Married Photographers Reveal Wedding Industry’s Inclusive View of Love

February 28, 2019

By Abe and Isaac Lopez-Bowen

© Lightward Photography

We are the duo behind Lightward Photography, a wedding and portrait photography business. We’re also Lightward, a software company. We’re a bunch of other things, too. We’re gay. And we’re husbands.

We have good news for all of you out there who are or are not represented by a heteronormative standard of wedding imagery, on either side of the lens: Just as gay marriage is just marriage, being a gay wedding photographer is just being a wedding photographer. If we were writing this 20 years ago, we suspect we’d have something different to say, but the subtext to this good news is that, in the society where we do business, we’ve come a distance worth celebrating.

Lightward Photography began as Fort Co. Photography in 2015. At the time, we were both working in Silicon Valley. Abe was in human resources in start-up land; Isaac was an engineer at Apple. We both had creative muscles that needed flexing—for all that it is, the valley is not a relaxed haven of creativity. Abe picked up Isaac’s camera from his shelf, dusted it off and began taking photos. Isaac had a decade of creative photography experience, apart from his engineering career, but it was new work for Abe. We rapidly discovered a natural balance between Abe’s ability to capture the expansive and expressive, and Isaac’s eye for the subtle and quiet. The Fort Co. Photography was built with Abe as primary shooter and Isaac as second shooter. As we engaged this new creative dynamic, we discovered, nearly by accident, that what made us good partners in love and life made us good partners in our new work: a shared, deeply trusted focus on love and celebration.

We didn’t set out to be a wedding brand, and we didn’t set out to be a gay brand; we set out to take up our cameras and use them to be what we already were—a home for love and connection, warmth and closeness, honesty and trust. These aren’t keywords; they are who we are. Our identity.

Being who you really are is sustainable. It requires honesty at every turn, and we’ve found that a life (and a business, and a marriage, and a brand, and every client relationship) built from confidence is solid. It doesn’t require defense. Whether we meet people socially or professionally, whether they’re conservative or liberal, normative or queer, we present ourselves as ourselves. Once in a thousand times, a hard line presents itself, and the other 999 times, real recognizes real and it lights up the room.

We’ve been asked what it’s like being in the wedding industry, surrounded and ostensibly isolated by heteronormativity. It’s a fair question.

Let’s begin with a clarification: While this industry lacks several obvious kinds of diversity, there is still a hell of a lot more diversity than makes it to print. We feel it. We are not isolated. In being authentically ourselves, we reveal authenticity all around us, and we find ourselves embedded in that rich fabric. As we show up with that knowledge, and as we invite others to do the same, we are a part of diversity becoming visible.

In practice, to show up in this industry requires focus on what we came here to do in the first place. That focus is on love. We are flag-bearers of love, undistracted by difference. We don’t encounter many other photographers exactly like us, but that’s all right. It’s our privilege to show the world what being this kind of photographer is like.

Besides focus, it also requires time, because that is how substance gets built. Our hearts have always been like this, but it has taken work to build a life and a business that is fully in step with who we are and how we identify. By experience, we have found that if one’s life and business are out of synch, it takes equal parts rending and mending to bring everything together.

By way of illustration, Isaac’s greatest personal victory was the unification of his professional, social, familial and sexual identities. Coming out as a gay person had a different emotional payload than coming out as a professional who believes in love first, but they’re experiences cut from the same cloth. Professionally, Isaac created a new management strategy for his team, born not of schedules and deliverables but of fluid communication, trust and a shared understanding of everybody’s ability day by day. This strategy was an explicit commitment to how Isaac handled his social and familial relationships. And this approach was what enabled those relationships not merely to survive but strengthen as he became more open about his sexual identity.

To bring consistency to these identities involves risk (“things will not be the same”) and trust (“I believe that it will be good”) and commitment (“I will show up until it is”). But it was worth the handholding with business stakeholders who weren’t sure of a new management approach, worth the fear of revealing a new-and-not-fully-understood facet of identity to close friends, worth the months and months spent keeping communication open as family reconciled faith with experience.

It was all worth it because a life lived consistently is simple, which, for us, means gaining flexibility: We are wide open for adventure and for whatever we’re becoming.

We now stand as husbands whose businesses and friendships and marriage all reflect who we really are, and they are all closely linked as a result. We work as a married couple, we employ friends, we make branding and hiring and investment decisions based on what’s consistent with our identity, believing that this consistency is the strongest predictor of health and success.

It has required stepping away from traditional industry vocabulary—our companies aren’t really hierarchical or flat, aren’t really for-profit or non-profit, and aren’t really just about photography or just about software—and as such, it has required accepting and loving the fact that we can’t adhere to anyone else’s roadmap.

To be yourself is to be nobody else. This can at first be isolating, much more than any apparent industry norms, but then you take a look around you and see a million others who are doing this themselves—finding their own path using only who they are as a guide. We have only to look; affirmation is everywhere.

We still don’t identify as a wedding brand first. It suits us. We may shoot a thousand more weddings. If we do, it will be because we meet a thousand couples who aren’t there to fill a role the industry understands. It will be because they, too, are there for themselves, as themselves, and because we were lucky enough to catch hands and join the celebration.

An Affirmation Resource Guide

➽ Dig into the lives of Shonda Rhimes, Melissa Hartwig, Gary Vaynerchuk and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
➽ Read You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero.
➽ Fill your Instagram and Twitter feeds with people who have identities that resonate with yours, regardless of the kind of art they’re making.
➽ Be mindful of language that wears you down. Don’t censor for disagreement; steer toward the light, whatever that means for you.
➽ Be constantly watchful for language that lights up your heart and follow it, be it online or in line (which is how you really make a best friend—while waiting for coffee).

Abe and Isaac Lopez-Bowen are a husband duo based in Chicago. They forged their way with The Fort Co. Photography, now Lightward Photography, and both made the full-time plunge a year and a half ago.

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