About 2 weeks ago I was asked to photograph a wedding. No big deal right? I’ve photographed weddings before, I even photographed my sisters wedding, can’t be much more pressure then that right?
Well this wedding happened to be in Vanadzor, Armenia. A different country and a different culture. Sure I understand Russian, but everything will be in Armenian (of which I struggle to just say hello and can I have some bread) and all though Russian is widely spoken, it is by no means spoken and understood by all. Oh well, I’ll just say yes and go with the flow, it cant be that hard.
I showed up as arranged at 11am at the grooms house. Food was laid out and every man and his dog slowly trickled in until the 4th floor apartment was bursting at the seams. I happily started documenting the day. People, getting dressed, trying to work out what was important and what was going on in this total submersion into foreign culture and tradition. Soon the music started. 3 men a drummer, a clarinet player and an accordian(ist??) started up and finally the procession left the apartment and headed downstairs.
Now the dancing begins. The groom waits and solemnly watches as every one filters out of the building dancing and carrying baskets of presents, food, wine, flowers and who knows what else. After half an hour or so of this the party gets mobilized and the procession of people turns into a mechanized procession of cars, jeeps and motorcycles. Horns blaring, music blasting, people shouting and clapping. And me, in the middle of it all, capturing and experiencing the festivities through the lens of my camera.
The dancing continues in front of the brides house, and eventually moves upstairs into her 3rd floor apartment, which all ready full of her family, friends and guests, now begins to burst at the seams as countless people squeeze inside and jostle for a prime viewing position. Gifts are exchanged along with kisses laughs and smiles. Finally the groom enters and views his bride to be for the first time. Here is my moment, i move in and out of the crowd, making sure to capture those little moments, the look on the grooms face as he sees his future wife, the little kiss he gives her when they finally are standing next to each other, the parents, the grandparents. So many places to look, so many things happening, which one is most important, which direction will that winning shot come from? Never having experienced an Armenian wedding and not sure exactly what is happening, I’m flying by the seat of my pants, making it up as I go, pointing and shooting at everything and mostly just hoping for the best.
We move back outside, to the loud veracious music coming from the a fore mentioned musical trio. The dancing continues, everyone is having a grand time. Well, the bride and groom look very subdued and quiet, with barely a smile as they oversee the festivities, which seems to be cultural or traditional and the way people are expecting them to act. I concentrate on the dancing twirling girls carrying baskets over their heads dressed in bright colorful clothes, and get a few photos to be proud of.
Once again the procession becomes mobile. I squeeze into an old Opel that has definitely seen better days. I happen to be in the “Media” car, well at least the car that has me and the 2 videographers in it. This is both a blessing and a curse. It means that I get everywhere I need to be on time and before the wedding party. It also means death defying jaunts on the wrong side of the road, dodging on coming traffic and flying up one way streets (the wrong way), just to get in front of the procession, stop for the video guys to get footage of the passing procession, jump back in the car and do it all again.
The church service goes off without a hitch, apart from not understanding anything that is going on, i get all the shots I need, and thankfully it is much like home, and no strange rituals are performed that I am not ready and unprepared for.
The official part of the ceremony is then handled in a dingy, dirty government office on the other side of town. So we all head there, and then its photo time. We are by a little lake, well more like a large swimming pool, not a bad area for photos, so we start walking. I set them up get maybe 4 or 5 photos before they inform me that they are done, and they dont want any more taken! I was flabbergasted! At home this is the most important photo part of the day, and here after about 15 minutes they are done! Gulp! Well here’s to hoping what photos I manged to get turn out!
The rest of the day goes smoothly, a few little traditions and things to capture. The grooms mother presents them with lavash and honey when they get back to the house, and then they both have to stomp on, and smash, a plate as they enter the house. Toasts are said, cognac drunk and we all head off to the reception.
The reception is fun. Lots of dancing, lots of drinking, lots of eating. Mix that with poor lighting, mixed color casts and lots of people, makes for interesting photography. But my good old D2x and the SB900’s handle it all with ease.
Get home about 12:30am, exhausted, but happy with the days work. If you ever want to fully experience a new culture and country, go to a wedding. I learnt more about Armenians and their culture in a day at the wedding then in the previous 8 months.
13 and 1/2 hours shooting, over 1000 photos, countless hours of editing and post work to come. Yep, That’s wedding photography and travel photography rolled into one.
Maybe I will do this again some time . . . . . or maybe not.