A Picture-Perfect Wedding in the Big Easy

amerlin_135823599_0e0de0ed-bc27-4770-a103-a8024c6f131f-superJumbo

Danielle Levitt and Harry Eelman, both photographers of celebrities, after their wedding at the Marigny Opera House March 17 in New Orleans.CreditGraham Walzer for The New York Times

By David Lee Simmons

You could trace the courtship of Danielle Levitt and Harry Eelman by their photo shoots.

Their first meeting? The Amy Schumer shoot. The first real flirtation? TheChris Evans shoot. The first time they felt real chemistry? The Robert Pattinson shoot. First kiss? After the Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak shoot.

That’s the way it can play out for jet-setting portraiture photographers of fashion, culture and celebrity who live on opposite coasts. Ms. Levitt, 45, hails from Los Angeles but is based in New York, while Mr. Eelman, 34, (who has often served as her top assistant on these assignments) grew up on the East Coast and is based in Los Angeles.

All those flyover states couldn’t stop the electricity between the two, who found a middle ground in New Orleans at the Marigny Opera House for their March 17 wedding, which was the confirmation of a nearly four-year whirlwind built on making others look perfect.

The bride was accompanied down the aisle by her mother, Marie France Salaun, and her brother, Alain Levitt, and his children.CreditGraham Walzer for The New York Times

On that first assignment together, in March 2014, Mr. Eelman recalled, he and the other assistants already were setting up when Ms. Levitt blew into the room, running late, and “the air changed. She had so much energy, and she’s like this whole personality. I just went, ‘Wow, what’s going on? This is wild.’”

She was fixated on the way he carried himself. “Obviously I’m a visual person and who the hell knows what happens with attraction? But there’s this guy with this red Volvo station wagon and this mustache and this long hair and he’s driving this car and, I don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know. It just like, he just seemed unexpected to me, I guess, but now as much as I know him it makes sense.”

It might help at this point in their love story to explain what their close friends describe as one of your basic “fire and ice” dynamics that can be found in their work and personalities. 

Ms. Levitt is a live wire who, while perhaps not as famous as the celebrities she has captured on film, is just as charismatic. Her vibrant portraits, often saturated with colors that pop off the page, suggest a woman of strength behind the camera. Her personality confirms it; her friends talk of manic late-night texts, rambling phone calls where she often speaks in paragraph blocks and recounts crazy experiences.

Andy Harman, an artist and friend of the couple, performed the ceremony.CreditGraham Walzer for The New York Times

Still, friends wondered if she’d ever really find Mr. Right. Harry Eelman didn’t seem like the one when he first showed up.

In person, Mr. Eelman is calm and reserved. And, his images feature sometimes detached subjects, not apathetic so much as quietly comfortable in their own skin.

Their styles, behind the camera and away from it, contrast in such a way that for the first time in a decade, Ms. Levitt was noticing someone who could finally tip the scales in her work-life balance. (Even as they remembered their romance, Ms. Levitt was scattershot, getting details wrong, laughing at everything, while Mr. Eelman remembered every detail, rarely raising the volume of his voice in the telling of their adventures.)

“I had focused so heavily on my work,” she said, “and because I love it, and because it brings me joy, and I like telling stories, and I like to hopefully do my part and give back to the world, and influence the world and change the world in any way through representation or through storytelling. I felt like I had to work extra hard because I was self-teaching myself along the way.”

And along came Mr. Eelman, with no agenda but to be open to whom she is.

“Harry surprised me,” she said. “It surprised me. I had been single for a very long time.”

From their first meeting and onward, it was just a matter of keeping an East Coast-West Coast relationship developing. Generally, it was done through photo assignments — the more exotic, the better. Ms. Levitt got plenty of work in Los Angeles to make frequent visits and stays with Mr. Eelman at his home in Echo Park. Traveling together as a couple didn’t happen often, though.

That’s when the actor Neil Patrick Harris helped give the couple the nudge they needed. Mr. Harris had met and bonded with Ms. Levitt on a 2008 photo shoot in Alaska. He asked her if she wouldn’t mind “dropping down four pegs” to photograph his 2014 wedding to his longtime partner,David Burtka, at a rented castle in Perugia, Italy. Ms. Levitt quickly agreed.

 

Mr. Burtka and Mr. Harris couldn’t help but chuckle about a weekend that was meant to seal their own bond and wound up sealing another in the process. As they remember it, at first Ms. Levitt had said she was bringing a particular assistant, but not Mr. Eelman.

Image

Mr. Harman’s robe was quite obviously made for the occasion.CreditGraham Walzer for The New York Times

“And then she said, ‘I think I’m bringing a different assistant, and I’m not sure cause it’s a guy that I kind of like, and I don’t know … We’re gonna be in the same room,’” Mr. Harris recalled.

“And we were wondering,” Mr. Burtka said, “‘Should we get another room?’ She goes, ‘Nah, it’s all right. It’s fine, it’s fine. I’m a grown-up. You know, we’ll make it happen.’ And when I checked her into the room, I came into the room, I said, ‘Is this O.K.? There’s only one bed,’ and she goes, ‘Don’t worry about it, I got it covered.”

As Ms. Levitt said, looking back, “I took a risk.”

She marvels about how incredible the weekend was. “This sort of high level of romance. Like pasta, wine and Champagne and vistas and views. Harry thinks that I don’t like vistas, but it was amazing, stereotypical-like, textbook.”

She paused, “What does it mean to be on a romantic holiday?” She had found her answer. And for Mr. Burtka and Mr. Harris, it meant the obvious.

Guests were treated to “go cups,” which in New Orleans means being able to take your adult beverage outside an establishment.CreditGraham Walzer for The New York Times

“I really think that our wedding was the time that they fell in love,” Mr. Burtka said.

Romance blossomed into love. Trips to Los Angeles became increasingly longer stays, and, after a steady stream of photo assignments and more exotic trips, he decided it was time.

On a trip to Provence, France, in summer 2017, outside their villa and taking in another lovely vista, Mr. Eelman knelt down and proposed. She said yes, and they both cried.

“I was so elated,” Mr. Eelman said.

For Ms. Levitt, New Orleans was an ideal location between their two home bases for a wedding. She had fallen hard for the city over the years, sparked in part from friendships she had forged during a 2008 assignment on the bounce music scene in New Orleans.

Very quickly, she turned Mr. Eelman into a fan of the city.

“It’s kind of a little lawless, a little fun,” he said. “You can just have a good time and the people are great, and the food’s amazing, and it doesn’t feel like anywhere else in America.”

Image

Guests feasted on a menu that included cochon de lait po-boys, red beans and rice, and étouffée-spiced shrimp skewers.CreditGraham Walzer for The New York Times

The couple turned their days leading up to the March 17 ceremony as a kind of mini-vacation for their wedding party: traditional jazz at Preservation Hall, drinks at Vaughan’s Lounge, fried chicken at Willie Mae’s, Israeli food at Shaya, sandwiches at Turkey and the Wolf, Creole food at Neyow’s Creole Café, wine at Bacchanal, lunch at Commander’s Palace, a swamp tour, a cemetery tour — as with all things Danielle Levitt, it became a blur. (The day after the wedding, there was a drag brunch at the Country Club.)

Andy Harman, a New York artist and set designer, who became a Universal Life minister, showed up in a specially designed robe for the ceremony.

Ms. Levitt, who wore a silver lamé jersey gown designed by Rick Owens, sashayed down the aisle escorted by her mother, Marie-France Salaun, and her brother, Alain Levitt; her two nieces, Ludivine and Rima, tagged along as flower girls. As a gospel choir sang “Sea of Love,” Ms. Levitt did stutter steps to and fro, as the guests hooted their approval.

As they exchanged their vows, the couple fought back their tears.

“You broke down every wall I put up,” she said. “You’re my champion. I always feel I’m my best self with you. You inspire me to be the person I dream of becoming.”

Image

Neil Patrick Harris, who attended with his husband, David Burtka, and their children, gave a speech after the wedding.CreditGraham Walzer for The New York Times

“I feel like I’ve lived more in the past three and a half years than the whole of my life,” he told her. “I promise you, Danielle, to always help carry your expanding collection of luggage, I promise to support and love you, be by your side through the good and bad, to be your champion and best friend.”

And with that, the couple marched out into the spring afternoon for drinks and chatter as the opera house was reconfigured into a reception hall.

In a sea of seersuckers, satin and plaid shorts with matching jackets, and crocheted dresses, one stylish guest in particular stood out: the casting director Shay Nielsen, with her long, flowing, black-and-white Art Deco-style dress.

“What a colorful group!” Mr. Burtka said as he and Mr. Harris managed their 7-year-old twins, Gideon and Harper. “I’ve never seen so many hipsters out of Brooklyn!”

Image

A captured kiss during the couple’s first dance.CreditGraham Walzer for The New York Times

Once the reception started, Ms. Levitt returned wearing a gown made of silk habotai fabrics that she codesigned with the Los Angeles-based Everybody.World. Guests feasted on a menu that included cochon de lait po’ boys, red beans and rice, and étouffée-spiced shrimp skewers.

After guests danced to the classic soul tunes played by the Essentials, and toasted for hours, the Hot 8 Brass Band showed up to lead the party out of the opera house and over to Mimi’s in the Marigny, a nearby bar, for more dancing.

As the procession made its turn from Dauphine Street onto Franklin Avenue, one bystander asked another, “Is that Neil Patrick Harris?”

“Yes.”

“I feel like such an idiot. I went up to him and said, ‘Has anyone told you you look like Neil Patrick Harris?’ And he just nodded. The woman looked back toward the procession, called the second-line in New Orleans parlance.

“So, this is a wedding and not a funeral?”

“Yup.”

“Cool.”

ON THIS DAY March 17, 2018.

New York Times

Advertisements