Today’s wedding is a very special one, for many reasons. For starters, it features three absolutely amazing photographers who we’re proud to call Junebug members – this is the marriage of Chicago wedding photojournalist Kevin Weinstein to his wonderful partner Ryan, and the photos of San Francisco wedding photographers Ben Chrisman and Mauricio Arias of Chrisman Studios who were there to document every life changing moment. In addition to that, Kevin shares with us not only his wedding photos, but his story. And not just the story of the wedding planning details, but the story of his relationship, what marriage means to him personally and politically, and the honest ups and downs that come with such a huge life decision. It is an intimate look inside one couple’s love and life, and we are so grateful to get to hear it and see it all.
From Kevin Weinstein: Ryan and I have been together just under seven years, and though it would seem that after that much time we would have married already, we didn’t until now. We talked about it, but never in a serious way until last fall. I always felt that gay commitment ceremonies were silly as they had no official recognition in the eyes of the law. Yes, it was a confirmation of your love for each other, but it wasn’t a real marriage. Throughout history, marriage has always been a legal contract between two people, often without any love involved. Why should we spend time and money on something that wouldn’t even allow us the basic rights guaranteed to all heterosexual couples, like hospital visitation and power of attorney?
But then, last year, Illinois passed a law that allowed same sex couples to enter into a civil union. At first I was dubious, thinking this was another sham that appeared to allow us to marry but didn’t carry the same rights as marriage for a man and a woman. But after Ryan and I did more research into it, we found out that other than the name, we would be recognized as a couple with the same rights as any straight married couple. At least within the state. Suddenly the idea of a wedding became much more realistic.
We thought about marrying in October of 2011, but I called it off due to the stress of the wedding season. Also, an unexpected anger washed over me that we were getting married in Chicago. I am a San Francisco native, and my vision has always been to wed back home. Ryan’s family have moved from Chicago to California over the past several years, and his parents live on a vineyard in Napa Valley. We both felt that when we married we would hold it there. While completely not my style, it is a special place and means a lot to Ryan. But getting married in California has it’s own legal challenges and we would still have to come back to Illinois to hold a civil union and hire an attorney. While I am thrilled that gays can marry in some states now, the process of planning it sparked some deeply buried resentment about the lack of federal recognition. I know we will get there, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt right now.
So we worked out a compromise where we’d hold a big wedding with all our family and friends in 2015 (on our ten year anniversary) but make it legal now so we have rights to each other’s property and person. Some health issues with Ryan this spring made us act more precipititiously than we would have liked, but we knew it wasn’t a good idea to wait till after my wedding season this year. So we decided in April to have our union in May. Not much time for planning or inviting guests, but I was absolutely opposed to a courthouse wedding. Even though this was a small precursor to the big event, I still wanted it to be special. We thought about locations and settled on having it along the Chicago lakefront. We decided to keep it low-key and invite only immediate family. No word went out to any extended family or friends.
Because this was going to be a life-event between Ryan and me, the day could not go undocumented. Like I tell my clients, the images are the one thing you walk away with from your wedding. Memories even fade. Without hesitation, we hired Ben Chrisman to fly from San Francisco to Chicago so he could document our wedding. Why did I look so far away for a photographer when there are so many terrific ones in Chicago? The most important requirement for the photographer I hired was that he have a journalism background like I do. Candid is candid, and trending wedding photojournalists are often not journalists at all. I needed someone who clearly understood the fine, subtle moments and could leave Ryan and I with some priceless imagery. Because the day was going to be untraditional, I needed someone who could dig a lot deeper than just the surface. Ben’s work resonates with me, and that was what mattered. Ryan knew before we ever committed to marriage, Ben would be there with us. The wedding date was even set due to his busy schedule: Mother’s Day, 2012.
It was a beautiful spring day, which anyone who lives in Chicago knows is a rare thing. The rain and clouds of the previous few days had disappeared to reveal blue skies and green landscape. We chose this little spot along the lakefront near our home. Because of all the running I do, I spend on average 8 hours a week along the lake (yes, even in winter when it’s snowing and 25 below zero) and have a pretty intense connection with our 21 miles of parks and paths along with lake. For Ryan, the fact that he grew up along the lakefront in the northern Chicago ‘burbs meant he has an even deeper love of it than I do.
There were only four guests in attendance. Ryan’s parents flew all the way from Northern California to be with their son on this special day, which touched both of us more than we can say in words. Our other two guests were Patrick and Libby Castro, my very first wedding clients from over ten years ago. I wouldn’t be in this business today if it wasn’t for them, so it meant the world to me that Libby agreed to get ordained online and perform our ceremony. There was a lot of tears, laughter and love at that small gathering along the wind swept shore of Lake Michigan.
Ben and his assistant Mauricio documented it all, from the preparation at our home to the final shots at Gilt Restaurant and Bar, where we had our small reception dinner. Being on the other side of the camera was a challenge. At the same time, I was thrilled that it was finally my turn to be the client. I wanted to put down the camera and be treated like a Groom, putting Ben in charge. From the minute he walked in to our home, I was so thrilled. I admit, it was awkward being photographed (especially those shower pictures of Ryan). But I think my anxiety, nerves, excitement and joy kept me from realizing he was always quite close. He and Mauricio followed us the rest of the day. It was just simply amazing to work with them. I knew Ben would nail the wedding ceremony, but I was worried the prep, cocktail portion and portraits would not offer him enough material to pull it off.
I was absolutely wrong.
About six weeks after the wedding, Ben sent out a few teasers, including a slide show. The feeling of sitting at our dining table and looking at that slideshow together was magical. This gift from Chrisman Studios was more than I ever expected. Then a week later, the entire wedding set was released. I sat at my computer with Ryan, both of us sharing some whiskey, we started clicking through the pictures. From the first picture, to the second, to the third and fourth my jaw was wide open. I think I recall saying something like, “That bastard!” followed by, “Get out of here!” and “No he did not!” And maybe a few, “What the F*&K!?
While the photos were amazing and wedding day exciting, it did bring up more feelings that I didn’t know were there. Ryan’s parent were very quick to support us and committed to attending the day with us. My gut felt that my family would not do the same. I was terrified to tell them because I didn’t want to hear the excuses as to why they were not joining me. Sure, they only had four weeks notice, but I just knew they would not fly out here. I was right. My brother and his family couldn’t make it because it was such short notice and his work is very demanding right now, but Ryan’s sisters couldn’t make it either so I wasn’t so upset about that in the end. What bothered me more was my parents absence. Don’t get the wrong idea. They accept that I am a gay man and love me as their son very much. Their reaction to me coming out when I was 17 was a struggle, but time healed that and continues to this day. They love Ryan and invite him to attend family gatherings and vacations. But the idea of two men marrying must be too much for them. I don’t think they understand that it is legal and binding, not a little random luncheon to celebrate “us.” It hurt even more when presents and cards starting arriving from Ryan’s family and family friends, and I didn’t even get a simple response about the slideshow presentation, the entire set of wedding pictures or the teasers Chrisman Studios sent over days prior.
But overall both Ryan and I are so happy with everything about that day. We were worried that our wedding would be just another day: wake up, eat, take on the city and go to bed. Instead, we felt connected in a way that was unexpected and special, something to remember forever. Our connection to each other now feels different. We feel stronger, validated and legal. I take us more seriously.
And the most exciting part of the wedding? Everyone attending our wedding has lived in, or lives in San Francisco and the Bay Area. So in the end, I brought the spirit of San Francisco to the lakefront of Chicago. And when Ryan pointed that out right before the ceremony, a sense of calm came over me. I was truly a happy man.
Ben & Mauricio, see you again in 2015.
Thank you Kevin and Ryan, and Ben and Mauricio!