Of all the many things that make up a wedding, few are more important than the photographs.
Long after the last of the cake has grown stale and the tossed bouquet has wilted, the photos endure, stirring memories and providing vivid proof that the day of one’s dreams took place.
So it is not particularly surprising that one groom, disappointed with his wedding photos, decided to sue. The photographers had missed the last dance and the bouquet toss, the groom, Todd J. Remis of Manhattan, said.
But what is striking, said the studio that took the pictures, is that Mr. Remis’s wedding took place in 2003 and he waited six years to sue. And not only has Mr. Remis demanded to be repaid the $4,100 cost of the photography, he also wants $48,000 to recreate the entire wedding and fly the principals to New York so the celebration can be re-shot by another photographer.
Re-enacting the wedding may pose a particular challenge, the studio pointed out, because the couple divorced and the bride is believed to have moved back to her native Latvia.
Although Justice Doris Ling-Cohan of State Supreme Court in Manhattan dismissed most of the grounds for the lawsuit, like the “infliction of emotional distress,” she has allowed the case to proceed to determine whether there was indeed a breach of contract. But she displayed a good deal of amusement about the lawsuit’s purpose in an opinion in January that quoted lyrics from the Barbra Streisand classic “The Way We Were.”
“This is a case in which it appears that the ‘misty watercolor memories’ and the ‘scattered pictures of the smiles … left behind’ at the wedding were more important than the real thing,” the judge wrote. “Although the marriage did not last, plaintiff’s fury over the quality of the photographs and video continued on.”
Mr. Remis is suing H & H Photographers, a 65-year-old studio known fondly among thousands of former and current Bronx residents because it chronicled their weddings, bar mitzvahs and communions.
One of the two founders, Curt Fried, escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna in September 1939 as a 15-year-old and was drafted into the United States Army, where he learned to shoot pictures assisting cameramen along the legendary Burma Road supply line to China during World War II. Mr. Fried recalled that in the late 1940s, Arthur Fellig, the celebrated street photographer known as Weegee, twice sought work at the studio when he needed money, but was turned down because he did not own a suit.
In November 2003, Mr. Remis, an equity research analyst, and his fiancée, Milena Grzibovska, stepped into the H & H studio, which was then in Riverdale, met with Mr. Fried and signed a contract to have photographs and videotape taken of their wedding the next month — on Dec. 28 — for $4,100.
It was a small party, with fewer than 40 guests, at Castle on the Hudson in Tarrytown. Photographs show a cheerful bride and groom surrounded by delighted relatives, including Ms. Grzibovska’s mother, Irina, and her sister Alina, who traveled from Latvia.
But a month after the wedding, when Mr. Remis returned to the studio to look over the proofs, he complained that the three-person crew had missed the last 15 minutes — the last dance and the bouquet toss. He noted in a deposition last July that the employees at H & H did not respond in a courtly fashion.
“I remember being yelled at more than I have ever been yelled at before,” Mr. Remis said.
In his lawsuit, he also complained that the photographs were “unacceptable as to color, lighting, poses, positioning” and that a video, which he had expected to record the wedding’s six hours, was only two hours long.
“I need to have the wedding recreated exactly as it was so that the remaining 15 percent of the wedding that was not shot can be shot,” he testified.
Mr. Fried, now 87, chuckles at this idea: “He wants to fly his ex-wife back and he doesn’t even know where she lives.”
Mr. Remis, who said at his deposition that he has not been employed since 2008, and his lawyer, Frederick R. McGowen, did not return messages left on their phones. Ms. Grzibovska did not respond to a message left through her Facebook page. The next court hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
Mr. Fried said Mr. Remis left the studio in 2004 with 400 proofs — essentially small photographs used for selecting a few dozen photographs for the album; Mr. Remis claims “the office kept everything.” But a 2004 magazine published by Mr. Remis’s alma mater, Bowdoin College, which is also online, displays a photograph of the bride and groom in a feature on alumni weddings. Mr. Fried said it was a photograph his firm took.
The couple separated around 2008 and their divorce, which Mr. Remis contends was amicable, was finalized in 2010. Mr. Remis sued in 2009, just before the statute of limitation was about to expire, according to Mr. Fried.
Mr. Remis testified that he wanted photographs of the wedding, even if it ended in divorce and even if Mr. Fried contended he already had them.
“It was unfortunate in its circumstances,” he said, “but we are very much happy with the wedding event and we would like to have it documented for eternity, for us and our families.”
Mr. Fried retired in 2004 and turned his half of the business over to his son Dan, who now operates the studio with Lawrence Gillet, a son of the other founder, from a loft in Irvington, in Westchester County.
Dan Fried said that the costs of defending the lawsuit had already matched the amount sought by Mr. Remis and that it was hurting his business’s bottom line. He said the case was “an abuse of the legal system.”
Mr. Remis’s lawyer works for Goodwin Procter, where Mr. Remis’s father, Shepard M. Remis, is a litigation partner. The younger Mr. Remis has testified that he is paying his lawyer himself.
Curt and Dan Fried are paying their lawyer, Peter Wessel, themselves, they said, and the costs — $50,000 — the time the suit has taken and the distress have taken a toll.
“I had a good life, thank God,” Curt Fried said, “and at the end of my life this hits me in the face.”
Source Cited: Berger, Joseph. “Years Later, Lawsuit Seeks to Recreate a Wedding.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 03 Nov. 2011. Web. 12 July 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/nyregion/suit-against-photographer-seeks-re-creation-of-wedding-after-divorce.html?_r=1>.