especially. I think the week leading up to the wedding I watched the following movies - “Mandy”, “Beyond the Black Rainbow”, “Drive” and “Only God Forgives”. For those unfamiliar with those films, let’s just say they are highly visual films with unusually beautiful visual aesthetic.
Second, a lot of my personal photography projects revolve around photographing and documenting anachronistic scenes reminiscing of my childhood and many other nostalgic factors, the majority being old vintage cars.
As you’ll see further throughout the blog post, Kelly and Tyler unknowingly set up the ultimate locations and scenarios for me to create some of my all-time favourite portraits of a bride and groom on their wedding day.
To honour both the bride and groom’s appreciation for the cinematic, along with my creative subconscious pulling me into a specific direction, I photographed several frames throughout the day in 16:9 format to truly encompass that cinematic an documentary feeling of the wedding day. It only makes sense to pay homage to that by showcasing those images exclusively in this blog post.
Grab the popcorn.
The day kicked-off with the bride and groom having an intimate and candid moment together with a first look in front of a genuine vintage poster, followed by some bridal party photos outside of the East Room. On any normal day, the vintage and rustic vibe of the East Room’s red brick and industrial setting would be more than enough to capture some great images. The bride and groom really kicked things up a notch when they got (tricked?) one of their wedding guests to let us use his vintage Chrysler. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make Tyler and his brothers look like the new leads in a remake of Reservoir Dogs.
To continue with the trend of cinematic mood, the bride and groom made the most of the East Room’s interior vintage industrial space to capture some candid moments together and ultimately enjoy some time alone before the whirlwind ahead.
Aesthetically, I think the whole neon vibe was subconsciously present, something which the East Room delivers with their beautiful neon artwork staggered around the building, providing Kelly and Tyler some incredibly dark and moody locations to have a little bit of their appreciation for the dark and gloomy come through in their portraits.
Although the first part of the day seemed like being on a movie set, or like an editorial photoshoot, it didn’t feel that way at all. Kelly and Tyler naturally gravitate to these elements and I’m glad their authentic selves and their genuine personalities came through in those moments.
The ceremony and reception were held inside the East Room’s main area, providing an incredible environment that showcased old Toronto aesthetic with their brick walls and industrial elements, the vintage leather couches and chairs popped in contrast to the beautiful reclaimed wood furniture. That modern-cool 70’s aesthetic was alive and well, and it couldn’t of been more exact to the entire vibe and mood of Kelly and Tyler’s wedding day.
Just because the day naturally played out in cinematic fashion doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of genuine and emotional moments, quite the opposite in fact. The bride’s sister / maid of honour, with the help of the live band, kicked off the reception with a professionally executed parody of The Dixie Chicks “Goodbye Earl” in which the lyrics tell a story of Tyler and his creepy horror movie memorabilia collection that foreshadowed Kelly’s impending doom. Roasting Tyler about this aspect of his life was an ongoing theme throughout the evening’s speeches. I will admit however, that for a guy who’s so into blood and guts, he did manage to provide me with one of the cutest moments (sorry Tyler) I’ve ever captured at a wedding when I caught him wiping away his bride’s tears with his tie.
With good drinks and amazing food by Grand Electric, a homestyle BBQ serving of fried chicken and ribs, the stage was set for an evening of letting loose and creating memories with their loved ones.
For the first time as a documentary wedding photographer in Toronto, I was spoiled with literally having every single element of my creative influences come together in one moment in time. The East Room’s industrial vintage modern 70’s aesthetic, the vintage car, neons signs and vintage movie posters / records, it all had the essence of Kelly and Tyler, and that’s what really came through in the images and I’m grateful to have been included in such a naturally cinematic moment in their lives.
Song of the day
Night Drive - Part Time
Elisha and Matt’s intimate wedding at Dowswell Farm in Beaverton Ontario was nothing short of spectacular. The authentic and rustic vibe of Dowswell Farm created the ultimate atmosphere for the the bride and groom to showcase vintage details, but most importantly, to officially unite their family. The spirit and essence of family was a large reoccurring theme throughout the wedding day, with numerous elements paying homage to their current families, but most importantly, the wedding day was an official right-of passage for the Bride and Groom to unite their own family, in the presence of their young baby boy Maddox.
The morning of the wedding was one of the foggiest days I’ve ever seen and having a moment to take in the fog roll in over Lake Ontario near the hotel where Elisha and her bridesmaids got ready was an incredible way to get my creative vision rolling. With her friends and family gathered within the confines of the hotel room, Elisha couldn’t contain her excitement as everyone got their hair and makeup ready, looking forward to showing off her beautiful modern vintage bridal look to her closest. A large part of her excitement was the mere fact she was able to get her wedding vision complete by having her wedding held at Dowswell Barn in the first place, something she worked very hard to accomplish, and it was totally worthwhile.
With the beautiful summer morning light coming through the room, the stage was set for beautiful and genuine candid moments between the bride and those in her presence that morning. With Elisha’s mother and one of her bff’s giving Elisha a hand to put on her custom gown, the bride’s mother was unable to contain her emotion as the beautiful bride revealed her completed look.
Before the wedding day itself I knew how important family was to Elisha so it didn’t surprise me to see minor details paying homage to that even within her modern-vintage bride look. An incredible detail she included was wearing a pendant that contain the ashes of her grandfather. A beautiful touch to have someone significant in her life remain close to her heart in a monumental and important event.
As the bride and her crew wrapped up getting ready and rushed off to Dowswell Farm for the wedding celebration, Matt and Maddox got dressed back at the groom’s parents house in Georgina. Seeing the bond between Matt and his son as they got ready together was memorable. Maddox’s mini suit and shoes were beyond adorable if I can admit.
The wedding ceremony symbolized and manifested both the bride and groom’s family and heritage. Maddox playing the role of ring-bearer, refusing to walk down the aisle without the assistance of his dad was equally as cute and memorable as Matt’s grandmother playing the role of flower girl, also walking down the aisle with the assistance of the groom. On the flip side, to honour Elisha’s aboriginal heritage and family, there was a traditional blanket ceremony performed by the aid of one of the bride’s cousins. The ceremony brought forth a sense of calm and spirituality that I haven’t ever witnessed during a wedding ceremony. It was utterly beautiful and impactful, something that resonated with everyone in attendance, including the bride and groom.
Once the Dowswell Barn wedding ceremony finished up, the bride and groom along with their bridal party made the most of the rustic environment that Dowswell farm has to offer, allowing us to capture and document intimate and candid portraits within a cornfield around the farm’s numerous barns and locations. We were treated with the summer’s most beautiful and poignant sunsets. The clouds had a hue of pink and shades of purple as the bride and groom appreciated every second of it as they spend some quiet time alone together before dinner. A big bonus of having your wedding on a farm is that you have few distractions and limitations when it comes to witnessing the beautiful sunsets that nature has to offer. A far cry from the usual chaos and distractions that come from photographing weddings in Toronto!
As the light began to dwindle and seep through the cracks of Dowswell Barn, the bride and groom took a moment to share in an intimate moment and dance together in the middle of the barn, creating a surreal and cinematic moment that was purely instinctive and natural, chasing the light and making the most of every moment, allowing me to capture it purely as a documentary wedding photographer, allowing my photojournalistic approach to take over and providing the bride and groom a moment of quiet intimacy to gather their thoughts and emotions.
Something I absolutely loved about Dowswell farm’s barn was how authentically rustic and vintage it was, providing slivers of light to seep through from all directions, providing beautiful natural light in every corner for every moment, truly breathtaking.
Once the light faded dinner began to be served as we were treated to authentic smoked BBQ, copious amounts of wine, and genuine speeches by close members of the bride and groom’s family. Something that was truly beautiful and natural about the entire wedding reception was Elisha and Matt’s unwavering attention and inclusion of their son Maddox. They subconsciously included him in every joyous moment, every tear shed and every detail of the wedding day. It was equally about their union to each other as it was a commitment to their son and their immediate family.
Despite being beyond full from the amazing BBQ dinner served at the wedding reception, Matt and Elisha had a few late night surprises in store for their guests. I remember hearing a faded tune in the distance along with some faded neon lights approaching. I was caught in a weird moment in-between nostalgia and surrealism, as an ice-cream truck slowly began to approach the barn, I was able to capture that moment and feeling that resonated “Stranger Things” vibes and offered up a weird and cool moment in the wedding day.
Of course, with the addition of the ice-cream truck, the bride and groom couldn’t neglect to have street-meat on offer, as there were gourmet hot-dogs for the late-night munchies from all the partying and dancing that was had, effectively tackling the usual midnight munchies problem through and through.
Beneath the moon and stars above Dowswell Barn, the bride and groom indulged and shared a blue slurpee with one another before we took some night time portraits to cap off the already incredible wedding day.
An authentic wedding with vintage aesthetic and vibes, only to be surpassed by the authentic presence of love and family. An unforgettable day and evening at Dowswell Farm with a beautiful bride, a down-to-earth groom, and their adorable baby boy.
Song of the day
I Love It [(Freaky Girl) Edit] - Kanye West ft. Lil Pump
Most people would agree that weddings are days filled with heightened emotions, deepened by the presence of those people who matter most to us.
In the short time I got to know both Caitlin and Jon I was able to realize something admirable about both their characters - they’re both sensitive human beings. I don’t mean that in the sense that they can’t take a joke, this bride and groom really FEEL things, they have an innate sense of compassion and empathy that emanates sincerity and candour. Elements that are not only evident in both the bride the broom, but truly a consistent theme found within every member of their families and group of friends.
The bride and groom are very much Toronto people. Urbanites through and through, Caitlin and Jon’s wedding was as much of a love-story with the city of Toronto as it was a showcase of their love for one another. Airship37 was the ideal location for their intimate affair, providing an elegance with hint of industrial themes. There’s literally a giant propellor on the roof of the ceremony / reception space, creating an ambiance completely fitting to their wedding. The interior space of Airship37 was large and filled with light, with two separate rooms, the bride and groom opted to get ready right there at the wedding venue. Jon and his friends quickly got dressed and enjoyed a cold beer outside in the summer heat before Jon surprised them all with beautiful Shun Japanese chef knives (I’m very jealous).
As Caitlin prepared her authentic vintage look, completed by the personal touch of having her grandmother’s vintage pearl earrings and vintage clutch, her father got ready with Jon and the rest of the groomsmen before sneaking off to get a glimpse of the bride, which inevitably led to an emotional moment shared between father and daughter. His look of surprise quickly turned into unsuccessfully fighting back tears as they shared a candid moment together before the wedding ceremony.
During that special moment, just outside the garage doors of Airship37, Jon anxiously leaned against the retro airstream bus as he awaited Caitlin’s arrival for their first look. Overwhelmed with emotion, mostly joy and relief, the bride and groom couldn’t resist to simply embracing within moments of laying eyes on each other. I noticed something truly beautiful about this candid moment between the bride and groom. It was evident to me that this first look wasn’t solely about Caitlin showing off her beautiful vintage wedding dress and look, their first look was about taking the time to actually appreciate the very presence of the individual, to communicate with one another via nuanced emotion to say all the things they couldn’t say, but wanted to.
Although the Airship37 is a unique rustic and industrial wedding venue right next door to the Old Historic Toronto Distillery District, Caitlin and Jon opted to explore more authentic urban locations for their bridal party photos and portraits. Naturally, we explored the DVP / Gardiner Expressway underpass, setting up an antithesis to Caitlin’s beautiful vintage wedding dress and Jon’s sophisticated look. Although the location would seem unusual to most, the bridal party made the most of every second together, providing incredible candid moments and genuine interactions between one another with the city skyline deep in the distance.
The ceremony at Airship37 was equally emotional and sincere, but two things really stood out to me about that part of the day - the first was within a fleeting moment just before Caitlin’s entrance. I remember Caitlin looking up to the sky in attempts to compose herself emotionally for the wedding, and in the corner of my eye I noticed her father offer a simple gesture to help ease the nerves. I’m sure there’s some sort of symbolism or metaphor to draw from that moment, but all I know is that it was a powerful display of love.
The second thing that got me was the fact Caitlin opted for an unplugged ceremony. From personal anecdotes from the bride herself and stories of those closest to her, Caitlin is somewhat of a social media mogul, so to completely eliminate that element from that part of her wedding day was truly telling. Honestly though, in hindsight, after getting to know the bride and groom and their families, I shouldn’t be surprised by the request, the importance of emotional presence was an unwavering element of the wedding day.
While guests enjoyed the cocktail hour on Airship37’s beautiful outdoor patio, Jon and Caitlin snuck off to Polson Pier to enjoy the sunset on the Toronto skyline. The golden light and subtle breeze were enjoyed by both the bride and groom during a rare quiet moment within the chaos of the wedding day, providing me with a beautifully romantic moment to document. I think being a Toronto wedding photographer allows me to appreciate those subtle and quiet moments as they seem few and far between within the walls of living in an urban city like Toronto.
As blue hour struck, the bride and groom shared in one last moment together in front of Airship37’s retro bus before heading inside to face the whirlwind of emotions they were about to have throughout the reception portion of the wedding day.
Like I mentioned, there was high level of emotion on this wedding day, and the speeches perfectly encompassed that element, as the groom, his brother and father all choked up at similar parts of their speeches as they reflected back on their childhood memories shared together.
The speeches were only trumped in emotion when compared to the first dances shared that night. Starting with the bride and her father, Caitlin’s dad once again provided a simple gesture of gratitude and love when asking Caitlin’s now husband to cut in and finish the dance, as he watched quietly in the short distance, taking in the moment. This beautiful moment was followed by Jon sharing a dance with his mother and mother-in law as the bride watched from her seat incapable of holding back her emotions and tears.
Once the crying subsided, the real party began, featuring a Buffalo Bills garter (the groom’s favourite NFL team), a dance-off between a professional and soon-to-be professional dancer, the dance floor set the scene for blurred memories and uncontrollable laughter.
I was very lucky to be introduced to these kind people by Ingrid Forster, a fellow documentary photographer here in Toronto and close friend of the bride and groom. I’m always thankful for these unanticipated moments in life, and these sort of personal connections always allow me to enter a wedding as an active observer, something I always thrived to achieve through my career as a photojournalist and documentary photographer. To have people allow me to be so involved in such intimate and private moments in their lives isn’t something lost on me, and part of the main reason I love approaching wedding with my photojournalistic style and mentality. I felt it necessary to include a quick thank you to Ingrid for her kindness and trust.
Although I didn’t get to spend much time with Caitlin and Jon prior to their wedding due to unfortunate circumstances, I truly feel that I got to know the real people that they are throughout their wedding day, whether it be the fleeting moments shared at Airship37 or watching the golden light dwindle behind the city, they were constantly present in every moment.
Song of the day
It’s Yes - Tyler Burkhart