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Drive-Thru ‘I Do’s’


Kari Bjorn uses his Tamron SP 24-70mm VC G2 to capture a most unique wedding ceremony in Gainesville.


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By Jenn Gidman
Images by Kari Bjorn


A few months before he moved from Florida, to Buffalo, NY, this summer, Kari Bjorn and his fiancee decided they didn’t want to wait to get married, despite the postponement of their already planned wedding in New York City due to the coronavirus. And so they found a unique way to tie the knot: a drive-thru wedding ceremony in Gainesville. “It was April 30, the first day of weddings of this type in the city,” he says. “It was so successful that officials announced they were going to do another one to accommodate demand.”

Two weeks later, Kari headed back to that second round of “I do’s” with his camera and Tamron SP 24-70mm VC G2 lens to capture the festivities. “Every image was spot-on with this lens,” he says. “It offers the perfect focal lengths for portraits, and it’s fast, sharp, and doesn’t have any soft spots in the corners like I’d noticed with other lenses.”

The drive-thru weddings were hosted by the Alachua County clerk’s office, which had been contending with many couples who’d already obtained their wedding license and only had 60 days to get married before those licenses expired. “The clerk of the court opened a wedding window in a courthouse drive-thru that hadn’t been used for 20 years,” Kari says. “I thought to myself that I needed to photograph these weddings. We are living through history right now, this is something that our children and children’s children will learn about. It is very important for me as a photographer to document this time.”

© Kari Bjorn
24-70mm (36mm), F/11, 1/200th sec., ISO 500
Click image to view larger



Couples who’d made an appointment to take their vows would either drive or walk up to the window, where an officiant would be waiting to make things official, Kari explains. “It felt like an assembly line, a beautiful assembly line. Cars lined up with couples waiting to be married, with a trio of orchestral musicians playing the same bit from ‘Fools rush in’ by Elvis Presley after each ceremony, and a swarm of reporters waiting at the end of the line for interviews and pictures. Then they drove off waving at the crowd who cheered for them.”

© Kari Bjorn
24-70mm (49mm), F/8, 1/200th sec., ISO 200
Click image to view larger

A local baker provided cupcakes for the occasion, and a Gainesville florist handed out bouquets to beaming brides. “That’s the guy in the ‘Congrats’ face covering,” Kari says. “All you see is people wearing masks these days, and now they’re becoming personalized. It was cool that he wore one befitting the occasion.”

© Kari Bjorn
24-70mm (70mm), F/18, 1/200th sec., ISO 200
Click image to view larger

Although he doesn’t usually convert his photos to black and white, Kari drew inspiration for this series from his wife, who’s 99% of photographic work is in black-and-white. “It just felt like the right look for these images,” he says. “I remember going through my color pictures the day after the shoot, treating them how I usually do, and something just felt off. Once I flipped them to black-and-white and reworked the contrast, they felt right to me. In a sense, I was photographing and reliving my own wedding from another viewpoint. Our wedding pictures felt right to us in black-and-white so I felt these needed to be as well.”

© Kari Bjorn
24-70mm (40mm), F/3.5, 1/160th sec., ISO 400
Click image to view larger

Approaching his photos from a storytelling point of view is a consistent theme in Kari’s work, and he didn’t diverge from that approach in his drive-thru wedding images. “I always want to make sure I’m including an angle that isn’t usually seen, or detail shots that tell more of the story,” he says. “For instance, in the photo of the man placing the wedding ring on his soon-to-be-wife’s finger, I wanted to concentrate on the detail of the ring on her hand, but I also showed just a bit of his face so you can see his reaction as he’s putting it on her. It's not a traditional perspective, and it makes the photo pop.”

© Kari Bjorn
24-70mm (70mm), F/5, 1/200th sec., ISO 200
Click image to view larger

Kari also wanted to capture the mood of the moment separate from the matrimonial aspect. “In the photo of the couple kissing with the little boy standing between them—I believe that was the bride’s son—I purposely tried to include some of the other microphones and cameras from other journalists and photographers on the scene,” he says. “The event was somewhat of a media frenzy: NBC and the Washington Post were there, among other outlets. It was important to include that in the narrative.”

© Kari Bjorn
24-70mm (33mm), F/7.1, 1/200th sec., ISO 200
Click image to view larger

Kari also knew he wanted to capture the quirkier aspects of this once-in-a-lifetime event. He and his wife had been married by an officiant dressed like a Vegas-style Elvis, and so he wanted to ensure he depicted other couples having the same experience. “As you're about to pull up to the window, a courthouse employee asks you if you'd like a regular officiant or ‘Elvis,’” he explains. “Yes, it’s kitschy, but it’s supposed to be. It’s fun. Weddings should be fun.”

© Kari Bjorn
24-70mm (63mm), F/6.3, 1/200th sec., ISO 1600
Click image to view larger

“Many of them got pretty emotional. You could tell some of them were madly in love and had been waiting to get married for a long time. We’ve all been reading a lot about people who’ve had to postpone their weddings, in addition to all of the other hard things going on right now. I wanted to show that you can still find pockets of happiness in even the most difficult times.”

© Kari Bjorn
24-70mm (36mm), F/8, 1/200th sec., ISO 320
Click image to view larger

To see more of Kari Bjorn's work visit his website.




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