The last thing on the mind of anyone aboard the grounded Walla Walla ferry April 15 was a photo shoot.
Everyone, that is, except for Britt Jezak, a Port Orchard-based photographer who decided to use her skills to boost morale and celebrate beauty in an ugly situation with an impromptu photo shoot.
Jezak was one of 596 passengers aboard the vessel headed for Seattle, a trip she had not originally planned to take that day. However, a last-minute booking for a proposal shoot at the Seattle Great Wheel left her scrambling to make it on board. “I left twenty minutes after the call to try to catch the ferry on time,” she said. “I was like, ‘Maybe I can make the 4:15 boat out of Bremerton to Seattle,’ did the math in my head and said I can swing it.”
The ferry departed with her and her car on the vessel, but Jezak said she could sense something was wrong just minutes into the commute. She recalled the announcement for those in their cars to join the rest of the passengers upstairs, along with the message to brace for impact.
She immediately thought to take her camera bag with her, which at the time, was nothing more than a need to protect her investment, as she had just started her full-time stint as a photographer a couple months ago. “I looked at my camera bag and thought, ‘What if I can’t come back to my car?’” she said. “That’s my mobile office, you know? I’m going to grab everything.”
The ferry ran aground near Lynwood Center on Bainbridge Island during low tide. It quickly became clear, as the first hours passed, that both the ship and its passengers were not going anywhere. She said, “I think that’s when it hit real, you know, a sense of we’re really here. I’m not leaving anytime soon. Those kinds of moments woke people up, in a way.”
Jezak said she couldn’t help but feel for those who couldn’t make it to Seattle. Among the daily commuters and Mariners fans, one particularly dazzling group of disappointed passengers traveling to a U.S. Navy ball caught her eyes.
“There were so many beautiful people, ball gowns, uniforms, dressed to the nines on this ferry,” she said, continuing to praise their appearance. “They’re stunning. Wherever they’re going, it’s important.”
It took a little courage and asking permission from the captain, but Jezak decided to use her equipment and the outlandish circumstances to bring a little fun back into their day. She went around the ship introducing herself and inviting them to participate as a way to cheer them up and recognize their preparation for the night.
“Maybe I can’t get us out of here earlier. Maybe I can’t help with the ship problems or mechanics, but what I can do is definitely boost morale,” she said. “I can definitely show up and tell people you deserve to be celebrated. I see you; I see the effort you put in.”
In all, Jezak recalled doing about nine photo shoots that night with a number of officers and couples headed to the ball among other passengers aboard the ferry. The combination of the setting, the night sky and the flair of the passengers made for some heart-warming pictures. One couple even had some fun with the inconvenience, posing with bright-orange life jackets for some of the photos.
Jezak couldn’t help but laugh, while she herself was trying to take pictures with her own life jacket on. “Don’t get me wrong, they looked amazing. They were beautiful, the photos turned out stunning, but I looked hilarious. Like, no part of this was normal. I was sitting here like I didn’t have a neck.”
She said the photo shoot showed the best of humanity. The smiles, people coming together, the story behind her photos is what really made it successful. Those on the boat were eventually rescued and taken to Bremerton. They were able to pick up their cars in the morning.
But while it may have been a night to forget for many, Jezak vows she will never forget the night when she worked a little photography magic. “Everything that happened on the ferry, it just felt like my defining moment of career clarity,” she said.