(NEW ORLEANS) — Three New Orleans couples who suffered devastating losses in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, including the loss of their wedding photos, got a chance to re-create their wedding days for an army of professional photographers.
Among them were April and Darryl Allen, who have been married for 17 years. They lived two blocks from the breach in the London Avenue Canal.
“We lost our entire house. We had about eight feet of water in our house. We didn’t preserve a lot,” April Allen told ABC News. “There were a lot of things I had to leave behind or things that I thought I had put high enough. We thought we’d get a foot.”
Allen had to leave behind her wedding photos, but in the wake of all of the other destruction, the loss didn’t really resonate for several years.
“Until you experience something like that, you don’t really know how you’ll react,” she said. “But when you lose everything and you have to rebuild your entire home, you have two small children, jobs, bills…you’re sad that you lost these things but you have to put back together what you have.”
A few weeks ago, she saw a tweet that caught her attention. The convention and visitors bureau was looking for couples who had lost their wedding photos in Katrina. She followed the link and filled out an application.
Before she knew it, Allen was in a stunning strapless wedding gown posing for a bevy of photographers in some of New Orleans’ most picturesque spots.
“It was so much fun,” Allen said. “It wasn’t just one photographer, it was 20. We got hair and makeup. It was actually more fun and no stress [compared to the wedding]. At your wedding, you’re stressed about every detail.”
The Allens were just one of three couples chosen for the “Pay it Forward” shoot run by the Digital Wedding Forum, an organization of wedding and portrait photographers.
Right after Hurricane Katrina, the Forum raised $100,000 to aid photographers who lost clientele and equipment. The group developed an “affinity” for New Orleans, according to its founder and CEO Jeff Caplan. This year, the Forum decided to have its yearly convention in New Orleans.
“At the end of the convention, we decided we wanted to give back in some small way,” Caplan said. A team of 122 photographers led by well-known wedding photographer John Michael Cooper assembled for the shoot.
Caplan said it was both an education experience for the photographers and a way to give back. He described it as an “exciting experience” for everyone involved.
“The important thing that we learned while down there and talking to the locals is that it’s been cleaned up but you don’t blink away a horror like that in a mere seven years,” Caplan said.
The couples will be speaking with Cooper and his team this week to put together wedding albums with their favorite photos. April Allen was excited to see the images and get back a little piece of what she lost.
“It’s something you can really never get back. What we do get back will be different but will still be in the same spirit,” she said. “It is really cool. Everyone wants something to sit down with their daughter and say, ‘Look at Mom and Dad all dressed up.’”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jen Christensen, CNN
Lisa Respers France, CNN
Doug Criss and Emily Smith, CNN