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Musical Meat

By Guest Blogger – Nadean Bruehlman

   As a wedding photographer I have been faced with some rather interesting spreads in my time…
   This is behind the scenes info – Fact is my bride would never know if I were fed well or not because frankly NO MATTER WHAT I would give an enthusiastic “yes” and “thank you” if she asked whether I’d eaten.
   Being I travel quite a lot with what I do I have discovered the vast regional difference in how “the help” is addressed.
   Seems the further west you go the more sinful it is (as a photographer) to think one might be eating well.
   I still recall a funny story of our very own Gene Ho at a wedding in Nevada grabbing a piece of cake – mind you, this coming well after guests had had their fill.
   The caterer gave him a wrist slap and scolded him. I wish I could have seen the look on his face.
   After picking his jaw up off the floor, I’m certain he must have looked much like a stunned (and slightly vengeful) toddler.
   After joking that I was going to document the many *ahem* acceptable forms of photographer grub I’ve decided to go for it & share with you (just some – trust there are many more) morsels of the trade:
#1) Musical Meat Treat: This is the “share it with the band” cold cut tray. Looks phenomenal, well – at least – I think it did? Unfortunately, the band eats while we’re still doing ‘the jumping shot’ with the wedding party and 9 times out of 10 don’t realize we are suppose to be eating this deli delight as well… more often than not (read: every time) they leave us only a vague picture of what I imagine in my mind was a jolly, picnic-y feast with laughter and music.
In my wildest imaginations I can see one of them playing a violin symbolizing their sarcastic sympathies – meanwhile the others cackle in a villianous fashion over the roars of my belly.
But that might not really happen?
#2) Shoot & Chew: Then there’s the “wait until all the guests have eaten then we’ll feed you” approach. Which I totally understand in theory is proper… however, if the bride and groom eat first – then our caterer must plate or buffet 90 guests BEFORE you allow us to eat, my sweet bride & groom have more than finished eating and moved on to cut the cake or share a jovial toast – meaning it’s time for me to hop back into action. So… for sake of my bride’s precious memories I must risk requiring the Heimlich and shove as much in my mouth as I can while grabbing the Nikon brothers and going back in.
Helpful note: grits require no chewing. Shrimp however – does. Lesson learned.
#3) Brown Baggin’: The most random crap shoot of them all though has to be the “vendor meal” <—insert a daunting dun, dun, duuunnnn….
The wild card in vendor meals is similar to the rush of playing the lottery, I think.
You see that brown box and you’re flush with excitement -you’re so hungry, but anxiety creeps in remembering the many disappointments of the past – still, you’re hopeful.
Now, amazing vendor meals do exist – Kelly Kessler’s wedding proves that. An amazing club with fries and a pickle – that box was straight up love.
Buuuut…. let’s face the music kids – I remember that meal because it was incredible, an exception.
I am considerably more used to holding my breath, opening that box and seeing ….a zip lock baggie of nilla wafers <—I can’t make this up, yes that happened.
#4) The Robot: With the others before them…there may be nothing worse than when you’ve been forgotten altogether. (insert sad face)
You’ve hurdled the flower girl and sprinted up 2 flights of stairs with a 26# camera bag on your back and 9 boutineers in a terribly awkward & oblong box, dashed to get the emergency kit in the trunk of your vehicle so the bride has a band-aid for her heel after last night’s (uber rockin’) rehearsal dinner shoes, you’ve spent a good 20 minutes in a squated position through the ceremony and followed that up with 14,ooo steps on the pedometer doing the back and forth setting up family formals. All of this with a smile and normally… nothing to drink.
So when the ol’ wedding planner, or catering director looks at you and shrugs, “guess she didn’t realize you needed to eat – is it in your contract?”
Umm… YES!!! It is – and we only have like 6 bullet points!!! Please x’s infinity — Please!! Feed me! (please?)
   Though I run a convincing game I am not, in fact, powered by the energy and life of all the smiles I captured on this camera.
   Some venues I’m familiar with are notoriously predictable.
   One in particular is so commonly known for dishing the doggie bag that it’s commonplace to stop at the Subway before arrival and asking to store our $5 footlong in the kitchen until mealtime.
   However, even that isn’t fool proof as the kitchen staff has -on occasion- taken it upon themselves to find it too tempting to pass up and consumed our clever back-up plan.
   Ha – again, yes… that happened.
   These are extremes – but I know folks sometimes say, “no one remembers the food at a wedding – it’s all about the party”
   And it’s just not true. I remember.
   Joanna Joines got married in 2008 – she had a photo crew, a video crew and a DJ and plated us all -like her guests- with lobster & filet.  Even 4 years later — I remember.
   Or there is someone like Jen Beverly who not only saw to it that we went through the buffet, but then insisted that we eat with her, at the reserved head table.
   And I simply could never forget Melanie Bonnefoux, who had it not been for her kindness… the only thing I would have eaten in Paris would have been wonton soup and a glass bottle coke.
   Again – Amazing Extremes.
  I was raised on tater tot casseroles – I am in no way spoiled, or high-class. And I certainly don’t ask for (nor deserve) special treatment. I’m content with humanity.
   There are times when I am certain, without any question… I know my bride, she trusted I was in good hands and she’d paid someone to take care of me – and she would be livid if she knew I was given a giant plate of ice cold grits** out back by the dumpsters
— yes, you called it, that too happened.
(**for you northerners reading: grits are not meant to be cold, think malt-o-meal my friends)
   It’s tough – I know there is the option to provide “the help” with a cheaper alternative – particularly in a plated, sit-down dinner…
   But it’s catch22, while you save a little dough what is lost is the opportunity to have a photo of the meal you so carefully had chosen to share with your friends and family …and I’m quite sure the happy meal I am dealt is not the vision my sweet bride had for page18’s album inset.
   If there was a way for me to tactfully inquire about the meal during my Monday morning rundown it might save the ‘too late now’ realization that comes sometimes when my assistant and I with pursed lips utter, “if we’d known we could have ordered a pizza”
I just haven’t found the right way to ask my girls, “woman – you got some weddin’ eats headin’ my way, right???”
   Ahhh… Weddings – they’re always different. There are no two that are just alike. Not ever. And I do love them all, even the crazy ones – if it’s only for the unbelievable tale I have to tell in surviving it.
   Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve had more than one uneventful stroll through the buffet line, chatting with uncle Bob about how many mega-pixels I’m shooting and the unfathomable death of film.
   But the true flashlight-under-chin camp fire story is the time we had to march uphill, 3 miles, in the sand, in 105 degree June heat… just to find a stale bag of pretzels that the salt had been licked off of and a sweet tea filled with kamikaze ants waiting for us.
(Okay, maybe that one didn’t happen –errr…yet)
   I’m not going to lie – I’m a considerably happier, more focused photographer when my grumbling tummy isn’t banging louder than the Wobble, but even-still weddings are meant for me.
…so while it may be picked over by 120 people before me – dang-it… that’s my left over fruit & cheese tray.

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