Weddings are big business for many photographers. Indeed, over the course of ten years, Andrea Polito had built a successful career from shooting the big days of more than 600 couples. After Neely Moldovan and her fiancé hired her for their wedding, however, they destroyed the photographer’s reputation and business. Then the truth about the newlyweds began to emerge.
Neely Moldovan is a lifestyle and beauty blogger from Dallas, Texas. In October 2014 the 30-something married her fiancé Andrew. No doubt the newlyweds would have liked to decorate their new home in the suburbs with photos from their happy day when they moved in in April 2015.
But there was a problem. Months after her wedding Moldovan was still waiting on the final images from the photographer she’d hired. She turned to her tens of thousands of social media followers to express her heartbreak at not yet having received the photos of her special day.
Before long, the media became involved. “It’s heartbreaking, because, you know, these are our memories,” Moldovan lamented to a local news crew as she held up empty picture frames, according to The Washington Post. As more media outlets picked up on the despairing bride’s plight, the story subsequently spread overseas.
“Wedding photographer holds couple’s pictures hostage,” was how the U.K.’s Daily Mail told it. In the couple’s version of events, Moldovan and her husband had spent $6,000 on securing Andrea Polito’s services to shoot their wedding. But now the photographer was asking for a further $150.
When Moldovan paid $6,000 for her wedding photos package, she knew that the cost would include an album holding up to 80 pictures. What the cost didn’t include, however, was the album cover. Moldovan said that she couldn’t understand why there would be a further charge for it.
“It just didn’t make sense,” Moldovan’s husband told a local news channel. “An album comes with a cover. It’s a component of an album. It’s a book.” For the couple, however, the situation grew worse when the photographer informed them that there would be an additional $250 charge for the cover should they miss the initial deadline for payment.
“We can pay the $150, but it’s the principle,” Moldovan told a local reporter, according to the Daily Mail. “It’s not the money to us. It’s the principle of the fact we already paid.” Many of the blogger’s social media followers agreed. And they, too, wanted to share their opinions on the matter.
Moldovan’s supporters in fact paid visits to Polito’s website and social media pages. Unhappy with the situation, they began to leave negative reviews of the photographer’s services. Work consequently dried up for Polito, she stopped shooting weddings and the reputation that she’d spent 12 years building was destroyed.
But then another picture started to emerge, as Polito began to express her side of the story. It turned out that the Dallas-based photographer had been working with the couple to resolve the matter, even when the couple started whipping up a media storm over the situation.
In the months leading up to the wedding, Politio had agreed a package with Moldovan. This included shots of the couple’s engagement and the rehearsal dinner, as well as the wedding itself. And because of Molvodan’s social media profile, Polito wanted everything to be perfect.
Weeks after the wedding, Moldovan began emailing Polito’s company to ask when the photos of her wedding would be available. Polito’s office emailed back explaining that, as per their contract, their package would be sent once their order was complete. The process can sometimes take months.
Polito sent proofs to Moldovan, hanging onto high-resolution images until delivery of the final product. This procedure is standard for any photography studio. The instructions to Moldovan were clear: she must complete a form detailing the treatment of the album cover.
Weeks went by. Then weeks turned into months. Eventually, on January 8, 2015, Moldovan tweeted to her followers, “Broke down and chose our wedding album photos… 80 out of 4,000. Yeah, that was like Sophie’s Choice.” The same day, she emailed Polito’s studio.
“I’m finally getting around to filling this [form] out,” Moldovan stated to the studio. Then she asked, “Do we pay extra for a cover?” The cover, as stated by Polito in her initial meetings with Moldovan, was a bespoke item, designed in accordance with the bride’s instructions, which determined its final cost.
Moldovan, however, refused to accept that the album cover was an additional cost. Or that she couldn’t have the high-res images until her order was complete. The blogger and her husband began stirring up friends, followers and the media, demanding a wedding album that they claimed that they’d already paid for.
The messages that the couple had sent to friends subsequently emerged – and they were not pleasant. “I’m going apes*** on our photographer,” Moldovan’s husband texted a friend. “We want our f***ing wedding album, which we already paid for.” Meanwhile, Moldovan told a friend, “We are hoping that our story makes the news and completely ruins her business.”
The first that Polito knew of the situation was a post on Instagram that depicted an NBC crew filming in Moldovan’s apartment. Then the blogger’s followers began “reviewing” Politio’s work. “Thousands of people that I have never met and have never worked with have gone to great lengths … to disparage my name and my businesses,” Polito later wrote in a blog post.
While the couple were busy pushing their side of the story in the media, Polito sued them for defamation. Her business was ruined and the now out-of-work photographer was forced to live off savings pending a trial. Two-and-a-half years later, a judge ordered the Moldovans to pay Polito $1.08 million in damages for deliberately smearing Polito’s name and reputation.
“I’m emotionally exhausted. This has been a very long battle,” Polito, a single mom, told the Dallas Morning News. “When the verdict was read I felt a little bit relieved, but most importantly I feel my reputation was restored to myself.” Polito is currently rebuilding her business from scratch.