Back when I was planning my own wedding, APW talked a lot about staying “present” on our wedding days, and thanks to those conversations I knew what I wanted my wedding to feel like as well as look like, but I had no idea how to actually make that happen. And so when the day came, was it one of the the best days of my life? Nope. I ended up running around coordinating the people who were coordinating everything else, playing hostess, and attempting to make eye contact with my new husband once every few hours. And as a result? I also don’t love my wedding photos. Because here’s the thing—it’s not so helpful for your photojournalistic photographer to capture how your day felt, if your day felt, well, stressful.
And that’s why I’m Meera Graham Photography’s biggest fan. Meera doesn’t just do photography, she supports and coaches you to have an amazingly meaningful, emotionally present wedding, in the same way a planner supports you to have a logistically smooth one. (Because while planners can talk you off a ledge in an emergency, their job is more about coordinating details than helping you stay grounded and connected with your partner.)
Here’s the TL;DR: Meera is based in Missoula, Montana (which is super close to Seattle and Portland, so she regularly serves the entire Pacific Northwest and frequently travels throughout the country), and given that the one APW-reading friend I know who lives in Montana chose to fly a wedding photographer in, I’m guessing Meera Graham’s queer POC perspective on weddings and wedding photography may be just a little bit in demand in those parts. Add to that to the fact that her images are some of the best I’ve ever seen, and, well, you may be tempted to stop reading right now and send her an email.
But first—even if you’re not looking for a photographer—grab a hankie and read on for Meera’s explanation of the four things that are at the core of how you experience your wedding, and Meera’s process for truly, literally, having an amazing, meaningful, fully present experience. To say that it’s a deeply thoughtful approach to wedding photography is an understatement. More like… I feel like I finally have the answer to how you can stay present on your wedding day.
When I first started to photograph weddings, I quickly realized that to capture authentic moments, I needed to earn my client’s trust. So I had conversations with people often and openly, so that we could grow close and get to know each other, and thanks to that approach, I definitely felt a shift. But I soon realized something else. As a documentary photographer, I can only photograph what people actually experience, and so many things can obstruct people from actually experiencing their wedding day fully.
From that observation a question arose in my mind: How can I support my couples in having a meaningful wedding that they experience fully, while remaining hands-off in my approach to documenting that day? The answer to that question is what has molded my current approach, which has evolved beyond photography: I’m a wedding coach-photographer hybrid, focused on helping my couples have honest and meaningful wedding experiences.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR LIFE IS FAR TOO COMPLICATED TO PULL OFF A MEANINGFUL, ENJOYABLE WEDDING?
Tons of couples want a wedding that is authentic and meaningful. But too often, sh*t gets in the way of that: the sheer number of logistics, complex emotions, complicated family dynamics, and the pressure of expectations (from people we know, or from things we’ve seen the industry pushing as an “ideal” wedding).
I find that my approach especially resonates with people who feel that their identities, experiences, or circumstances are “complicated.” That includes couples that are at the intersection of identities, or in marginalized groups. It includes people that are carrying old wounds or grief, or have complicated families, or complex identities, stories, and relationships that don’t fit in a box. It also includes people that feel things deeply, and therefore experience the world differently than others.
I, myself, am a queer woman of color in an interracial relationship with a trans man. I’m the daughter of Indian immigrants. I’m left-handed. I have an irreverent sense of humor. I have a tender heart and am hugely empathic. I’ve managed chronic pain and healed from trauma. I’m deeply connected to my cultural roots, but also question everything. I’m so very many things, so I know very well how we are all made up of bits and pieces that are both seen and unseen.
I find that people who feel “complicated” come to believe that there isn’t room for all their truth in most spaces, let alone a wedding day. They think they’ll need to leave behind bits of themselves, turn off something, or act a particular way in order to have their wedding “go right.” I often discover that my couples are worried about things like: How can we have a meaningful wedding when we’re so anxious about being the center of attention, or when a parent won’t be there, or that makes space for both of our cultures? How can we enjoy our day when we’re worried about everyone having a good time? Or when there’s always so much weird tension in my extended family? How can we create something that honors our queerness? But wait, we don’t really want to have our wedding be about US. It’s really about our communities. How can it be about us without being super self-centered? …and so much more.
Those questions can feel overwhelming, and insurmountable—and so often, I’ve watched people simply give up, and believe that they can’t have the wedding they wish they could. And on the other hand, I’ve seen couples actually try and convince themselves that their wedding doesn’t have to be meaningful. People end up saying “I don’t think a wedding is really a big deal. I mean, we’ve been together forever. We just want to throw a great party and want everyone we love to have a good time.”
And okay, listen, a good party is a great thing—but this isn’t just any party. This is your f*cking wedding! It’s ok to want to throw a great party that is also ripe with meaning and actually honors your relationship—and more importantly, it is possible and it’s simpler than you might imagine.
Combining Advocacy, Coaching, and Art
That’s what I’m focused on—granting couples permission to want a meaningful wedding that they experience fully, and making that a possibility for them. So let me sum up how that works. In my work, I champion four pillars that make it possible to have a meaningful wedding experience when the time arrives:
- Genuine connection
- Emotional presence
- The willingness to receive (from your community and from each other)
- Being open to discovery, delight, and the unexpected
I’ve watched those pillars transform countless couples’ wedding days from a source of stress or “just a party,” into an incredibly fulfilling experience. Honestly, you could gather a group of people that you love together right now, walk into a back alley between some buildings with zero planning… and have an astonishing, meaningful wedding at this very moment if you were able to make room for those four things. You could also have an incredible elopement with no one present… if you can allow space for those four things. But it’s hard to get there without support, and you certainly can’t magic your way into making space for these things after spending months and months in a state of constant logistical and emotional overwhelm. That’s where my work comes in.
Wedding advocacy is a coaching process that keeps couples anchored in their relationship and what’s really important to them in their wedding. There are five main components:
- Anchoring conversations: Every 4–6 weeks, we have a video chat focused on a different topic. I facilitate these with some questions and prompts that usually get couples to engage and explore together. Note that this isn’t therapy, but it’s connective conversation, to remind people of why they’ve taken on all this wedding stress in the first place!
- Ongoing support during planning overwhelm: I’m here to hold space through the parts of planning that can lead to feeling stuck or upset. Couples send me emails and texts and set up random video chats or phone calls to address things when they come up. Examples: I’ve talked to someone that had a terrible, body-shaming experience when an obnoxious tailor was fitting them for their outfit. I’ve talked people through figuring out how and whether to include family members with whom they have toxic relationships in their wedding plans. My goal in these scenarios is simple: to hold space, to validate people’s perspective, to speak from my experience of seeing lots of different weddings, to ask questions or offer perspective when it’s helpful, and ultimately, to give my couples (or an individual) support to do what’s best for them.
- Our Dig Deeper Photo Session: We do this in person—it’s an “engagement session.” This is the first time I bring a camera into our relationship. In addition to resulting in incredibly authentic, unpretentious photos that evoke actual memories of their time together, this experience gives couples a chance to reconnect in the midst of an otherwise stressful planning time. It also gives us a chance to practice all of those four pillars—emotional presence, connection, receiving, and delight—in person, in a more intimate and casual way.
- Week of prep and day-of grounding: The week of a wedding is split time. In our final conversation, of course, we spend a bit of time on logistics. But after that, we spend all our time talking about how the couple wants their wedding to feel, and the things that might impede that. We lay it all out, and name it and figure out how to limit the barriers.
On the wedding day itself, I’m still here to support the couple as much as I’m here to document them. One example: some photographers do a highly choreographed “first look,” which I find pretty contrived. Instead, we do something I call a “grounding moment”:
I find a spot that is quiet, away from the noise. I walk my couple through some breathing, get them in their bodies, have them reach out and take in their partner’s touch. Beforehand, we have talked about the things they fear might impede their experience of their wedding day. Breath by breath, I call those out and remind them to LET. IT. GO. Usually with some cuss words, to keep it real. It’s incredible to feel the shift in the air, as couples release the sense of hurry, the itineraries, the stress, the worry, the walls…and get re-anchored in each other and what they really care about. They become calm. They become connected. By the time they open their eyes, those eyes see each other in a different, more honest way. Three short minutes. Such a massive impact on the entire day.
- Wedding photography: When the wedding day arrives, aside from those gentle moments of advocacy and support, I’m doing pure journalistic documentation; I don’t interfere with honest moments, just capture them as they unfold. But my photography, my ability to tell a story about who this couple is, who their community is, is so deeply impacted by the work we’ve done together so far. Having this insight and this perspective means that I recognize the important stories as they unfold. I know what a big deal it is when their favorite grandparent dances with them. I know that the quietly happy expression in their parent’s eye—the one that initially was opposed to their queer relationship—may seem innocuous to an outsider, but is something I need to capture for them.
If I were to sum this entire journey, I’d say that my aim is to continually anchor my couples in their relationship and support them in making decisions that reflect this. We address and work through all the fears around their wedding to lead them towards a meaningful day that they are present enough to genuinely experience, and then photographically document that experience for them. It’s a total package of love, affirmation, advocacy, and storytelling that I wish every couple could experience. I can’t imagine how this sort of approach would have transformed my own wedding day years ago. But this kind of work involves a big investment of my time, so I work with only 12 (or fewer) couples each year.
Many of my favorite couples—these beautiful, so-called “complicated” people—have come to me through APW. These couples were drawn to APW by the promise of help in planning something real, something unpretentious and honest. They were looking for guidance on ways to tear down the veneer of the mainstream wedding industry as they built something that felt true to them. In other words—they were searching for meaning and honesty. These couples are the ones I love to serve.
A few of them have had these kind words to say after we worked together:
Meera is that friend and confidante you never knew you needed in a wedding photographer. The people that really want to work with Meera are those that are seeking authenticity, trust, unconditional love and support (when you need it and when you think you don’t!), and a platform to be yourselves in all your glory—AND to be celebrated for all of it! I don’t know if there is another wedding photographer on this planet who can give of themselves & their craft like Meera can and DOES.
If you’re just starting out, let me warn you—wedding planning is terrible, absolutely terrible! My (now) husband and I are normally pretty unflappable people, but the stress of wedding planning even got to us. It’s (probably) all the expectations from the people around you (and from yourself) and the gigantic price tag that gets put on this crazy day. People SEVERELY undersell how stressful the whole process is.
Cut to hiring Meera, which was absolutely the best decision I ever made. Meera was this wonderful, calming presence throughout the whole process and made me feel like there was a bit of sanity to be had in the wedding planning process and on the actual day. I hired a wedding coordinator too, but honestly Meera was basically doing her job for her too.
Our dig deeper sessions were wonderful. While you’re busy planning your wedding, it’s easy to forget to gush about your partner and all the amazing reasons you decided to marry them. These sessions gave us an opportunity to just focus on each other and really remember why we were putting up with all the craziness. As an added bonus, we got to know Meera too! It’s so much better to have someone you’re comfortable with snapping photos of you all day. Anyway, that’s enough gushing. Hire Meera. I swear, it’ll be the best decision you make.
Meera… a week ago today was one of the happiest love-filled days of my life. When we hired a photographer we truly had no idea what we were getting into, how it worked, what we needed. All I can say is after you left that first day we met, our decision to bring you into our lives was a ‘definitely’ for both of us. Over the last several months you have helped to open us even more to our own love and vulnerability. The couple’s session we shared is like nothing we’ve ever experienced. It was so fun, we felt so connected and the images are US. You helped us be US! Looking back, I don’t know how I would have done the day of the wedding without you. You helped us grow and love each other harder.
Meera Graham Photography’s rates start at $5,200, and if you’ve made it this far, it probably comes as no surprise that this is all-in inclusive pricing to keep things as simple as possible. There are no “surprise” costs—every option gets you everything you need: access to Meera for a year for the hands-on emotional and wedding planning support promised, the entire six-month Dig Deeper Experience, and engagement photo session prior to your wedding, full day documentary coverage of your wedding, and rights to all your photos. For weddings outside Montana, Meera includes a flat rate for travel, which varies depending upon where you are in the country. A photography gift registry is also available with all packages, which past clients have found super helpful.
MEERA GRAHAM PHOTOGRAPHY IS CURRENTLY BOOKING 12 SPOTS PER YEAR FOR 2020 AND 2021 – CLICK HERE TO GET IN TOUCH!