Carolyn Bessette and John Kennedy, Jr., during their wedding ceremony. Cumberland Island, GA, September 1996. (All photos by Denis Reggie)
It was completely happenstance, the moment that photographer Denis Reggie met Ethel Kennedy and her daughter Courtney in February 1980. He was in his hometown of New Orleans on assignment for a local newspaper, tasked with capturing the arrival of the mayor to the presidential-bid campaign event being held for Edward M. Kennedy. “I had the chance to chat with Courtney, who had just gotten engaged,” recalls Reggie. “I said to her that the way I grew up seeing the Kennedys in magazines—the black-and-white images of them playing football on the lawn in Hyannis Port and running on the beach, all images that were completely devoid of stiffness, that saw them seemingly completely oblivious to the camera, devoid of cliché—that was how I liked to take wedding photos.” Apparently, his word that day in New Orleans was good as gold to her, and several days later he got the call to fly up North to capture her wedding to Jeffrey Ruhe.
After that, Reggie would go on to photograph more than 29 weddings for the Kennedy family, as well as nearly 2,000 weddings and other special events for both non-celebrities and celebrities, the likes of whom have included Rudolph Giuliani, John Kerry, Vera Wang, and Mariah Carey. His client roster may be grand, but Reggie’s work is all about the small, unassuming gestures of love. His style of wedding photography has come to define the antithesis of the staged and posed. “I started taking wedding photos in the ’70s when wedding photography was very reminiscent of that time where art was about imitation of life, it was about plastic. We saw brides gazing at bouquets, grooms dipping their brides down, and double exposures. They were images that were very much concoctions created solely by the photographer,” he says. “I approach my wedding pictures quietly, without the planning and without interacting too much. I think that great moments are discovered, and it should always be about the subject—it’s not me suggesting, staging, arranging, or choreographing.”
Reggie describes himself and his team as “type B” personalities. “We’re very subordinate to the event,” he says. “We don’t focus on the Jimmy Choo label or the wedding rings, but our heads and hearts are in full receptor mode, looking for love and real moments.” For Reggie, a few of those real moments actually turned into iconic ones, beginning with the image of John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Carolyn Bessette walking together and beaming out of their ceremony on Cumberland Island in Georgia. We’ve all seen it: a slightly off-center, slightly darkened image of John kissing the hand of his new bride, her hands in white gloves and her body hugged perfectly by that silk Narciso Rodriguez gown. “I think I had the same reaction that Carolyn Bessette had,” Reggie recalls. “If you look at her face in the photograph, she is completely caught off guard. My camera was tilted because I was walking backward and it was very dark and there was a light, light drizzle coming down. But I saw John do this princely gesture of reaching for his new bride’s hand, completely unexpectedly, and was able to clip the shutter and preserve it.” He adds, “It wasn’t the gesture of a celebrity, as much as it was a heartfelt reaction of a guy who had found his woman, his wife, and I think everyone can appreciate that sweetness.”
There was also the wedding of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1986. “I remember Maria asking me to take a photograph of her and her bridesmaids just before the ceremony. Everyone stopped and looked toward me, but at that same moment, the wind from the Hyannis Port Cape blew off the water, and her 20-foot-plus train and veil engulfed the bridesmaids,” he remembers. “I’m from the South and we’re taught to help ladies in distress, so I didn’t know whether to put down my giant Hasselblad camera and run after them or keep taking pictures. I kept clicking, not realizing that the photo would become one of Life magazine’s greatest images of the century.”
John Kennedy, Jr., and Carolyn Bessette, on their wedding day. Cumberland Island, GA, September 1996.
The Atlanta, Georgia wedding of Amy Gold and Ted Fisher.
The Hyannis Port wedding of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger; Maria and her bridesmaids, April 1986.