Virginia couple Marissa Blair and Marcus Martin were engaged in January and were looking to plan their wedding, but after a fateful day this summer, planning for their nuptials was no longer a priority.
On Aug. 12, the couple were standing among the counter-protesters at a rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., when a car allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. plowed into the crowd. At the last minute, Martin pushed Blair out of the way, taking a hit that broke his leg and saved her life. Their friend, Heather D. Heyer, was killed.
The loss was overwhelming and the weeks after the attack were turbulent, said Blair, a 28-year-old paralegal. The Amherst, Va., couple debated on whether they should postpone their wedding indefinitely, but upon hearing the news, Christina Moore, wedding planner and founder of Bella Giornata Events and Design in Fredericksburg, Va., reached out and encouraged them to move forward.
“We were like, ‘There’s no way you’re putting off a wedding because of hate,’” said Moore, 44.
Moore offered to organize the couple’s wedding, starting with their engagement photos.
Seeking out spectacular backdrops for a shoot that would encapsulate love, Moore suggested Baltimore’s Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower in downtown and Station North’s Graffiti Alley, where they hosted a glamorous photo shoot in late November.
Moore orchestrated it all, hiring vendors and photographers, who all volunteered their services — hair, makeup, clothing and flowers — for free.
Blair, who had never thought of doing engagement photos, said it was like Moore “fell from heaven.”
“I didn't even have to bring outfits,” said Blair, who was in awe of it all — especially the willingness of her fiance Martin, who despite not dressing up much, donned a suit for the shoot, she said.
“He doesn’t do stuff like this, but he didn't complain, not once,” said Blair, who saw the photo shoot as a way to show her and her fiance’s love for each other.
Michelle Harris, the Fredericksburg photographer and owner of M Harris Studios who donated her skills to the shoot, said the love was apparent.
“They are the most amazing couple ever. … They genuinely care. They’re so in love. It was just incredibly easy,” said Harris, adding that the main challenge during the photo shoot was the tight quarters in the Bromo tower. It made it difficult at times to capture the clock’s face, which served as a metaphor, according to Moore.
“It being, ‘their time is now’ and embracing the new year,” Moore said.
“The backdrop speaks volumes — It’s time to give up the hate.”
Moore, who will also plan the couple’s April wedding, said she was compelled to help in any way she could in hopes of allowing the couple to focus on healing and using their resources wisely in the trying weeks that followed the attack.
Martin, who is still recovering from a shattered tibia, destroyed ligaments and a broken ankle, is unable to work due to his injuries, said Blair, who made it away from the car attack with a bad bruise and some scrapes and scratches. The couple, along with several other people injured in the “Unite the Right” rally, have filed a lawsuit against Fields and rally organizers, Blair said.
The past months have been difficult, Blair said. Though typically optimistic, the rally proved to Blair that there were “some really bad people” in the world. Days later, however, hundreds of people across the world were reaching out to her, seeing how they could help.
The couple were taken aback, Blair said, and at first, the many offers felt uncomfortable. More than anything, Blair said the couple just wished they could have their friend back.
“It felt like blood money. Like, ‘y’all are just giving this because we … went through a horrible situation,’” she said. Eventually, friends encouraged Blair to let her guard down and to realize people were eager to show support and how much they cared. Her engagement shoot was a result of that.
Now, when days are tough or things don’t go her way, Blair said she looks to her engagement photos as a positive reminder.
“They just make me happy,” she said. “Baltimore was an amazing backdrop.”
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