So I’ve shot over 1,100 weddings and it’s rare to see things that I haven’t seen before. My bride, Deborah, made sure I was comfortable shooting a different kind of wedding. Her coordinator (the omni helpful Kofo wanted to fill me in on things that were particularly Nigerian). The funny thing is that the differences weren’t necessarily the things they thought they’d be.
For one thing, the first thing I noticed where that an extraordinary number of wedding guests were all wearing the same thing. At first I thought the “group” were choir members. Later, it seems that a huge number of guests were wearing light blue with coral head scarves (and hats for the men). At the reception one of the guests filled me in.
The bride (and/or her family) choose wedding colors AND the cloth months in advance so friends and family can order the same exact cloth to create their matching outfits. If you look closely at some of the photos, you’ll see a lot of the light blue. And yet, they’re all a bit different with different embellishments and styles. If friends or family happen to already own outfits in similar colors, they will wear what they have. Many, many people end up buying or making an entire outfit for this one event! That’s a really big commitment on the part of the community. And I think that’s the point. Weddings are a big deal, so the show of solidarity is really impressive.
The music and the dancing. Pretty much non stop, pretty much at a “10” for volume. It’s the first time I’ve ever needed to put in my earplugs for the ceremony to protect my ears. I’ve lost a lot of my hearing due to standing in front of the speakers for years during wedding receptions and they are very sensitive. We’re talking about very joyous music that every Nigerian guest knew well and sang along to. Young, old, everybody seemed to know what the moves were. How nice to have so many familiar songs for everyone to enjoy.
Another interesting thing is that there were a LOT of kids at the ceremony and a LOT of babies. And not a peep! Granted the music was loud, but most of the young ones were being cuddles by parents and siblings and all were content to look around, taking in all the stimulation and either quietly watched or dozed. Believe me, I’ve never seen such happy, contented youngsters at any wedding before!
I was told to watch for the dancing processionals and recessionals. I thought my sports photojournalism skills would be needed, but nope. We are talking about 5-10 minute long songs where the honored wedding members slowly, almost imperceptively bounce their way along forward. There is something unexpectedly soothing about the leisurely pace these dances unfold. When so very much of the wedding day is a rushed blur, it was nice to see everyone really enjoying their moment and being able to take in the day.
The other thing that I found visually interesting is that husbands and wives dress in matching outfits as well and not necessarily in the color scheme chosen by the bride. So I saw couples in purple and royal blue and hot pink. I’m not sure there is much symbolism beyond “We’re here together”.
And the women’s head scarves (called Ichafu” pronouced ee-cha-foo) are glorious works of art. I saw a group of women working for a long time on one of the mothers in order to get hers just right. They are stiff fabric and look a bit like a rose in full bloom from the back. Women would bend their heads to the sides dramatically when they went to hug each other lest they wreck their head gear.
One of the traditions that’s also part of a traditional Nigerian wedding is “spraying” a couple with cash. I pictured friends and family basically throwing money at the couple. But as it seems, all things that happen in Nigerian weddings happen slowly and deliberately… even “spraying”. Imagine a slow motion, endless dollar dance. Guests approach the couple in the same slow up and down dance as stick a dollar bill on the couple’s heads or upper body. The bill falls off and process is repeated and repeated while several girls continually collect the money that’s falling on the floor.
Every year there are weddings where the wedding photographer is often outnumbered by family and friends who also have decided their need to take wedding photos is on par with my need to shoot the wedding. I’d been warned in advance by Deborah’s coordinator that everyone would want photos, but I was really surprised how many elbows I got as grannies were knocking me out of the way to get photos on their flip phones! I’ve changed my attitudes 180 degrees in the past two years. I used to say that other people shooting were “free back up”. Now that guests put their iPads, phones, laptops and cameras out into the aisle, jump in front of me and even push me out of the way so they can get their shot, I’ve finally had enough. Soon there will be a blog pleading for couples to start exploring the benefits of unplugged weddings. Clearly Deborah and Femi knew what to expect, and while I’m glad their friends and family were able to take photos, I don’t think guests have any clue how much they compromise the types of photos and variety I can take when I’m literally being squeezed out. The issue seems to be getting worse every year. While some cultures and families value photography more than others, the aggressiveness of guests is something that’s becoming overwhelming at all weddings. Can you imagine if you pulled your car into the mechanic’s garage and your mechanic was suddenly swarmed with 50 friends of the driver who all started to talk and take apart the car? Not a great analogy, but you get the picture.
Lastly, when Deborah checked back in with me after the wedding, I had to giggle. The only detour we had to take that day was to accommodate Femi’s non Michigan inner thermostat. It was a beautiful, WARM November day. But if you’ve just come from Nigeria, it felt freezing! We just couldn’t warm him up outside. By the following weekend we had a foot of snow. I was relieved we didn’t have that on their amazing wedding day!
I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes in describing the day correctly, but I wanted everybody to know how fun it was to really and truly experience new to me wedding tradition. Thanks for taking me along on the ride, Deborah and Femi!