Noah Hawley Other People's Weddings

ISBN 13: 9780312322748

Other People's Weddings

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9780312322748: Other People's Weddings

Laurie is a wedding photographer who has photographed more than a thousand weddings over the last ten years. One morning, when wakes up and wonders what happened to all those couples. She starts making calls. Some of them are still together. Others have split up. She begins a photography project to document what happens to love after the wedding. She photographs widowers and divorcees, homewreckers and stalkers.

She is still photographing weddings, and at one of them she meets a man who has sneaked into the proceedings. A crasher. They share a spark, a few moments of powerful chemistry, and then he's gone. Later, at home, she finds pictures of him at eleven other weddings she's photographed and wonders if his propensity to crash weddings is sweet or creepy. She starts looking for him at every wedding she photographs. When she finally sees him again, a romance begins between them.

Through her courtship, glimpses of her past emerge-her own first marriage and divorce, the things she is trying to get over, to get past, that threaten her new relationship. Her past makes her a ghost at all the weddings she photographs. Before the book is over, she has to tear down all the walls she has built.

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About the Author:

Noah Hawley is a screenwriter, filmaker and photographer. He has directed two short films for the Fox Searchlab new director development program. His first novel, A Conspiracy of Tall Men, was optioned by Paramount. Noah Hawley adapted the screenplay. He has published stories in The Paris Review. He lives in San Fransisco.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

OTHER PEOPLE'S WEDDINGS
1Byron Alexander has a giant head. Seen through the wide-angle lens of my Leica it looks like a lie, a doctored photograph clipped from a supermarket tabloid: LOCAL MAN'S HEAD SWELLS, PREPARES TO BURST. He is wearing a black tuxedo, a vintage bow tie. His bride-to-be, Candy Newell, is standing beside him in front of a trickling stream, ready to commit to richer and poorer, sickness and health. Her cheeks are like shiny red apples. It is a startlingly blue August day and hot, stifling. We are shooting the formal portraits before the wedding begins, the glamour shots, the mantelpiece collection. I am using a high-speed black-and-white film and a small white bounce to light their faces. A half dozen in-laws are standing by, ready to slip into the shot, ready to tamp down their lipstick and suck in their bellies. Everyone is giddy, tense. Somewhere on the other side of the gazebo a crowd is building, row afterrow of relatives in formal dress praying for a breeze. I check my watch. It's important to stay on schedule, but at the same time, you've got to keep things calm."Okay," I say. "Just a few more of the bride and groom, and then we'll open it up."The Alexanders and the Newells huddle together in the shade of an elm tree. They're like a stage troop on opening night, nervous, rehearsing their lines. Candy's mother can't stop blinking. Byron is smiling like a man who's suddenly found himself answering questions at a press conference on the moon."Try to relax," I tell him.Lowering my camera, I squint. His head is just too big. It makes him look closer than Candy. I pause for a minute, considering my options. Beside me, my assistant Jerome loads film into a medium format camera. He's twenty-five, with good hands and a discerning eye. Jerome grew up on television shows where everyone was acerbic and cavalier, and so this is how he has become. A venal wit."Is it possible to sweat to death?" he says.I gaze at Byron and think about changing lenses. This is the second wedding I've photographed today. The fourth this weekend. At ten A.M. I shot the Davidsons, Glenda and Ed, trial lawyers with normal size heads, who read passages from famous children's books and released doves into the dewy blue sky. In three hours I'm supposed to be at the First Methodist Church on Baxter Avenue to photograph the Gilhooly affair. I am a thirty-six-year-old woman who spends her days cataloguing other people's promises.Jerome crosses over to Byron, takes a light reading. He holds the meter up to Byron's face, frowns. All that pale skin set against the deep black of the tuxedo makes it hard to find the proper setting. Jerome comes over, shows me the meter."Maybe a filter," he whispers, "to cut the glare.""Let's try it," I say, smiling at the family.Don't you worry, I'm saying.Everything is perfect.Byron clears his throat. He tells me they met in the city. Candy was the girl in the coffee shop. The one he couldn't let go. So he chased after her and introduced himself breathlessly. Shy, stammering."I was desperate," he says, putting his hand on Candy's shoulder."Desperate," she agrees, "but cute."Candy lifts the train of her long, white wedding gown and smiles for the camera. This is her moment to shine and she's not about to let it go to waste. She is a beautiful woman, dark brown hair curled and piled above her blue-eyed face. Her dress is a masterpiece of seductive purity, long-sleeved, low-cut, the back open all the way down to her waist. Her skin is smooth, unblemished. Compared to Byron she has a head like the period after a word that ends in O."How do we look?" she wants to know.I reach out and take her arm and gently position her in front of her fiancé. I do this so her head is closer to the lens, a little bit of forced perspective. It helps, but not enough. So I ask him to lean back a little and smile. Farther. Farther. This way at least she has a chance. This way his head is oversized, sure, but at a distance, like a hazy picture of bigfoot caught loping through the trees. This isn't just a job to me. These people aren't just a bunch of sappy rubes. No matter how the rest of their wedding goes, the ceremony, the reception, I want Byron and Candy to be able to look back at this moment and see perfection. Memories fade, but pictures last forever. What couples like Byron and Candy hire me for--and I am one of the top wedding photographers in Westchester county--is to create a myth, a fairy-tale document of true romance. The wedding they should have had. The wedding everyone should have."Kiss her," I say.He leans in, eclipsing her face with his own.Click.Lately though, my heart hasn't been in it. I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, trouble getting my energy up for theshow. I still find them beautiful, all the weddings I shoot, but something is missing. Something has changed. These days, these slow, muggy, torpid days of late summer, it feels like love is no longer handmade. Like what was once a fragile, precision art, is now being mass produced on some kind of assembly line. Tux after tux, gown after gown. This is something I would never say out loud, certainly not to all of the brides and grooms I see, who think that what they've done is unique--to meet, fall in love, commit--when the truth is, it's everywhere you look. Like the world's oldest fad."Hold the bouquet higher," I say.Candy smiles, hikes up the bust of her dress.I raise my hand and say "Cheese." Everybody smiles.I pull the trigger.On the other side of the church, two hundred people in heavy formal wear have taken their seats on narrow, white folding chairs. They are an unsteady crowd that seems to undulate, swaying and dipping, as the legs of their chairs sink at unpredictable moments into the sprinkler-saturated sod."Okay," I say, checking my watch. "Let's get the parents in here."Jerome moves forward to help position the family, creating a peacock spray of relatives that fans out behind the happy couple. This is the first wedding I've photographed where the bride and groom have their own Web site. The first where they've designed merchandise: Candy and Byron baseball caps, Candy and Byron coffee mugs, T-shirts that read, I WENT TO CANDY AND BYRON'S WEDDING AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS STINKING SHIRT. They're giving them away as gifts to thank people for coming."I thought it would be fun," Candy tells me as I snap her picture standing behind a spray of succulents. She's wearing a shade of eye shadow that is not quite blue and not quite green. Her teeth are as white as paper. She tells me she's a brand consultant for a large advertising agency."Give people something to remember you by," she says. "Because,I don't know about you, but all these weddings tend to blur together. Am I right?"I tell her she has no idea. The fact is, in thirteen years I've photographed over eleven hundred weddings. That's twenty-two hundred parents, forty-four hundred grandparents, over three hundred thousand roles of film. I am the queen of the candid exposure, slipping through the crowd like a shadow, catching people at their best and worst. My neck muscles bulge from sixty thousand working hours logged with two cameras around my neck.A single woman surrounded by togetherness.Posing for the camera, Candy seems relaxed, confident, and I want to ask her how she does it. I want to ask her how she can be so certain that Byron is the one. Isn't she terrified? Doesn't she know how hard it is to make these things work? The questions percolate inside my head but I keep them to myself. Voicing them would be unprofessional, rude. Instead, I lift my camera and take her picture. This is my way of staying out of things, of keeping my distance. I look at people through a mirror and two sheets of glass, calculating angles, measuring light. I tell her how beautiful she looks, which she does, and what a great couple they make. And as far as I can tell it's true. They kiss easily. Their eyes lock. They have that wedding day glow.And, as I do at every wedding, I cross my fingers and silently wish them luck.The ceremony begins. The band strikes up, playing a wedding march written especially for Byron and Candy by a downtown composer. Part John Cage, part Celine Dion. There is a vibraphone, a bassoon. Candy's father comes over and takes her arm. Seeing her smile up at him, her eyes already filling with tears, I switch to autowind and fall into step behind them, capturing the action as it happens. I am looking for the moments between the moments, the gesture unfinished, the shy, private smile. When they reach the altar, shaded by a canopy of maple leaves, Candy reaches out totake Byron's hand. He is smiling, and she is smiling. They look exhilarated, terrified. Behind us the crowd seems to open up, readying itself, relaxing under the familiar weight of ritual."Ten bucks says they're divorced in a year," says Jerome.I glare at him and point. He takes his camera and works his way east, hunting for reaction shots. I turn back to the bride and groom. They seem to glow in the summer heat, their outlines wavy, fluctuating, like a mirage. They've spent tens of thousands of dollars to show the world they're serious. Chosen the most glorious vistas, hired the most expensive caterers. They're serving monkfish and lamb tonight because they want people to understand the gravity of their choice. This union isn't some fly-by-night operation. Everything in their lives has led them to this moment. Everything that comes after will stem from this event. It is like the symbol for infinity, with the wedding fixed squarely at the point where the figure eight connects.Where all lines cross.The priest steps forward. He is wearing Candy and Byron cuff links; a picture of Byron on the left, Candy on the right. He is an old man, somebody's uncle or cousin."Dearly beloved," he says. "We are gathered here today."I lift my Nikon and frame the three of them as Byron steps forward and takes Candy's hands. He swears that before he met Candy he was a sleepwalker. He says meeting Candy was like waking up, and now he lives in a world of constant daylight. Listening to him, Candy cries so hard her cheeks run black and spit bubbles form between her lips. In the back of the crowd I float right and shoot him over her shoulder, giving her time to pull herself together, concentrating on focus and composition, aperture and film speed.Later, in the darkroom, I study the faces. Six weddings in one weekend. Already they're starting to run together in my mind. So many suits and dresses. So many happily-ever-afters. I crop out the faces of scowling fathers and disapproving mothers. I excise thefrozen looks of doubt and regret I. zoom in on the great flowering centerpieces. Everything has to be perfect, so I highlight the looks of pride from family and friends. I print only the biggest smiles. All the pictures where the bride's boob pops out of her dress I cast aside, the photos of the groom caught making advances on members of the bridal party. There can be no mixed messages, no foreshadowing of the difficulties to come. The unfaithful urges and second thoughts. The loneliness. The boredom. Trouble with the children. Sickness, poverty, struggle, change. In the darkroom I study the happy faces looking for the secret.Love.I can't help myself. The allure is overwhelming: the mystique of true romance. Despite the numbers, against my better judgment, I find myself wanting to believe.Till death do us part.Because in this moment, the moment of matrimony, where everyone has gathered, where the priest or the rabbi or the imam or the ship's captain has raised his hand, has asked the question, and everyone leans forward in their chair, in that moment of Do you, Will you, Could you the future is a hot green meadow that rolls on forever. And I step up and capture it in just under one-five-hundredth of a second.I now pronounce you man and wife.You may kiss the bride.OTHER PEOPLE'S WEDDINGS. Copyright © 2004 by Noah Hawley. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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