Photographer Replaces Wedding Album for California Couple Who Lost Everything in Wildfire

The wedding photos of Marc and Mary Taylor went up in flames, with their home, in California's Camp Fire.
Marc and Mary Taylor were married in 1999. Briggs Photography

Marc and Mary Taylor had to run for their lives last year in California's deadly Camp Fire.

Marc and Mary Taylor had to run for their lives last year as California's deadly Camp Fire bore down on them. They had time to grab very little, and when they became stuck in a massive traffic jam of fleeing residents, they had to abandon their car, too.

Nearly every piece of physical evidence of their life together was gone. Their clothes. Their furniture. Their home. Their photographs, including their 1999 wedding album.

Actually, the Taylors were lucky. The deadliest fire in the history of California, a state that's well used to wild blazes, claimed at least 85 lives, burned out of control for 18 days and destroyed more than 18,000 structures. Seventeen people were injured and two others are still listed as missing.

Mary Taylor held onto a sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe, the photographer who shot her wedding nearly 20 years ago still had the negatives. 

"She called up and talked to my wife," professional photographer Richard Briggs told Friday. "She sheepishly asked, 'Do you happen to have our wedding photos from 1999?'''

Briggs, who worked for 10 years as a crime scene photographer for the Stockton Police Department, knew very well how important it is to hang onto his work. "We'd go to court and we'd have to have evidence," he said. For his entire career, he's never thrown away his work.

"I knew exactly where they were," he said. Up in the attack, in boxes of processed film filed by year. "It took me like 20 minutes to find the negatives," he said. 

They were a little faded, and had worn thin over the years. But Briggs believed he could fix those problems and restore the images to their previous quality.

So he called Mary back. "She started to cry. Then she told her husband and he started crying, because they had nothing. All the photos they had on the walls of their family, they're all gone."

Briggs' heart went out to the couple. "They're beautiful people," he said. "I just can't imagine losing everything."

So he decided to do something special. He went out and bought a scanner to digitally transform the images. His wife, using Photoshop, restored the faded colors. He even had taken a photo of the Taylors' wedding license, so he was able to include that. 

"I was just elated to be able to sit down and build them a coffee table album," he said. He sent the finished collection off to a printer. He paid for the work himself.

"There's no way I could charge these people with everything they'd been through. Could you imagine going to work one day and you never go home again?" The couple was able to stop briefly and rescue their dogs and an armful of important papers, but that was about it, Briggs said.

Blasted by winds up to 100 mph, the fire was a great beast of flame that even cars couldn't outrun, especially when the numbers of evacuees clogged local roads and turned them into parking lots. "They ran from their car," he said. 

The Taylors had made such an impression on Briggs, that he remembers shooting their wedding on August 14, 1999. "They are just the sweetest people," he said. "They were so touchy-feely in love." He recalls being in the middle of the aisle as Mary walked toward her intended. 

He turned to get Marc's reaction and "tears are coming down his cheeks," Briggs recalled. 

When he delivered the newly bound wedding album earlier this month, the Taylors hadn't changed a bit, he said. "They still acted like they were engaged. They were still really in love."

Some of the people at their ceremony have passed on, Briggs said, and being able to see them again, as they were on that special day, brought the husband and wife to tears.

"Oh, she was shaking, she was so emotional," he said. Marc's mother had died six days before Christmas in 2018. "He was pretty choked up about that," Briggs said. 

"It's not just the couple getting married," he said of his job. "It's the family, too. Grandma and grandpa, the parents," everything that makes a wedding a collective memory. 

He's been doing this full time since 2007. He likes it much better than documenting crime scenes and blood spatter.

"That's where I get my love for doing wedding photography," he said. "People are smiling. They're happy."