The Second Dress Project


Photography By Charity Ponter

The idea behind her Second Dress photo series came to photographer Charity Ponter when she was standing in the closet and looking at her own wedding dress.

“I had that moment when you see the dress and wonder what on earth are you going to do with it,” Ponter says.

What she did with it became “Second Dress,” an ongoing photo series featuring portraits of women who are no longer married, wearing their original wedding dresses within a setting or location that represents the life they have now vs. the life they had when they wore their dress for the first time.

“In American culture (especially in the South), there exists an inordinate amount of focus and celebratory visual representation surrounding a wedding day, with little to no documentation or celebration of the life and changes that follow. For some, what follows their wedding day is longevity of relationship. For others, what follows are enormous changes of expectations, painful growth, and empowering rebirth,” says Ponter.

“I wanted to find the story behind the feeling of having a dress and not knowing what to do with it. What would be the opposite of wedding photography? What is the other side that no one is really seeing?”

“These dresses are a symbol of the arc of the rest of your life. It is something the person chose for themselves. I wanted to play on that. Not everything turned out as I expected. But I am still me,” Ponter says.

Second Dress is an ongoing project for Ponter. “I have a running list of people who want to do portraits. I feel I am just at the beginning of this.”

“Second Dress” is an ongoing photo series featuring portraits of women who are no longer married, wearing their original wedding dresses within a setting or location that represents the life they have now vs the life they had when they wore their dress for the first time.

In American culture (especially in the South), there exists an inordinate amount of focus and celebratory visual representation surrounding a wedding day, with little to no documentation or celebration of the life and changes that follow. For some, what follows their wedding day is longevity of relationship. For others, what follows are enormous changes of expectations, painful growth, and empowering rebirth.

Kirsten Winkle:

My name is Kirsten Winkle. I unexpectedly lost my husband at 25. He was 28. We were married for two years. Now I am 27 and I have almost lived as long as he did. This is a letter to him.

I am drowning.

You drowned. I was screaming and reaching and you drowned anyways. I knew you were gone but I screamed and prayed until they pulled your body from the water. I prayed and pleaded with God the whole way to the hospital. And while they made me wait. And when they took me into the room with the nice furniture and calm voices. That room had no oxygen and I was sure i was in a nightmare, and everyone was lying to me. There was no way you were dead. You were just here. When they finally let me see you, your body was still warm. You looked so alive, like you should just sit up at any moment. Like you were just sleeping, your mouth open slightly, like you were letting a typical baby snore out. Why didn’t you just wake up?

Every day since you’ve been gone I have been drowning. Some days in the deep end, completely submerged with no air and the crushing feeling of never feeling oxygen in my lungs again. Some days I’m waist deep in the shallow end. Some days my head comes up only for a breath and back down again. I can feel like weight of the water pushing me down, but I keep fighting. Like you would tell me to do.

That feeling is never going to go away. A piece of me will always be in the water, struggling to get back out. No matter how far I move forward, a piece of me lives under the water with you, searching for your hand to pull me back out.

Charity Ponter (self portrait):

I chose to leave my marriage to the shock and shame of my religious community at the time. I had to choose what I felt was best for me, even when those who I trusted at the time told me I was wrong.

After four years of marriage, leaving a man I had taken care of and who was my best friend was by far the hardest thing I have ever gone through. Since this experience, I surprisingly find myself standing on the paradoxical ground between still believing and even now more fully understanding the true beauty to be found in keeping a spiritual covenant of marriage (even when up against massive challenges), and yet being beyond thankful that I made the decision I did, believing that there is no such thing as mistakes, only opportunities – for abundant life, growth and beauty springing from the dirt of death and change.

In my portrait, holding the remote control shutter button for the camera in my right hand symbolizes taking back control and independence for myself as I have had to do so many things on my own that I was told I wouldn’t be able to do without someone else (a man) supporting me. I am proud of how hard I have worked on my relationships, my mental health, and becoming an entrepreneur. My perspective through hardship has been “I may be on the ground, but I am still here. I may be in the dirt, but there is new growth springing up everywhere”. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Amy Soverow:

The first time the dress is photographed, it is the center of the show, usually a celebratory event of a new life.  Most every photo of the bride will also be a photo of the dress that is the visual representation of her transformation into wife.  Weddings are hopeful affairs where the future holds great promise and lifetime love seems like a possibility, if not a destiny.  And, sometimes, that is exactly what will happen. But sometimes marriage ends through divorce or death and the magical dress from the magical beginning seems more associated with a painful ending.  

 “Second Dress” honors the new life that comes after marriage, one that usually begins quietly and privately instead of with family, friends and fanfare; and, frequently, without the realization that this new beginning holds a deep well of promise.  For me, hiking up a mountain ridge in my wedding dress and standing where my late husband’s ashes were scattered was symbolic of moving into a new phase of life with the soul-deep understanding that life occurs a moment at a time, and that every single moment is precious.  And, that there will always, always, always be mountains to climb.

Martha Lee Anne Baugh

Wearing my dress again, almost 5 years after walking down the aisle, felt something like this time I outgrew a pair of my favorite plastic, pink dress shoes when I was no older than six. Only, unlike my childhood self, it didn’t feel all wrong, or devastating- like I had imagined it might feel- it felt freeing, it felt right, like having outgrown a cage.

I was 26 when I married my best friend. 27 when he turned into someone I didn’t recognize. 28 when our son was born. That same year I took mine and my ten-month-old sons’ clothes and tucked them into the back of my car with a suitcase and the journal of letters I had given my husband on our wedding day. 29 when my spouse passed away. And now, at 31, I am living the year he never finished. 

The first time I bought flowers for myself, I was at Trader Joe’s. I chose these soft, blush roses. The instant I knew I was going to be the one who would get those beautiful, perfect roses, I felt this huge wave of grief- this moment of realizing all the simple joy, and happiness, and kindness and life I had gone without. I felt wrecked, but I also felt something else. I don’t think I would have called it hope, but I knew I could give myself flowers every Friday until the grief had passed, and my son and I had found a new life for ourselves.

I knew I could try to find the things that had been taken or that I felt I had lost. I could give myself and my son kindness.

Three years since those first roses, my son and I eat cereal out of the box, and do robot moves to “another one bites the dust.” We paint and twirl. We ride scooters in the driveway, and read “goodnight tractor” too much. We work, and daycare, and errands, and cook…We have a beautiful, crazy life. And we buy ourselves flowers. 

 

 

One Response to “The Second Dress Project”

  1. Tammy Cohen says:

    I love this article! I have always wondered what to do with my first wedding dress, I have two. I would love to donate my first dress to someone that needs it for their wedding. Any thoughts?

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