May 22, 2013 at 3:27 PM ET
Claudia Nallely Agres, 21, has played a bride dozens of times as a model. But when it came to her own wedding in August 2011, she had quite the unconventional experience.
Her fiancé Matthew Agres, 24, who had enlisted in the Air Force, was expected to start basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio in December 2011.
But as the military is wont to do, Matthew’s orders were issued much earlier: he would instead start in late August and follow that stint with additional training in San Angelo, Texas.
The couple, which lived in San Antonio, would be separated for eight long months as visits were not permitted during basic training.
Though Claudia had long dreamed of a “huge church wedding,” she and Matthew decided to start their lives together as husband and wife before he shipped off.
On August 13, they were married in a civil ceremony. Claudia wore a knee-length pink dress with flower detailing on the neckline. The wedding was so impromptu and small — only Matthew’s sister and Claudia’s brother attended — that no photos were taken.
Claudia thought she’d be able to plan a large wedding after Matthew’s return, but then, last May, he was asked to move to Ramstein Air Base in Germany for the next three years.
“Who knows when I’ll actually get to [have a wedding],” Claudia told TODAY.com.
Ryan Brenizer, a wedding photographer who had worked with Claudia previously and stayed in contact, couldn’t believe the irony.
“She’s been pretending to be a bride for years,” Brenizer said. “For someone who has been in all these fabulous gowns, she had no photographs of herself [as a bride].”
Brenizer wanted to fix that. This past February, he had a shoot in London and offered to take photos of Claudia in a studio for an hour-and-a-half.
Claudia got a cheap flight from Germany, and brought with her a vintage dress that she uses for wedding photography workshops. Matthew was supposed to come, but couldn’t get released from work after a colleague called in sick.
“The question for me was, ‘How do you photograph someone who has been photographed as a bride for a living?’” Brenizer told TODAY.com. “How do you make it special? You don’t want her to feel like it’s just another job.”
Brenizer used props — includinga bike, dress model and suitcase — in the studio to create a whimsical scene. In one image, Claudia looks as though she is floating away, witha suitcase in one hand and the “arm” of the dress model in the other. In that shot, Brenizer made sheets of toilet paper look like white, puffy clouds.
“To step back and do something that was totally different is always exciting for me,” Brenizer said. “I feel like I’ve created something for her that she can have on her wall that’s very different from these very sensual bridal shoots she’s done around the world.”
Claudia appreciated Brenizer’s unique vision. “Everybody sees a pretty girl, a beautiful classic look,” she said of traditional wedding photography. “I’m all for it, but this was just fun and different. Not many photographers want to do [that].”
Brenzier is not done imagining Claudia’s special day, either. He hopes to return to Germany to photograph the couple to “see the love between these two people.” He also spoke to Claudia about a vintage-style shoot with Matthew in his uniform and airplanes in the background.
Claudia still doesn’t know when she and Matthew will have a formal wedding, but envisions wearing a mermaid dress and celebrating with her family and friends.
“We hope to be able to actually have the real thing,” she said.