I had been there a few times before; I had stayed at their warm, wooden house some weekends with their family, and lived like one of them, comfortable and eager to accept the rules of the countryside, breathing the clean air, feeling the unstained breeze, eating and sleeping over the mother ground, refreshed to be far from the shrillness and blemishes of Bangkok. Nadee, lovely little hamlet in the middle of Isan, only endless rice fields around, you always welcomed me, the fair skin foreigner, with open arms, yet I never paid you back. You seemed not to ask for anything, though I felt that was unfair. Hence, when I heard the good news, I had little doubt: that was my chance to repay all your generosity the only way I could. Very early this morning, after a few hours in a night bus, I have landed here again, camera in hand, ready to see, and capture, all the memories of this day. Here is the testament of my first Thai wedding, as my little gift for the marrying couple, my friends, and all their family (which is to say, more or less, the whole village).
The first arrangement II, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
It was still dark night when the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere, and the driver said a name, loud voice that awoke my sleepy ears. I jumped out of the seat: that was my destination, a lonely crossroads with a tiny streetlamp, a phone cabin and a little hut. But I didn't have to wait long, as the pickup arrived in a few minutes, the usual, friendly smile welcoming me back, once more. We traversed a few kilometers through vast land extensions of rice fields already harvested and, finally, under the first lights of sunrise, we reached the small village, hidden between the trees. But nobody was sleeping anymore, and the plot in front of the house was full of activity already. The first thing that I could see, stepping out of the car, were the flower bouquets, beautifully and carefully arranged, sparkling between the farming implements under the first rays of light.
The first arrangement III, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
I entered the house, all doors and windows open, greeted everyone around, met some new faces, relatives that had visited from far on such an important day, and was offered some food immediately, as it is customary. I politely had a bite, but didn't feel so hungry yet. Moreover, I didn't want to delay more the moment I was anxiously anticipating: meeting the bride.
The bride, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
She was nervous, as I was myself: nobody had asked me to do this, but I had decided to do it on my own, and I had put a lot of pressure and expectations upon my shoulders: I'm very perfectionist, and I wanted to deliver the best I could; therefore, and trying not to disturb their preparations too much, I stayed in one corner of the room, making an effort to get as many moments and details as I could.
Upsweep, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The interior of the house was dimly lit, so I decided to use my fastest lens; however, it is not as wide as I needed, and many times I realized I didn't have room to move backwards so I couldn't fit all I wanted in frame, but I rather sacrificed some field of view than light. I played my cards the best I knew; besides, being a fast lens gave me another thing that was very welcome for the portraits and close ups: shallow depth of field. So let's try that out and welcome the other half of the equation now, shall we?
The groom, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
While the bride waited inside the house, surrounded by women, the groom had to walk home from outside the yard, surrounded by some friends, plus all the neighbors and other guests who were joining the celebration. Carrying a dish with food, a palm tree and a beautiful centerpiece, three relatives were escorting him to the house, a forth holding an umbrella above him to protect him from the strong sun.
The carriers, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The centerpiece, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Procession, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The procession approached the wooden porch solemnly and, once there, they laid the three offerings on top of a small table / altar, and everybody sat down on the floor, all covered in carpets for the occasion. The man who was going to conduct the ceremony and rituals (not a monk), started reciting some prayers and blessing the offerings, the groom sitting in front of him, accompanied by his best man, all awaiting the moment when the bride would appear.
Rituals, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Between the walls, the women were busy with the finishing touches: the bridesmaid was receiving the last makeup, while the bride was arranging her dress to fit it perfectly. The small crowd outside was waiting, and they were ready. So, at last, without further delay, the doors opened and the bride went out. She sat down beside the groom, and the true ceremony started.
The bridesmaid, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The arrival, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Initiation, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
I guess photography, as any other art and craft, needs practice, and mistakes are part of the learning process; I had many today, but maybe the biggest of them all was keeping a fast aperture all the time; yes, I was somehow blinded by the beautiful effect of shallow depth of field blurring backgrounds and isolating the focus plane, but I didn't realize at that moment that I was, as a consequence, taking pictures of just one of the couple each time, and rarely having a picture where both were in sharp focus. This worked very well for the single portraits, but in the group pictures it definitely was not optimal. Lesson learnt.
His mark, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Her mark, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Once they were both blessed with the white forehead mark, it was time for one of the most significative and symbolic moments of the ceremony: the bond. The mother of the groom took a soft, white rope, and gently tied it around their heads, linking them together. I guess some symbols transcend culture, time and civilization and belong deep inside humankind's psyche from the beginning of time.
The bond, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
But there was still another white symbol to emerge: a single, delicate ribbon was knotted around their wrists, one after another, and, after that, a slice of Western culture made appearance: the golden ring. And it was not the only foreign intrusion of the celebration, as they threw some rice above them, as well, act that could never be more appropriate anywhere else. It truly seems we live in a global era, no doubt.
The ring, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Local & foreign, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
And so the ceremony ended. But not the wedding, as all those silent neighbors and friends had been silently awaiting all this time for their chance to be participants, as well, and not only mere observers. They stood up from the carpets, approached the just-turned-husband-and-wife and, one by one, they tied more laces around their wrists, offering with them their best wishes, and some money, as little or much as they could humbly give.
Epilogue, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Suddenly, the people had abandoned the porch and everybody was sitting in the chairs under the canopy, out in the yard, enjoying lunch. And only then, after a few hours in the strangest and most uncomfortable positions taking pictures in the most discreet way that I could (I thank the silent mode of my camera for that), I felt like I was a photographer, as then the bride waved her hand to me and asked me, timidly, if I could take some pictures of them with the family. They were even setting a colorful background for the shoot. I smiled and, obviously, took all those pictures they wanted. The only ones they requested me. For all along I had been just a friend. A guest at their wedding day. My sincerest thanks!
Family portrait: the younger generation, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The first day of the rest of their lives, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
But the story doesn't end here. You can see the images of the guests in this post.