Russ emailed two weeks ago stating his plans to bring his longtime girlfriend to Maine for their first time (because we can’t really count the time they just popped over the border to the outlets in Kittery, can we?) and DROP A KNEE with ME DOCUMENTING IT!!
(If you are sensing my early excitement about this opportunity because of the above CAPS and !!, buckle up! So much more enthusiasm to come! Read on!)
We emailed back and forth, played phone tag, eventually connected live to go over my location suggestions and his vision, stalked the weather, swapped text messages so we’d have each other’s info (he saved me as “Ryan” in his phone so gf Paula wouldn’t be tipped off by stranger Emilie pinging her guy), stalked the weather some more (er, like every 20 minutes), came up with a Plan B when showers and potentially thunder was predicted, decided to go for it!, sent each other selfies so as to know who to expect (in case my cameras weren’t a giveaway 😉 ), adjusted our plan a bit earlier because it was going to be a dark day regardless so no sense in waiting for a sunset that wouldn’t show, made the drive to Cape Elizabeth with all the love anthems CRANKING, stopped to pee because I had that excitement like when you play hide + seek and you justcan’twait to be found!! and ALAS, made it to Portland Head Light ahead of schedule as a “we’re leaving Portland, see you in 20” text popped up.
People say “whew, photographing weddings! That’s so much pressure!” Nope. NO. Photographing a proposal for strangers I’ve never seen at a place teeming with tourists and every possibility that Paula could have spied a text or caught me waiting for them, aye! THAT was pressure. The very best kind! <3 It harkened back to my stealth journalism days. Adrenaline was pumping! I was ready to rock this assignment for Russ and help him and Paula have this VERY IMPORTANT moment captured for always.
I spent the next 20 minutes practicing my role being a tourist (shoulda brought a tripod, lol), capturing the most photographed lighthouse in America (that’s what they say, right?). We agreed to “meet” somewhere in the driveway that circles just out front. While “warming up,” I kept rehearsing in my mind that no matter WHAT I could NOT smile and say hello as they approached, a routine that would be so natural for me to do for a portrait session of strangers. A “we’re here, parking” text alarmed soon. 5 minutes passed. 10. Maybe they hit the bathrooms? Then a “did we miss you?” notification. OH MAN! “I’m in front of the lighthouse,” I quickly tapped back. “There’s a path to the left if looking at the water that we’ll take and walk south.” “Oh,” Russ replied. “We went right.” Exhale. “We’ll come back.”
And then it was ON.
He spied me.
I had to turn my back the moment they passed because I really was worried about messing up (and photographed some little flowers at my feet, included to mark the moment).
Down the path they went!
I trailed behind. Closely.
But not too closely.
They slowed to admire the view. Pointed at something.
I texted, “If you want the lighthouse in the background, you’ll need to let me pass so I can get in front of you and shoot back at you.”
They stalled a little farther down. Paula took a photo. I walked ahead.
THIS WAS HAPPENING!
I lingered. Took a picture of the view. Chimped, looking out of the corner of my eye. They started walking again.
We did this dance two more times.
I was sweating.
Finally, Russ pulled Paula off the busy path to a more secluded little overlook. They hugged. I could tell he was telling her sweet nothings. I went left. I went right. There was thick brush beside them (so I couldn’t get them AND the lighthouse without standing in plain view) and to my right (preventing capturing both of their profiles).
I opted to kneel in the grass as far back as I could letting Russ’ body block me without Paula noticing, but still close enough to capture her reaction as Russ hit the deck and proclaimed his love, asking her to be his forever partner.
She wept as she cried, “What is happening?! Is this real life right now?!” He slipped the ring on. They embraced. I kept photographing.
He eventually turned to me. She spied me. We all met. I was surprised I didn’t cry. I just kept photographing as she asked all the questions. As they felt all the emotions. As their future suddenly came sharply into view.
It was RAW JOY, people. Like when I’ve photographed a birth. The most beautiful form of love I’ve witnessed.
Something inside me cracked wide open in those moments. The past few years learning life as a single mom have not been without their challenges, but I’ve never stopped believing. I’ve never given up hope that everyone is deserving of great love. Despite what is going on in our country, our world, alllll of the pain and suffering, Russ asked Paula to marry him and she said YES! And I got to make these beautiful images for them to treasure for always.
Enjoy them (a few of the 200+ from their edit!). And if you know of anyone who is about to propose, please tip them off to hire me because this was just the BEST and I CAN’T STOP SMILING. Love rules.
Congratulations, Russ and Paula. I know I just met you but I am so happy for you and all that awaits you both. Together. xoxo