Mrs Oxford said she is lucky because they eventually received most of their photos. Mr Schembri sent digital files a few months after the wedding. However, it took 15 months of follow-up before they got their wedding album – and it was still not what they had paid for.
The couple received some money back from Mr Schembri in 2019 and a further refund in January 2020, two and a half years after the wedding, after taking the matter to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The Sun-Herald has interviewed two other couples who spoke on condition of anonymity because they still don’t have their wedding photos and are hopeful of negotiating an outcome. Disgruntled customers are also sharing their stories at the Instagram account @ryan_schembriphoto_review_page.
A business customer, who paid for videography to promote her retreat business and never received it, also told The Sun-Herald she would file legal action on Monday to recover about $2000.
The NSW Department of Fair Trading has received 16 complaints against Mr Schembri since 2018 but has not reached the threshold of 10 complaints a month required to place him on the Complaints Register.
The Australian Institute of Professional Photographers cancelled Mr Schembri’s membership in September 2020 after finding he had not complied with the organisation’s standards.
The finding in favour of the Oxfords was technically recorded against XSiGHT Photography and Video, a Melbourne-based business that took the original deposit on behalf of Mr Schembri in 2016.
XSiGHT owner Nick Ghionis said Mr Schembri used his business name under licence from about 2004 but stopped paying licence fees in 2010. Mr Schembri said the arrangement ended in 2016.
“It took a while for us to wind down the whole operation in terms of his involvement,” Mr Ghionis said. “Unfortunately, I’ve been trying to put out fires regarding him for quite some time now.”
Mr Ghionis said he is effectively another victim because he is a good and ethical photographer with a well-run business but the association is damaging.
Photographer Rocco Ancora feels the same way. Mr Ancora previously did post-production work for Mr Schembri and stopped because of outstanding invoices; he says he is still owed about $2000 but does not plan to take legal action.
However, his name remains linked with Mr Schembri on web searches because of the workshops they ran together and an online masterclass in wedding photography they co-created that continues to be hosted by Seattle-based CreativeLive.
“He’s no longer considered a friend, nor do I want to be associated with him in any way, shape, or form or form,” Mr Ancora said. “I’m extremely pissed off.”
Mr Schembri said he is “a good person who had a lot of misfortune and it led to everything snowballing on me”. His father was also a well-known photographer and Mr Schembri left school at 16 to follow in his footsteps. Mr Schembri said when his father died in 2016, he did not handle it well and he now realises he should have sought mental health support at the time. In 2020, Mr Schembri went through a separation and divorce and made “poor financial decisions” in terms of lifestyle expenses during the pandemic.
Mr Schembri said he is working to get back on track with his mental health and rebuild his professional reputation, offering a pared-down service of the wedding shoot and digital files and referring the lucrative printing work to other studios.
NSW Fair Trading has received an average of 100 complaints a year against wedding photographers and videographers since 2018, with the numbers down during the pandemic in line with reduction in weddings.
Earlier this month Fair Trading took action against wedding videographers Katie and Andrew Klerck for not providing newlyweds with their edited wedding videos and photos. They pled guilty to a total 33 charges under Australian Consumer Law and were ordered to pay $110,000 in compensation, costs and fines. The couple has the right to appeal.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald, focusing on social affairs.