Growing up, my very favorite time of the year was Christmas morning. The smell of warm cinnamon rolls filling our living room. The joy of family. The gratitude for what Christmas is really about — a savior for the world. It always left me awestruck. It’s an event worth pausing to remember because it was and remains so meaningful.
Some events are just so significant that we treat them differently. They’re special. I think this love of special events and of remembering them is why I was drawn to wedding photography.
At a wedding, there are the expected memories to capture — the first look, walking down the aisle, the couple’s first kiss as newlyweds. But there are also hidden moments, like when a father fights back an unexpected tear. That’s the kind of picture a family will cherish for years to come. And my hope, as I share on my website, “is to give that gift to others — beautiful images that will represent special memories, become family heirlooms, and tell the story of each legacy represented, because it matters.”
I do that by forming close bonds with each couple I photograph. On their wedding day, they probably spend more time with me than anyone else. I even do my initial consultations in my home. At my kitchen table over cookies, I get to hear about them and their dreams for the future as we plan how to capture their big day. Then, we schedule an engagement session to make sure they’re comfortable in front of my camera. (Most of us aren’t used to a photographer following us around all day, right?)
After their wedding day, I write a blog post about each couple and their wedding, complete with my favorite photos and personal notes celebrating their new marriage and the start of their family.
A wedding day is not just any other day
Why do I care about this so much? Well, I have a passion for marriage and, with it, weddings. As a Christian, I believe that something significant is happening. It’s a couple pledging their lives to each other, which the Bible tells us is a picture of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His church.
Because marriage is so important to me, I’m careful to photograph and blog about each of these solemn ceremonies in a way that reflects my views of marriage. In every photograph I take and with each word I pen on my blog, I’m trying to portray this beautiful ceremony and this marriage in the best light possible — to show others that marriage really is worth pursuing.
This means I wouldn’t be the best person to photograph every wedding. Of course, I serve everyone regardless of who they are. I just don’t photograph every wedding requested of me. For example, I can’t celebrate a wedding that devalues how seriously I take marriage — like a heavily themed Halloween or zombie-themed wedding.
My highest aim in life is to honor God, and that informs everything I do, business included. When I look back on my life when I’m older, I want to be able to say that I stayed true to this goal — that I ran the race and finished well.
Forbidding me from defending myself
Yet, as I began expanding my business, I realized a Louisville, Kentucky, law threatens me with damages if I stay true to my beliefs about marriage. Actually, the law won’t even let me explain some of my religious beliefs about marriage, whether on my studio’s website, social media or directly to couples who may want to work with me. I also can’t explain how some of my religious beliefs affect which weddings I celebrate through my photography.
I’ve built a business that I love, working with all people regardless of who they are. But I strongly believe that photographers should be free to align their creative talent with their beliefs. The government shouldn’t force artists to express views they disagree with. And that goes for both people who share my particular views and those who don’t. I want this freedom to be available to all artists.
I hope that Louisville comes to agree with me. Because no one should have to choose between their faith and their livelihood.
Chelsey Nelson is owner of Chelsey Nelson Photography and has filed suit against Louisville through her attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (@AllianceDefends).
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