Every day, we are each given the opportunity to wake up, stand up, and speak hope into the spirit of someone else. But some days, we are blessed with even greater opportunities to reach out to others to make a difference. John Michael Cooper and his wife Dalisa Cooper, photographers and owners of Las Vegas’ AltF, recently experienced this life-giving circumstance through a New Orleans photo shoot with three married couples, whose wedding albums had been ravaged through the devastation of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
“One of the couples had their wedding album [and] she’d put on her bed, thinking that the water wasn’t going to get that high,” John Michael Cooper said in an interview with Bridal Spectacular, as he recalled the story of one wife affected by Katrina. “But when they finally got back to the house, the album was underwater for like two weeks. It was totally destroyed.”
In the wake of this tragedy, an idea was birthed: DWF KaReS, the Digital Wedding Forum’s Katrina Recovery Shoot. While the Digital Wedding Forum (DWF) had donated funds to Katrina-affected photography studios in years past, this January brought a new concept to give back to the community.
“We’ve helped photographers,” John Michael Cooper, a DWF member, said. “It was time that we do that with brides too.”
His chance came during the most recent DWF convention on January 15-18, 2012.
“The convention organizer [Deborah Molique] thought it’d be a good opportunity to give back to the community,” John Michael Cooper said. “So she asked us if we wanted to do an extra presentation and photograph a couple of couples that had lost their albums in Katrina and then design [new] albums. … It sounded like a cool project and a good thing to do and a good way to give back.”
Only days before the Las Vegas Bridal Spectacular bridal show, the Coopers traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, to present as convention keynote speakers and to participate in this life-changing photo shoot for three well-deserving couples: Tim and Holly Baudier, Bill and Katy Puckett, and Darryl and April Allen.
“The original idea was just for us to photograph them during a presentation that I was doing,” John Michael Cooper said. “But we realized that wasn’t going to be enough.”
After the project morphed into an opportunity to “Pay It Forward,” John Michael Cooper invited several of the nation’s best photographers to walk with him throughout the streets of the French Quarter. Together they photographed the breathtaking brides and dapper grooms, all dressed in their best courtesy of local businesses that contributed bridal gowns, tuxedos, hair styling, and make-up artistry.
To further enhance each couple’s personal experience, John Michael Cooper also created a sense of ownership for each couple with his artistic imagery.
“I wanted each of the couples … to have their images look different from each others,” John Michael Cooper said. “I made sure that everyone had a different location, different place, as we walked around the French Quarter. And it’s actually pretty easy in the French Quarter because it’s a pretty colorful place.”
By working together, the entire DWF KaReS team delivered a sense of dignity to each couple and acquired enough images in a single day to create an entire album for each bride and groom. Then to complete this revitalizing experience, the DWF team returned to the convention ballroom with their brides and grooms to recreate their first dance moments.
“It was like a dance party reception for them,” John Michael Cooper said. “We had like a New Orleans wedding, which is like the Second Line at some point, where they had the umbrellas and they had handkerchiefs they were waving around with music and everything.”
As a touching close to an awe-inspiring event, each bride and groom regained a precious piece of their personal histories through new photographs, slideshows, and albums.
“Although I know we’re not replacing their memories, I think [we’re] at least making new memories for them,” John Michael Cooper said. “And now they’ll have something that they’ll be able to pass down to their kids.”
While the brides and grooms were blessed through this extraordinary event, the photographers involved experienced a similar sense of uplifting restoration.
“I feel so lucky to have met these three couples,” Dalisa Cooper wrote recently through AltF’s blog. “With all they have been through, they were not only grateful but so hospitable. … They opened their minds and hearts and showed us true southern hospitality — something this West Coast girl is foreign to.”
Through DWF’s convention in New Orleans and its special photo shoot, these photographers chose to step beyond their own agendas to positively affect a recovering community.
“That’s what places need the most when they’re hurting,” John Michael Cooper said. “The best way for everyone else to kind of help is actually to go and visit that place. … That would be able help them get back up. ”
With inspiration drawn from the past and hope for the future, the Coopers of AltF comprehend the intensity of humanity’s need to reach out to one another. Not just once, but to extend and expend oneself to help others again and again.
“We are handed a chance of a lifetime. A gift to help others. A chance to make someone smile,” Dalisa Cooper said through Earth13.com.
“Dalisa and I in our business have always tried to give back to the community,” John Michael Cooper said. “We’re just lucky enough to be in that position to do so.”
For more information about John Michael and Dalisa Cooper’s “Pay It Forward” projects and their professional wedding photography, please visit their website at AltF.com.
Author: Allyson Siwajian © 2012
Photographs: John Michael Cooper of AltF © 2012 (Images used by permission.)