The Craziest, Most Amazing Wedding

Alright folks, strap on your seatbelt for the most photos I’ve ever put into a single post.  I’ve tried to think of some ways to split this up into several but, anyway I go, I feel it loses the magic of the mood I want to share with you.  Here we go!

In the last post, A Bend in The Road, I introduced you to my friend Amer and some of his friends and family.  I closed that story with my being invited to join these wonderful new friends of mine to a street wedding.  Amer has an older brother, Gamal, whose son was the one getting married.

The night of the wedding, I joined up with Amer and two other people we had met the night before.  This lovely couple had just been married and were in Egypt on their honeymoon.  Tomas is from Chile and his wife is from Brazil.  They would be going with us to the wedding.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

Gamal (father-of-the-groom) all dressed up for the wedding.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

Amer wanted to get some treats to bring to the wedding so the two of us headed off to go buy them.  Down the road from The Bend in The Road, a little stand sells a variety of donut-like pastries; we bought 20 kilograms (44 lbs) of them to share at the celebration!

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

Beside the sweets stand was an outdoor cafe filled with people drinking tea, smoking shisha, and playing dominoes.  Near to where I was standing, three older gentlemen were charismatically slapping tiles down onto a dominos table.  I couldn’t help but take interest in this enthusiastic game.  One of the men motioned for me to come sit and have tea with them.  Since It was gonna be a few minutes for the guys at the sweets stand to weigh and package all of those calories, I was all too inclined to meet these friendly characters.  I’ve never played dominos but after studying their play for a few minutes I was beginning to catch the gist of it.  Between the disapproving grunts, and taunting shouts of the respective loser and winner, it didn’t take long to see that this game is best enjoyed via loud and friendly provocation.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

Marked by the sounds of men talking, laughing, and the random crack of a winning tile being snapped onto thin wooden tables, this little cafe turned out to be quite the social spot for enjoying the comfortable climate of an Old Cairo evening.  The wafting aroma of hot tea and Turkish coffee, deep fried bread, and flavored tobaccos from smoldering shishas, all contributed to the vibrance of this scene.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

I could have happily spent the rest of my evening sitting with these spry old men but there was a wedding to hurry off to.  My friend, Amer, and I each grabbed a plastic bag filled to the handles with sweets and made our way down this bustling street toward the wedding.  From over a block away, the sound of loud music could be heard reverberating from out of a side alley.  In this ancient part of the city, you find the businesses and habitations of the working class.  Its dark and neglected side alleys are not the sort of place I imagined would make for a good place to hold a wedding.

As we came to the entrance of the alley, I was taken aback by the sight of its transformation.  Strings of  richly colored lights and decorative fabric clung to ropes and wires that were haphazardly strung overhead between the buildings.  The combination of loud, pulsating reverberations of local popular music and the swarm of joyful people filling this place resulted in a complete disconnect from this alley’s wonted form.  It was beautiful!

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

To celebrate in some measure of splendor, these hard-working tradesmen, laborers, and shop keepers had pooled for their family and friends whatever resources they had available to them.  Everyone brought what they could afford to contribute to this joyful event.  Each table had a variety of snacks and drinks set out. Some tables had chips, fruit, and water, while others took more liberty by the occasion to share in the few beers and sweets being passed around.  No table was without some form of enjoyable treat.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

As a new friend of the Father-of-the-groom, I was asked to sit at the table of the family.  Humbled and honored are all the words I can speak to that kind of graciousness.  Practically a stranger to most of the people here yet I was treated with the warmth and generosity of an old friend.  As a pale-skinned, bearded ginger, there was no way to blend in; I stood out like a sore thumb.  At first I was a little concerned about this special treatment but that proved to be a completely unwarranted feeling.  The entire evening I was shown nothing but kindness and friendliness by the hundreds of guests in attendance.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

Any awkwardness I felt when I first arrived was eroded away by the power of each smile, handshake, and heartfelt “WELCOME” that I received.

About an hour after arriving, the wedding ceremonies began.  I was not invited to the wedding to be a photographer nor did I come for the sake of image-making.  I came to experience something new and to be with Amer to share in this great joy in his life, seeing his nephew married.  I even contemplated not bringing my camera just to show him that I wasn’t coming for the sake of serving my own interests in photography.  At the last minute I changed my mind and decided I better bring it.  I had a suspicion that a wedding photographer wasn’t going to be in the budget for the wedding.  Figuring if I at least brought my camera along and managed to take a few photos, I could later share with them whatever I managed to get.

Years ago, I shot traditional church weddings, Japanese weddings, and simple beach weddings.  Let me tell you right here and now, that none of those would prepare me for what I was about to experience when the bride and groom walked into that little alley.

It’s said that an image is worth a thousand words.  Let’s see if in these next images I managed to capture for you how they do things here in the back alleys of Old Cairo.  Mr. DJ, QUEUE THE MUSIC!!!

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

When the bride and groom started their walk down the densely packed alley, you could have powered half of Cairo from the electricity emanating from all the overwhelming expressions of joy from the crowd that gathered around them.  Shouting, dancing, and jumping, everyone who came to witness this event offered en masse their approval of this union.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

I’ve never seen a prouder, happier bride in any wedding I’ve ever had the privilege to photograph.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

To the young and old alike, dancing and clapping was this evening’s call.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

Amer and his brother, Gamal, embrace the satisfaction of seeing the young man of their family enter into this joyful marriage.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

The groom cuttin’ some rug for his audience of friends and family.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

Gamal, the proud father to his newly married son.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

And then the dancing horse showed up!  Seriously?!?!  A dancing horse?!?!  This just raised the bar for what it takes to qualify as a great party.  Powerful ethnic beats blasting from a tower of speakers gave the rhythm for the horse and its rider to perform.  I was amazed by how calm the horse was throughout its choreographed prance down and back up the crowded alley.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

The culture here deeply and profoundly embraces the relationship between a father and son.  Both the joys and sorrows of life are uninhibitedly shared in this bond.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

The bride and groom approach the end of the alley where a pair of chairs have been staged for them to take their place beside each other for the crowds to witness this expression of their union.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

Once the bride and groom’s walk was finished, a DJ and team of MCs kept the crowd pumped up until the early morning.  I was asked not to photograph the knife dancing between the young men but I can tell you that it was quite the spectacle.  As vigorous a dance as it was, no one got cut or stabbed by the exceptionally long and sharp knives they skillfully wielded.  This type of dance is called tahtib and in modern form is performed to a style of music called tekno-shaabi.  Take French techno and put it in a blender with Egyptian music and you’ll have an idea of how it sounds.  This style of music and dance has become popular amongst Egypt’s culturally expanding youth.  It is their expression of freedom, rebellion, and celebration.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

Following the opening ceremony, friends and family ate, drank, danced, and sang together until the wee hours of the morning.  While we ate, kids darted between tables looking for any empty cans or bottles that they could collect and later sell for a little bit of money.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2

 

The thunderous, elating cacophony of this celebration was, for lack of better words, overwhelming.  At no point did I have a clue what was happening or where to be for anything so I just did my best to shoot what I saw.  I was washed from one side of the alley to the next and from one end to the other, seemingly not even carried by the power of my own legs but by the energy of the music, the people shouting and dancing and this mass of excitement that surrounded the happiest bride I’ve ever seen.  Her smile lit every corner of the alley, moving me to tears behind the viewfinder of my camera.  Don’t tell anyone: I’ll admit to you that I’ve quietly had a bit of a cry at every wedding I’ve photographed.  I can’t help it.  It always takes me back to the day I married the love and joy of my life.  What can I say?  I’m not an emotionless tough-guy.  I think for the marriage of two people who are truly in love for all of the right reasons, their wedding represents the beginning of the happiest, most rewarding days of their lives.

What I experienced in that alley was a pure emanation of unconstrained joy that manifested in such a dramatic way that I’m sure to remember it for the rest of my life.  That night, I witnessed this unprivileged throng toss to the side the heavy yoke of their daily hardships so that for the span of a few hours they could lightheartedly celebrate the obvious value they have for family and friends – the things that matter most in life.  That I was invited to take part in something so special to them, I am eternally grateful.

For those interested: I shot this entire event with a Sony A7RII and a $15 Minolta MD 45mm f/2 manual focus lens.  Both the camera and lens performed very well under such crazy conditions of poor lighting, cramped space, and constant movement.  Setting the camera to shoot black and white (RAW+JPG), I used red focus peaking (medium setting) to aid in rapid set of focus as I was carried along the alley by the tsunami of people.  The contrast of the red peaking against the monotone image in the viewfinder really does help with setting focus in a quick and efficient way, yielding a high rate of keepers.

 

P.S.  Upon completion of processing all of the photos from the wedding, I went back to the neighborhood to put on a slideshow for the family and their friends.  I also gave the family a copy of all the images (many more than what I posted here).  That was a really fun evening, showing them all of the photos – another story in itself.

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16 thoughts on “The Craziest, Most Amazing Wedding

  1. *The* most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen. Seriously. Her joy is just so moving. I sniffled looking at the photos of her celebrating. Wow~ This looks to be a truly “once in a lifetime” experience. What a treasure!!

    Like

  2. Son, what can I say! You truly captured it! I heard the music, felt the swish of dance and I swear, I even smelled the horse! Beautiful people! Blessings on their precious union.

    Like

  3. Tom,

    Looking at your photos, I was feeling very pleasant because the people in the wedding looked natural and relaxed and they were showing their affections to the photographer (you) without any reservations. As I thinking about this I thought of sharing these thoughts. First, it is obvious that they are good people and they don’t have any pretentiousness. Second thought is about the photographer and his nature. I believe that the people in the wedding reflected your good nature and unpretentiousness like a mirror. The way they look in the photos tells me a lot about who you are.

    Thank you for your wonderful post; a celebration of good life and humanity between you and the people.

    Jon

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  4. Jon’s post put into words what I was thinking before I read his comment- that the way you were taken in by these strangers- as one of their own- says volume’s about who you are, Tom….
    What an amazing experience for someone like you- who was fully able to appreciate- and capture what you were so privileged to share.
    I am so blessed to call you friend.
    Wes

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  5. Lovely images Tom. I am not a big fan of B&W pictures but your pictures are making me lean towards them. Could you please share your processing technique for B&W or do you do it in camera? Also seems like you are using the 45mm/f2 a lot more.

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  6. Jon,

    Thanks for your kind words. You’re absolutely right about these good people not showing any sort of pretentiousness. It’s funny you spotted that. I was going to include something about this as it relates to my experiences at a fancy hotel in Alexandria, Egypt where every weekend they have weddings. These weddings cost a lot of money and they’re attended by very well-dressed people who obviously aren’t hurting for anything. Since going to this street wedding, I’ve witnessed two of these hotel weddings. People there stood around with smiling mouths but their eyes gave them away. If they danced at all, it looked very awkward as they spent more time trying not draw attention or look like the “weirdo” at this social event. Relative to the street wedding I attended, the life at these big, expensive weddings could only be measure in the number of beating hearts and little more.

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  7. Hi Rajesh,

    I enjoy color as much as I do B&W images. My choice of one over the other is largely dependent on either the subject matter, composition, or even my mood. I shoot RAW+JPG almost exclusively with the JPG (and EVF display) in B&W mode. I do this for two reasons: 1) The absence of color helps my brain with composition. 2) Since I shoot only with manually focused lenses, I use the camera’s focus peaking function to help me more quickly get in-focus. I use a focus peaking color of red which contrasts well with the B&W image in the viewfinder. As far as processing goes, most images I’ll do the majority of editing in Photoshop RAW. Sometimes I’ll use a stack of 3D LUTs to give a specific image a little more “feel” to it. When I’ve got some time on my hands, I’ll sit down and write a tutorial on my processing technique, especially covering the use of 3D LUTs.

    The recent uptick in my use of the Rokkor 45mm f/2 is largely due to the fact that for this trip I only brought that lens and my MD Rokkor 35-70mm f/3.5. Since I knew the wedding was going to be in low light, I chose to bring the slightly faster 45mm. I will say that having used that lens quite a bit on this trip, I’ve become quite the fan of it. It’s got a great look to it, it’s super easy to use, light as a feather, and the 45mm focal length is very practical on a full-frame camera. For $10-15, it’s hard to beat it.

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  8. Wow, I was there! It was truly a unique experience, and I feel so honoured to have been invited to be a part of this… Me and my wife still can’t believe it happened, specially in Cairo, which can be a city that feels so hostile to us turists… But in here, in this corner, we found good, generous people, willing to share with us their happiness and asking nothing in return. It’s certainly an experience we’ll never forget, and a highlight of our honeymoon!

    Congratulations for the very good photos and the post, Tom. I think you really managed to capture the feeling of that night. It was great to meet you. Good luck and keep it up with the blog!

    Greetings from Chile

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  9. Hi Tomas,

    So glad to see you’ve had a chance to see the photos from the wedding. We certainly shared a unique and fun experience. I hope you continued to have a good travels on your honeymoon. I just arrived back home last night. It’s great to be back with my family again.
    I enjoyed meeting both you and your wife. I do hope someday we’re able to cross paths again.

    Cheers,

    Tom

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  10. Wow. ‘Tis the wedding I might have had, had my family remained in Cairo. Instead, my wedding was perhaps the most stulted dismal affair I have ever attended, with a civil “ceremony” with some judge, gollowing by an impersonal filing of papers in some government office in white plains, ny. our great celebration were some “catered” sandwiches from a local deli that were ordered in by mother, which my wife and mother in law ate, as my father glumly looked on. a depressing crappy shitty afternoon that i shall forever try to erase from my memory. Thanks for a fantastic set of pics. This must have been a Coptic wedding, as I noticed some of the fellas drinking Stellas.

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  11. Alibey,
    Bummer about the wedding. I hope that many happy years of union with your wife have more than compensated for it. This wedding I attended had a mix of Coptics and Muslims. Being that the area we were in was just outside the Coptic area, the community was a healthy blend that seems to have found the joy in tolerance of each other’s different ideas.

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  12. Yes, my wife and I have had been together since the 80s and will never part, no matter what the physical distance between us. No worries, even tho our wedding was shit. The novella I referenced in a previous comment failed to mention one important compoent: the uncle character is a copt, while the nephem is moslem, given that his mother converted in order to marry his father. in some ways, this parallels the story of my own parents., oddly enough.

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