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 had 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, a backup-backup photographer, because Knight was already filling in for the original wedding photographer — 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 — the brides-to-be – 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 — from when they met in a dorm hall in college up, until moving in together in Cincinnati — 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.”