I giggle at my desk writing this and thinking about the first time I met Kari. My now-husband, Sean, and I had just moved into our first apartment together days before. I pulled in the gates and found a giant rent-by-the-hour Home Depot truck horribly parked across the equivalent of four parking spots. I was annoyed that I couldn't get to my parking spot. In fact, I think I went in and told Sean that whoever had rented it had clearly not grown up driving a truck and pulling a horse trailer around (me), but amidst my annoyance Kari come running out of her new apartment with another friend who was helping her move apologizing for her terrible parking job. I couldn't possibly stay irritated.
Fast forward a few months and we started to see Trey with her. Thanks to our dogs and a potential business relationship between Trey's company and Sean's company, we all became friends. It was during that time that I got Kari's version of the first time we met. She had come to the privately owned apartment complex in desperate need of a place to stay after an abrupt end to her long-term relationship. Our saint of an apartment manager had let her skip to the top of the wait-list so Kari could get out of her now ex's house. When giving her the tour she had told Kari that the only apartment she could show her was one that was in the process of being moved into (mine) so she would have to excuse the un-finished state of it. Kari told me that she walked into our apartment to find some deer antlers, dried flowers, a frame, some wire, and other art supplies scattered about the floor as if I had just stopped in the middle of working on some installation piece. "Who in the world are these people?" she thought. She said that knowing me now, it all makes perfect sense, but at the time, there just seemed to be some of the strangest things lying around that halfway moved in apartment.
Four years later, Kari and Trey are engaged, and the same girl who left deer antlers and dried flowers scattered on the floor of the apartment is shooting their wedding. I'm honored, and I feel like through the process of trying to know their wedding day vision and know them better than I already did, I've found a genuine friend in the girl that couldn't park the Home Depot truck. So how are Trey and Kari game changers? Ha, again I am laughing. Trey is an engineering manager for a plant that produces titanium coated joint replacements. Something about the chemical makeup of these joint replacements makes it easier for the human body to accept them after surgery. In addition to that, he is in the process of starting his own company, which is not public knowledge to everyone here in Memphis yet and not a topic I even have all the details on. Kari is a lawyer - an education lawyer to be exact. And in a city where the public school system is struggling, she helped a client in a neighboring city create its own public school district in hope of improving education here. On their own, both Trey and Kari are ambitious and think outside of the box, on top of the fact that they are so down to earth and fun that you'd never know they had accomplished so much. Each one of them is so true to themselves and knows the other one so well while honoring the other's individuality.
It was over drinks one night that Kari and I chatted about their wedding and ultimately reconnected. I found out when talking to Kari about their wedding and engagement photos that Trey had also been previously engaged. He ended up calling it off, and neither he nor Kari talk about it much. We talked about the expense of a wedding, about her photos being the most important thing aside from Trey and their friends and family, and how she doesn't want to get so caught up in the money and planning that she forgets why she is marrying Trey. She also told me that she wanted it to be special and a reflection of both of them, but especially for Trey. Of what she knew about his previous engagement, it didn’t seem like Trey at all, so she wanted this process to be just as meaningful for him. Kari truly loves and honors everything about Trey. As she says, "That man is always up to something, and I can't do anything but laugh." We talked about how he proposed in the house they had just bought together (another topic of contention here in the conservative south - buying a house together before you are married) and how it was completely empty except for some dirty laundry and the pizza they were having for dinner. She walked in her front door to find him on one knee where he said, "Welcome home. Will you spend the rest of your life with me?"
It wasn't until we were walking to our cars that night that I finally told her whether I was her photographer or not, I thought she should consider doing their engagement photos in their house where Trey proposed and who cares if half of it is still empty or being renovated. That girl's face lit up like I've never seen it before, and word for word said to me, "THAT'S ACTUALLY WHAT I HAVE BEEN DREAMING OF, BUT I THOUGHT PHOTOGRAPHERS MIGHT THINK IT WAS STUPID!" I laughed and assured her that it would be special and not typical and that the pretty locations end up beautiful but their house out of wedlock (ha!) together would be much more intimate. So that's exactly what we did. She told me that she wasn't even bothering with talking to other photographers because I understood her vision, and the planning process commenced - right down to helping them pick out their outfits.
When we talked about what time to start, she asked if Sean (who also doubles as my photo assistant) and I just wanted to come over early for a drink before and and stay for dinner after (again - that was the second time that week). Consequently, their engagement shoot turned into more of a private engagement party, and throughout this whole process, our once casual friends have turned into really great friends. We no longer live two doors down from each other, but we do talk at least two times a week and have found that all four of us have quite a bit more in common than what would appear at first glance.
Frankly, I never would have known that day that I pulled up to a crooked, obtrusive, rent-by-the-hour Home Depot truck that Kari was going through not just a breakup, but abruptly moving out because of what had happened with her ex fiancé. She was smiling and nice and so apologetic that I thought there couldn't possibly be anything in the world wrong with her life. And I REALLY thought that we had nothing in common when I would see her leaving for work in her dress suits and heels while I was struggling to carry all my camera equipment, bags filled with research for my thesis, wearing paint-splattered pants, and leaving deer antlers on the apartment floor. My business relationship with Trey and Kari and our friendship is testimony that there is always more to a person than what meets the eye - that there is always more to someone's story. Four years later, I'm glad that Kari moved in two doors down from me, but most of all I'm thankful that she trusted me to be her photographer. From their engagement shoot I left with a refreshed perspective and a reminder that it's not always a photographer's job to create a story, but rather to uncover the one that's already there. From their shoot and from listening to Kari about what embodied her and Trey, I left not just with a client, but also with a friend.
Kaitlyn Stoddard-Carter is a photographer living in Memphis, TN, but is willing to travel anywhere her clients will take her. Before she began her career in photography, Kaitlyn traveled internationally dabbling in the modeling/fashion industry working with some of the world's largest modeling agencies. It was these adventures that inspired her to find beauty amidst imperfection as it relates to culture, art, education, self health against eating disorders, and the corresponding psychology. Kaitlyn's travels have taken her to photograph in Europe, Africa, South America, and the American Southwest, in addition to the South, where her photographic and research work is focused. When she is not behind the lens, Kaitlyn can be found with her husband Sean, riding her "Desi Horse" (who is more like a large lap dog), running with her dog, Grimm (who is more like a "bear-wolf"), decorating for Christmas in July, or tending to her girl-band of chickens, "LP and The Gang."