He was raised across the border in Murray, Kentucky, where his mother was a school teacher and his father was a land surveyor. There he explored the woods, built forts and played with his dog Rascal. But his dad had a desire to try something new, so when Ben was 11, they moved to Sarasota, Florida. And for a few years it was ideal. They went to the beach every weekend (including every Christmas Day). They never were cold. And Ben still had plenty of woods to build forts in. Even at 15 years old.
But then Ben’s parents needed a more arid climate, so they moved to New Mexico. At first, Ben hated the dry heat, the lonely desert and the difficult language everyone seemed to speak. But then he went to college at New Mexico State University, where he studied photojournalism, and everything changed. He found the beauty in different cultures. Different languages. Different ways of life. He fell in love with people in general, which lead to him working for newspapers around the state.
In the next few years as a photojournalist, Ben took over a million photos, and met thousands and thousands of people in the process. He began to learn the art of photography, and the confidence to care about complete strangers. But he needed something more than the newsroom could give.
So at 27, he left his home in Santa Fe and traveled to Asia on his own to document the devastation of the tsunami that ravaged Indonesia and Sri Lanka. He spent two months with people who had lost their entire families, but still were able to smile at the end of the day. This energy to be alive changed him. And when he came home from that trip a different person, he decided that documenting weddings would be a career he could be proud of. He was still documenting real life, but was no longer standing in mass graves. He got to be involved in a cultural celebration that is integral to every community around the globe. It became his life’s work.
Following Santa Fe, Ben moved to San Francisco. In the process, he met Erin, a photographer who lived in Atlanta. The two of them became close, then became inseparable. And so she went to San Francisco too. They moved into the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, famous as the staging ground for the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s. They lived in a small two-bedroom apartment, where they built Ben Chrisman Photography into Chrisman Studios.
After two years in the city, they moved across the Bay Bridge to the Oakland Hills where their home was a sort of Andy Warhol Factory for photographers. There were portrait shoots, commercial shoots, meetings, parties and sleepovers. Every photographer passing through the area stopped by. Some stayed for a few days. Some didn’t leave for years. It was a magical five years where everyone changed and everything blossomed.
In that period, Ben and Erin got married. Twice. The first time was in Las Vegas the day after their bachelor and bachelorette parties. The second time was two weeks later in Campeche, Mexico. Of their 60 guests, twenty were old friends and family. Twenty were fellow photographers. And twenty were former brides and grooms who had become so much more than just clients. There isn’t a day that Ben does not think about that weekend and how amazing it was that all those people came to one tiny spot in the jungle just for them.
People seem to know Ben and Erin as being from California, but really they are two Southern kids who have gotten to experience much more of the world than they ever expected. And in 2015, they decided to return to where they started. So that summer, they packed up all their clothes, computers and cameras into one big moving truck and drove east across the county to their new home in Charleston, South Carolina. Erin grew up in Charleston, and her family still lives there. So now more than ever, they feel like they belong somewhere. It’s really hot. There are mosquitos. Ben now has to mow the grass. But it’s home, and they are so excited about getting involved in the community, eating lots of boiled peanuts and getting back to the beach every so often. Maybe even on Christmas Day.
Charleston is now one of the top wedding destinations in the country. But that’s not why Ben and Erin moved there. They found a home they loved downtown, where they could walk to restaurants, swing on their front porch and visit Erin’s parents anytime they want. If you’re in the area, drop them a line. If they aren’t traveling to a wedding, they are usually home. And if you’re getting married, they’ll take good care of you. Just like their polite Southern parents taught them to do.