“Weddings are great, but it’s a serious job. It’s someone’s memorable moment. You have to make people happy, even beyond what they were expecting. You have to make sure they are totally wowed.” Tobago-based Celeste Hart doesn’t really classify herself as a wedding photographer, although those assignments make up the bulk of her work. “I also do portraits, family photos, corporate work, and videos.”
Her background has always been in visual and media arts. Since graduating high school, she has worked as an announcer and DJ for Radio Tambrin, has broadcast news for Tobago Channel 5, and edited government programmes for the THA. The segue into wedding photography happened when she agreed to shoot and edit a wedding video for two of her Channel 5 colleagues. “It was a bit like TLC’s Wedding Show. It was aired on Channel 5, which was new and looking for programming.”
Hart’s interest in weddings was also bolstered by the fact that her parents ran a wedding coordinating company that planned and executed “destination weddings”, in which tourists could fly into Tobago and have their dream wedding on the beach. Not only did her mother do the photography, but both parents also officiated at the weddings. Hart’s wide range of creative talents isn’t surprising: she’s one of THOSE Harts. The legendary Edmund Hart is her great-uncle, and the irrepressible Luis, her cousin. Her mother, Christine Jackson-Hart is a former Miss T&T, who represented us at Miss Universe two years before Penny Commissiong and became the first to win Miss Amity.
Growing up in an unconventional family brought a wealth of experiences. As a young girl, Hart travelled with her family to Canouan, where they worked as Christian missionaries for several years. “I had a very interesting childhood. We lived under the church, and had no electricity. I grew up listening to the radio, but didn’t have much television, except when they turned on the generator, and it was all old shows like Charlie’s Angels, Knight Rider and Rockford Files. To me, that was new television.” “I can tell my children that I literally walked a mile to school,” she goes on. “I held onto rocks and climbed up to get to the road.” A natural redhead with freckles, she burned to a crisp in the sun. At night, she did her homework by the light of a lantern. The eldest of six, and the only girl, she took care of the others. It wasn’t a normal childhood, but it was “a treasure”.
Despite the challenges to her education, she passed Common Entrance among the top 50 girls, and was sent to her first choice in St. Vincent, boarding with another pastor. Within months, her family realised she needed to be with them, and they returned to Tobago. In conjunction with her Tobagonian husband, Reece, Hart formed Celeste Hart Photography. Her relationship with him sounds as romantic as any of her videos; they were friends and colleagues for years before love found them. “I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am without him.” Together, they raise their two young children, and run a business that’s known for its fresh and creative approach to wedding cinematography. “We express the couple’s style, what they would like on their special day.”
One of their most popular services is Trashing the Dress photo sessions, in which the bride literally destroys her wedding dress while the cameras roll. “We do semi-underwater, waves, rocks, paint, oils... anything she wants to.” While purists would be horrified by the destruction of such a precious keepsake, Hart explains that a bride’s destruction of her wedding dress is actually a demonstration of devotion to her husband. “It symbolises that she is committed to the marriage. The dress won’t be used again.” It also gives the bride the chance to be more uninhibited; as it’s her wedding day, she can be as expressive as she wants. “It’s about getting her to look amazing despite being soaking wet. Sometimes the husband jumps in. If he’s really into it, it’s fun.”
With her colouring, Hart has had to cope all her life with being different, despite being a bona fide Trini. “People assume I’m a tourist. In secondary school I was called names, totally not accepted. At weddings, people think they brought in a photographer. ” As she has become well known, the same people who teased her now wave and smile. It has become a little easier, but she knows that being different will always affect her life. Yet, Hart remains unfazed. “I am okay with who I am, now. I am completely comfortable in my skin.”