By Cristina Carreon
Blake McCollum and Joyce Li have been best friends since college at Mississippi State University after sharing a locker while in the same painting class. The Tupelo couple now run a photography, design and letterpress business and celebrated their 30th birthdays together in September. On October 12, McCollum proposed. McCollum photographed his friend photographer Michael Foster preparing to take glass ambrotype photos of the couple when McCollum surprised Li by dropping to one knee in the middle of a long-exposure shot.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your proposal?
BLAKE: The photographer Michael Foster is a friend of mine, and the way we tried to keep it secret was to make it her idea. She is obsessed with our dog (Mandy) and I am too, so Michael group-texted us that he was going to be in Tupelo for a big job the next day and he asked if we would mind standing in for a photo. So instead of me saying “Let’s get our photo taken today,” red flag, red flag, it was kind of her idea for us to go take a picture with Mandy.
Q: What was it like preparing everything ahead of time while keeping Joyce in the dark until the last minute?
BLAKE: There were a lot of moving parts with the photographer, and her family being only a few blocks away. I actually had help from her sisters with getting her family there because they are from Philadelphia. Her sisters are in Oxford and my family is from Amory, so it was a lot of moving parts.
Q: What was the moment of the proposal like? Was there tension in the moment?
BLAKE: Michael was putting chemicals in the glass and then he said not move. He said it was going to be a test shot because the chemicals he uses can go bad in like 24 hours, so you never know if it is going to work until you have taken the shot. He didn’t expect it to come out as clear as it did.
JOYCE: He turned to me and told me not to move and then it happened. That was the actual moment too (caught on film) — it was so hard to stay still because all I wanted to do was squeeze him as soon as he dropped down on one knee.
Q: Did you have any idea that Blake would propose?
JOYCE: I honestly had no idea. I didn’t suspect it until I saw him on one knee.
Q: Did you both discuss marriage before the big moment?
JOYCE: We’ve always talked about getting married, we’ve just never really been in a big hurry. We’ve been together for seven years, but I think our families have been more hurried about it.
BLAKE: Especially with a traditional Chinese family, every time we go home, I know they are talking about it!
Q: Blake, did you talk to Joyce’s family first before the proposal?
BLAKE: I did. I’m close with her sisters, who helped because sometimes there is a bit of a language barrier even though her parents speak English. Her little sister and her big sister helped bring her parents to Oxford and I talked to them one-on-one a couple of weeks before, with help from her big sister. Her mom basically said it was about time!
Q: Blake, from a recent blog post detailing how you planned the proposal, you wrote that you had the idea to do the proposal using this unique type of photography long ago. What is unique about this type of photography?
BLAKE: Nobody really does it anymore. When I was talking about it to Michael, he said it’s a pain and that’s why no one does it anymore. The chemicals go bad really fast, the long exposure…
JOYCE: It was really cool because he had all of his tools and equipment there in his trailer, so we could see the entire process. We saw him put the emulsion on the glass, and then he took the picture. Afterwards he washed it with some chemicals and the image would appear.
Q: Have you two ever posed for this particular type of photography before?
JOYCE: We’ve done it twice. We’ve had one taken on Valentine’s Day and the other one in the rain one day.
Q: What is the wedding going to look like?
BLAKE: We think it will be something small, and then we will have a small party with friends and family. We haven’t set a date yet.
Q: Will you have these same type of photos taken again later?
BLAKE: We would love to get photos taken for the bridal portrait, but it’s all going to depend on where it is. I told him (Michael) I was going to want something wedding-ish even if it is after the wedding, and he said we could do something not quite like a series, but something that just goes together with the proposal photos.
JOYCE: Another thing I thought was really special about our proposal was that Blake brought his digital camera with him to photograph Michael’s process. I didn’t think anything of it because I know Blake is interested in the history of photography. At the end of the day, it was really nice to have both of those photos to look back on!