How a Total Stranger Saved a Wedding That Was Nearly Wrecked By Hurricane Irma

How a Total Stranger Saved a Wedding That Was Nearly Wrecked By Hurricane Irma

How a Total Stranger Saved a Wedding That Was Nearly Wrecked By Hurricane Irma

Less than 48 hours before the wedding, photographer Jill Knight realized she wasn’t going to be able to make it to the job she booked Cincinnati. Though Hurricane Irma’s track hadA shifted west, the storm was still projected to affect North Carolina, where Knight lives, and made flying west to the wedding in Cincinnati a nightmare, if not an impossibility.

As the brides and their wedding party were ironing out the last-minute details, Knight put out what can best be described as an S.O.S. call for a backup photographer to replace her. Or actually, aA backup-backup photographer, because Knight was already filling in for the original wedding photographer a her best friend Corey. Corey is also good friends one of the bride’s moms, and was shooting the wedding for free as a gift to the brides and their families. Corey had been diagnosed with cancer in January 2016, but a series of complications arose in the spring of 2017 that put her in and out of the ICU. Knight stepped in to take Corey’s place a few months before the September wedding, when it was clear Corey was in no shape to leave North Carolina. And now Knight was stuck in North Carolina, too. She posted the whole story in a Facebook group for photographers and creative types called the Rising Tide Society and essentially crossed her fingers that someone would step up.

In order to not leave the two brides stranded without a photographer, Knight was working against time, a hurricane that made traveling from the east coast dangerous, and a budget of zero dollars. Knight had never met the brides herself, but as a gift to Corey, she’d offered to shoot the wedding pro-bono as well when Corey became too sick to travel. “The [bride’s family] booked my travel and that was that,” she said. “Corey had done it as a gift and then I had stepped in as a gift.” Whoever filled in, on zero advance notice, would also have to be willing to step in as a gift to complete strangers.

Then there was a problem Knight didn’t anticipate. “People were responding like they would do it out of the goodness of their hearts, and then they would find out that it was a same-sex couple,” Knight said. “And then they would decline to help. It was just another dimension and another challenge. I didn’t want to pick anybody who wasn’t ecstatic about it being a same-sex couple, because that’s entirely what [Melanie and Mackenzie] deserve.”

Meanwhile, Melanie Fredericks and Mackenzie Stewart a the brides-to-be a had no idea this was happening. For all they knew, Knight would be there Saturday morning, camera in hand, ready to shoot the wedding they’d been planning since they got engaged in July 2016, on Stewart’s 23rd birthday. Fredericks proposed in this elaborate, grandiose way by giving Stewart cards that memorialized their whole relationship a from when they met in a dorm hall in college up, until moving in together in Cincinnati a and each card had a sticky note with a letter on it. At the end of the day, Fredericks told Stewart to assemble all the sticky notes, and they read, “MACKENZIE RING STEWART WILL YOU MARRY ME?” Stewart said yes, despite the fact that she’d told Fredericks all along that the only day she wasn’t allowed to propose was on her birthday.

“The first I heard of the fact that we were even having a new photographer come was after our rehearsal dinner on Friday night,” Stewart said. “That was when my mom said, ‘Hey, guess what, our photographer story just keeps getting better and better.'” Julie told her daughter that Knight wouldn’t be able to make it. But the good news was that she’d found someone to take her place.

Molly McElenney, a photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona, saw Knight’s post on the Rising Tide Facebook page on Thursday night. “I’m also in a same-sex relationship, and if that happened to me and people weren’t stepping up because of that, I know it would make me really upset,” McElenney said of her decision to comment on the post. “I wanted to be able to make sure their day was everything they wanted it to be. I commented, not thinking [Knight] would choose me, since I live in Phoenix.”

But, because of the hurricane looming over the east coast, McElenney ended up being the best option. Within a few hours, she was giving Knight her birthdate and personal info over the phone so Knight could book her a plane ticket from Phoenix to Cincinnati. She didn’t even meet the brides until Saturday morning, the day of their wedding.

Looking at McElenney’s photos, though, you’d never know she hadn’t planned on shooting the wedding all along. “The photos are so artistic, they’re so feminine,” Stewart said. “I absolutely loved working with her because we didn’t have to answer awkward questions like,A who’s gonna be the man in this photo?A She knew how to pose women. It was beautiful that she had that perspective, and it made our day a lot more seamless.”

By 6 a.m. the day after the wedding, McElenney was back on a plane to Phoenix. She’d been up all night and had another shoot booked back at home. Later that day, she’d already posted some photos from the wedding a along with the whole story of how she wound up shooting it in the first place a A on her blog. “I felt lucky to be a part of it, it was a gorgeous wedding and a gorgeous day, and everybody was so excited for them, McElenney said. “Melanie and Mackenzie were so sweet and they’re so in love. It was such a happy occasion. I hope for that someday in my relationship in my life.”

Home from their honeymoon and one month into their marriage, the newlyweds are still glowing from how it all came together. “It’s a reflection of how beautiful people can be, and what can happen when love is respected, and love is cherished and people are celebrated,” Stewart said. “That’s a reflection of this whole chain of events a it was strangers helping strangers. It all started with our wedding being this hopeful event for Corey, to get her through her illness, and it just continued. I think we’re just still trying to wrap our head around the fact that complete strangers had been so helpful.”

Knight said Corey is still battling her cancer. When Corey was well enough to leave the ICU and was a bit more coherent, Knight told her the whole story a how McElenney has stepped in at the last possible moment and photographed the wedding that almost went without photographs. “Corey cried tears of joy when she saw the pictures,” Knight said. “It is at the top of Corey’s priority list to meet Molly as soon as she’s out of the hospital, and a little bit more healthy. I’ve actually never met Julie or the brides either, so the plan is to one day get me, Molly, the brides, Julie, and Corey all in the same place. We’ve joked about taking a trip.”

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