Erica Nix cries almost every weekend. But as the artist and photographer behind Austin Queer Weddings, she has the happiest possible reasons for tears.
Erica Nix arrived for our first meeting wearing Lululemon workout pants and a ringer t-shirt. “I was told I didn’t have to be pretty,” she said by way of introduction. It should be noted that Nix is pretty, all sparkly smile and wild halo of red corkscrew curls, even in her workout gear, which is the standard uniform for one of her other jobs. In addition to being a wedding photographer, portrait photographer and artist, she has her own fitness coaching business. “I’m a little ADD, I guess,” she explains.
As a PhotoComm major at St. Edward’s University, Nix was trained in both the art and technical components of photography, giving her photos a uniquely artistic and occasionally documentary quality. She didn’t originally plan to be a wedding photographer. “I don’t know that it was always my dream job,” she laughs, “but a professor of mine was doing it” and she joined him in the business after graduating in 2003.
Like most working artists, Nix worked plenty of odd customer service jobs as she built her business, with some stops at Keep-Austin-Weird standards like Toy Joy, Wheatsville Co-op and Thrift Town. She and her business partner Jessica Attie, now a photo-editor at St. Edward’s University, started Austin Queer Weddings in 2012.
“We’re both artsy people,” she says of Attie, “but she’s not as wild as I am, more business-y.”
As we sat and looked through some samples of her wedding photos that she has on her website www.austinqueerweddings.com, we talked about the perspective that she brings to her work. Nix is clearly a technique geek, adjusting aperture and lenses to shorten the depth of field, lightly blurring backgrounds, manipulating light—a quality she calls “glow-y”—and creating a tight focus on her subjects. This tight focus emphasizes the sense of intimacy in the photographs, most of which have such an authentic sweetness to them that they should probably come with a warning label: may cause lumps in throats or tears in eyes.
I asked Nix about how she manages to capture these moments, these particular gestures, to see them coming and click the button a second before they happen. She chalks it up to both her training and an artist’s eye.
“Documentary photography is capturing the moment rather than creating the moment. It’s best if you can capture it—it feels more magical. If it wasn’t artistic, it wouldn’t be fun.”
Intimate is a word that Nix thinks about often. She hears it a lot in reference to her work and finds that it is a persistent theme in her personal life. “I talk a lot about that in therapy, so I think it’s interesting that it comes out so clearly in my work.”
While terms like “sweetness” and “intimacy” make a lot of sense as descriptions of wedding photographs, Nix acknowledges that there is a radical side to the work that she does. While she understands groups like Queerbomb that take the position that the whole wedding/marriage thing is fundamentally heteronormative, she feels that the bottom line is that queer couples are made up of individual people and if they want engagements and weddings and marriages that they are just as entitled to them as hetero couples. There isn’t a right way to be queer.
“Things are changing,” she says. “There’s less homophobia.” But, she notes, “these people in Texas aren’t given the right to be married, and the fact that they are doing it anyway is pretty powerful.” By creating photographic documentation of love—she also shoots engagements, pregnant belly pictures, families and even erotic art—for the queer community, Nix is well aware of the larger context. Love shouldn’t be radical, but the reality is that it is.
She has been advised by friends, colleagues and family members, both gay and straight, not to use the word queer in her business name. They’ve said that she shouldn’t label herself or limit her potential clients, but being 100% authentically herself is a critical piece of who Nix is as an artist and a person.
“I really practice these days outing myself in my medium….It means a lot to me to be completely out. It’s a big deal. My sexuality means a lot to me and my community means a lot to me. It’s a part of my identity.”
Ultimately, Nix’s job as a wedding photographer is about love. When I ask her how she manages to get such great shots, the ones that really capture personalities, intimacy, excitement and playfulness, at events that can be stressful affairs, she is surprised by the question. She only sees the positive emotions, the joy. “I’m really at these people’s weddings; the photographer has the best seat in the house. I get to know them. I’m a witness and a guest.” Weddings are happy days, she adds, which means that “the odds are in my favor.”
Nix tells a great story of a wedding that she photographed. The whole event took place in front of a huge photographic sunset. An important member of one of the grooms’ family didn’t show up at the last minute and a member of the wedding party, a friend, stood up to give the toast in the missing family member’s place, raising her glass and saying “WE are your family.”
“These are emotional, beautiful moments,” Nix says. And she cries every time.