One of my “passions” is photographing weddings. Although I am not a wedding photographer, somehow over the years, accidently showing up at strangers’ weddings and making a few photographs has grown on me and it has slowly evolved into one of my lifelong projects.
A few weeks ago, I happened to be in Lisbon during the annual Feast of St. Anthony. This is the “big event” in Lisbon and there are always many activities to enjoy—including a mass wedding at the cathedral, which has been going on for who knows how long. I had done my research and knew that on the 13th of June at a particular cathedral in the Alfama barrio of Lisbon, 11 couples would be married.
So at 1:30 I set off to see what was happening. As I got closer to the cathedral, I noticed that crowds had been getting increasingly thicker and that the city had placed barricades along the side of the road to keep the hordes back. I also knew that this would be a hindrance to me getting any interesting photographs.
The Man in the Dark Suit
In one of my rare moments of aggression, I chose to walk up the middle of the street, between the barricades with an authoritative photojournalist swagger, straight up to the steps of the cathedral, where I parked myself right in front of the doors and waited for the happy couples to arrive. I thought I looked very professional, but I am sure I stood out like a sore thumb from all the other Portuguese photographers who seemed to know each other. One of them eventually walked over to me and said something in Portuguese, which of course I did not understand. He then said it in English.
“You cannot be here. This area is reserved for the press.”
“Mr. Rocca said I could stand here.” I lied.
He walked away. We were 15 minutes from the arrival of the brides when another man, with an official badge, trimmed grey beard in a dark suit — looking very, very official approached me and whispered something in Portuguese in my ear. I motioned that I did not understand and then repeated in English.
“I don’t think you may have the proper credentials.” He said with an impish grin. He had a nice manner and said it in a very sweet way. I thought that this was it and I was about to be booted out, so I replied.
“I guess you are going to kick me out.”
Here Come the Brides
He smiled and asked me where I was from and I told him that I lived in Florida. He said he had a sister who lived in Tampa and that he loved visiting her there. We chatted for about a minute or two, and then he motioned me over to a spot right near where I was standing. He said I could stay but I had to keep an eye out for the TV camera boom and not get in the sight lines of the TV cameras. He said that this event was being televised all over Portugal so I had to be discreet like the rest of the journalists covering the wedding. As long as I was on the same side of the carpet as the TV camera, I would be out of the way. I thanked him for his help.
Fifteen minutes later, the brides began to arrive. I could not believe that I was still there, shooting away and loving every moment of it. After about half an hour of posing for pictures on the steps of the cathedral, all the brides entered through the doors and I began to follow them. A security guard stopped me. I thought my luck had finally run out, but I was having such a good day, no security guard was about to spoil it for me.
Finally, a Press Pass
I went up to the man with the badge and grey beard and asked if there was any way I could get inside. He made a facial gesture that implied my chances were very slim, but he went inside the cathedral and in a few moments he returned with an official journalist pass. I spent about an hour inside the church, went out for a breather, photographed the band that had assembled, the mobs waiting to see the couples and all the rest of the activities, and went back into the church as the weddings were winding down. Again, the nice gentleman with the grey beard approached me and said the wedding would soon be over and I should find a good spot outside when the couples would parade down the street. We went outside and he pointed out a place where he thought that might make a good spot to photograph their exit. I was the first one there and had a prime location for the grand finale. The couples came out, kissed each other, waved to the crowd, and then formed a long procession heading down the street with the band, relatives, photographers, TV personalities etc. following them. I wiped a tear from my eye—it was over.
If you think that this article is about photographing weddings, you are mistaken. It is about how taking photographs can bring you closer to people, help you share experiences and just enjoy the beauty and rhythms of life in a very special way. More important than any of the pictures that I took, it was the experience of interacting with many kind people, who allowed me to participate in a very small way on such a sweet occasion. These moments are unforgettable.
Editor’s note: To see David’s excellent photos from Lisbon, click here.