James Day, Visual Storytelling

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Humble local professional photographer James Day has a true passion to tell people’s story visually through his works. New Englander Steph has a condition called Cone-Rod Dystrophy. When James took photos of her finding her wedding dress, this created not only a visual representation of the day, but a necessary descriptive editorial of it too. 

James, tell us how you came to do this job …

This story began for me on the 18th May 2008. I vividly remember the day when Steph got in touch to say that she wanted photos taken while she still had her vision. We took photos of Steph running through fields in a white summer dress as the sun shone. 

Fast forward to nearly 10 years later, and I find myself on the phone to Steph as she tells me she’s getting married and she would like to speak to me about photographing her wedding. When I was speaking with Steph, one thing that was very clear was that planning the wedding was going to be a rather unique experience for Steph. Steph explained to me that she wishes she went and tried on dresses while she still had her vision. She decided not to, as she didn’t want people to think she was strange. I think we are all guilty of not doing things because of what others may think. 

Steph has a condition called Cone-Rod Dystrophy. It’s a condition that first started affecting her when she was 19 years old, and over the last 13 years she’s gradually lost her vision. I very hesitantly asked, “May I ask how your vision is these days?”

“I’ve lost the majority of my vision and I only see some shapes and shadows,” Steph replied.

Going dress shopping, tell us how the day unfolded …

It’s now Tuesday morning. We jump in a 7-seater car. Rob (Steph’s partner) has the day off work, and he is chauffeuring us all to the first wedding dress shop, which is about a 30 minute drive. While Rob is driving us to the shop, he’s not allowed to join us, as Steph doesn’t want Rob seeing her in the dress she says yes to. Navigating the busy streets is something Steph is able to do, but she also isn’t shy to ask if she can hold on to your arm. When Steph did this to me, there was something quite intimate and special about it. I actually felt quite privileged to be able to help guide her down the street. 

I imagine that most women have walked past a wedding dress shop and stared in the window and critiqued what they saw. While we waited for the shop to open for our 9am appointment, Steph’s brother, Cal, described to her what he saw. Shopping for a wedding dress without vision is a little more challenging. Steph explained to me that it required all of her attention, as she did her best to gather up all the information to help her imagine how the dress would look. 

First, it starts with walking up to the dress to touch it, but luckily Steph also had her friend and bridesmaid, Jess, by her side, who explained every dress to her in great detail.

As Steph stood there patiently, she would wait for people to say something. Steph told me she was waiting for everyone to just say, “That’s the one”. However, Steph’s family and her bridesmaid were a little more reserved at times, as they waited for everyone to take in all the details. This brought on a little anxiousness in Steph. Eventually however, everyone would jump in and give their feedback based off what Steph said she was looking for.

The pressure really was on the ladies in the dress shops to explain to Steph and her mum in great detail what each dress was like. I must say, they did an exceptional job. While they could explain the dress, it was up to Steph’s entourage to help interpret Steph’s vision for her dress.

With Steph’s mum having the same condition, the way she experienced the dress was by walking up to Steph and touching the dress. Steph’s mum articulated so beautifully what each dress was like. As I was listening to her describe the dress, I realised that she could see things that I couldn’t. Her touch senses were so heightened, that she was able to describe things that the eyes couldn’t see. 

Any final thoughts?

You may be wondering why I wanted to photograph someone dress shopping … Not only do I care about Steph, but I also care about her story. To be able to help others get an insight into what her life is like is something that I want to be a part of. I also hold hope that one day she may be able to relive these moments if medicine progresses and they are able to restore her eye sight.

We take photos to remember moments, but during this journey it’s got me thinking about the ways that photography can be experienced even when it’s not seen. The reason for sharing the explanation for each of the images is so that Steph can get an idea of what I saw in each of the images. Moments after I left to fly back to Sydney, the shop assistant asked Steph, “Will you say yes to the dress”?

“Yes.”

Now we’ll just have to wait and see which one she chose at her wedding in November.

Thanks James.

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