When Binario asked me to photograph his wedding to Valine, my first reaction was one of excitement. I had been wondering how I could bless these two young people and I now had the opportunity to give to them in a way I’d not expected. These “kids” who grew up here at Zimpeto own very little and, of course, we want to bless them however we can. The week before, we’d invited them to Home Group to surprise them with wedding gifts: the most practical, useful gifts we could think of. Tupperware, glasses, pans, mugs, and cash – metacais – stuffed into the pots and plasticware.
To photograph their wedding was another opportunity to bless them. I could give them a gift that will last a lifetime. So I said yes, enthusiastically and with great assurance. Then I thought about it and the anxiety began, the “what am I doing” moment (a whole day, really) of thinking, “This is the most important day of their lives. There can be no do-over. What if something goes wrong? What if...? What if...? What am I doing?” The excuses flowed and I was ready to pull out.
I have photographed a lot of kids and animals and weather; flowers that will grow again next season; suns that will set again tomorrow; views from a flight that I’ll be taking again soon. I have never photographed a wedding, not officially. So, to be the one person, with the one dodgy camera, documenting the one special day, with no chance of a repeat performance, felt like too much of a stretch for me.
I’ve photographed lions from four feet away through a window unwisely cracked open. I’ve snapped birds in trees while I lie flat on my back in the grass, whales from a shifting boat deck, dolphins from the slippery rocks as the waves crash around me. I’m the one climbing up onto the table at the school reunion to get the shot with the light just so. When I want a good photo, I commit. And I’ve ended up with some great snaps over the years.
I’ve also gone to Niagara Falls without a memory card in my camera. I’ve toppled face-first into the sand while trying to get just the right angle of a toddler playing. I’ve almost fallen off a bench in the middle of church, a couple of times now, as I photograph over the heads of the tall people in front of me. The last sunrise at which I aimed my lens, I ended up backing into a four feet deep ditch, having to claw my way out by digging my fingernails into the dirt and crawling on my stomach. Maybe that’s when the sand got into my zoom lens.
I photograph instinctively then edit, edit, edit. I am no technical expert. What if the conditions are too difficult for my limited knowledge? What if it’s too sunny, or too cloudy, or too wet or too dry? Again I thought of cancelling. Did I mention that my Portuguese does not yet include terms such as “bouquet”, “registry” and “can you all do the hokey pokey now”?
My camera is eight years old and the flash doesn’t work properly. I have three batteries, none of which last long and sometimes die completely in the African heat. Occasionally the zoom lens doesn’t zoom – a minute or two of gentle manipulation helps. I’ll be saying to the groom as he holds his bride aloft in his arms on the beach as the tide turns and the sun disappears quickly below the horizon, “Hold that pose... just another minute... hold it...”
I was now on an excuses bender. I thought about my feet. Mozambican Church can be too long for me, let alone a Mozambican wedding. It would begin with the civil ceremony at the registry office in town, move to the park for photos, then to the beach, out to Zimpeto for the public church ceremony, and back to town for the evening reception. My feet ached and the rest of me panicked just thinking about it.
I looked at my calendar and saw the busy month I was heading into. The wedding day came sandwiched right in the middle of three weekends out of five that I was working. Now that right there is a good excuse. All my reasoning was fair and understandable. Then I began to think of the joy of the day and of this young couple’s trust in me, my abilities and my camera that, to them, was really fancy. And I thought, “If I don’t do it, who will?” I knew, aside from technical disasters, I could do a reasonable job. I’m no pro photographer but I could turn out some sound, if not dazzlingly amazing, shots. The bride and groom would like the results. It was, after all, all about them.
When did taking photos at a wedding become a huge faith step, akin to quitting a job or moving to another country, or actually getting married? I realised I was - to use a well-worn psychological term – totally freaking out. I would do this, I would do it as best I could, and I would trust God with the results. God cares about such things! Now... just breathe. And go clean the sand out of your camera.
So, it would be me and my faithful, battered old five megapixel, 12x zoom Panasonic (yes, I hear you photographers chuckling). I cleaned and wiped, flicked and fiddled. I massaged the stiff lens mechanism, I laid hands and prayed. I truly did. I packed, repacked, unpacked and packed again. And the more I prepared, the more excited I became at the possibility of giving a gift to this young couple that would make them smile for years to come.
By playing photographer, I was able to document the wedding of two of Zimpeto’s own. They both grew up here. They’re the first two to marry “within the family” and they are both very special, gifted young people who love God and each other.
To think, I nearly missed it. I had the honour of witnessing each step of this long, wonderful and very Mozambican day. My camera worked (mostly), the photos turned out (generally), the bride and groom were blessed (totally) and I had the time of my life.