It was a cloudy day in Bilbao, as we drove to the bride’s house at 8 am on the 15th of July 2017. The bride, Saioa, radiant as always, was sitting in her living room waiting for the make up to begin.
This is nothing new for us, as we have done this a million times-taking pictures while the bride is getting ready early in the morning; this is as normal as going to work on a Monday morning after a nice weekend.
But nothing about this wedding was routine; everything was special and different in its own way and it made for one very memorable shooting experience.
Let’s start with the getting ready. For starters, the bride, the bride’s mom, the bridegroom, (Mandar), his parents and his sister, all of them were getting ready in the same house! How often does that happen in India? Also, Saioa’s apartment is in this beautiful, old building and is completely white from inside.
So, there we were taking pictures of a whole bunch of people getting ready in a white apartment with a bride dressed completely in white! That truly was an exciting challenge.
Before I knew it, Saioa’s father was driving her and me to the beautiful venue where the ceremony was to be held. Now this place was absolutely unbelievable! It was right in the middle of lush green mountains, in a valley with vineyards stretching as far as the eye could see.
It was like shooting a dream wedding, at a dream destination, with perfect cloudy weather bathing everyone in soft light.
Just before I reached the venue with Saioa, Mandar and his family were ready to make an entrance. Mandar walked down the aisle with his mother, followed by Mandar’s father and Saioa’s mother.
They walked right to the front where Saioa’s brother, who also conducted the ceremony, welcomed them in Spanish as well as English.
Then, Saioa walked down the aisle with her father, glowing more than ever, looking at the guests seated on tiny haystacks alongside the aisle.
This was followed by the shortest and most unusual wedding ceremony that we have ever been a part of. In India, we are used to shooting wedding ceremonies that go on for hours together; this one lasted about 20 minutes!
There was no priest involved in the ceremony, as both Saioa and Mandar aren’t very religious. They wanted someone who knew them well and meant something to them to conduct their ceremony and they didn’t want any rituals at all.
There was only one ritual that was very beautiful to watch. It was very reminiscent and similar to a “seemant poojan” performed before a Maharashtrian wedding. Both Saioa and Mandar had brought along a glass of soil from their respective countries, and right before they exchanged their rings, they poured both in a jar.
The idea was to let the two soils form a new entity, which still retains the identities of both but brings them together in such a way that they are now inseparable.
What a beautiful way of symbolizing marriage!
Other than this ritual there were a few speeches, the wedding vows and the ring exchange ceremony.
Shooting this ceremony was a little hectic for us because of how short it was. We are used to shooting Indian rituals that last a few hours and are pretty repetitive.
Even the most important “pheras” happen seven times! However, here, everything happened only once and if you missed it, it was gone forever.
After the rings were exchanged the couple walked towards the guests while everyone showered them with rose petals, congratulated them and shared a glass of champagne.
Shortly after that we walked around the vineyards to take some fun shots of the couple before everyone moved to the restaurant where the celebrations continued.
The lunch that followed was in a different league altogether. This is where the efforts that both Mandar and Saioa had taken for their wedding really showed. There was designated seating.
On the dining tables, a hand painted card awaited the guests with their names on it. Inside was a hand-written note for everyone.
The kids got origami cranes and handmade sock puppets to play with. When I asked Saioa later, she told me that it had taken them almost a year to plan everything and a few months to make all these things at home.
It showed that they had a lot fun making these small things at home; it was almost like a family project.
The seven-course meal that followed was a lengthy affair with lots of small surprises for the guests. Each person got a meal catered to their eating preference and taste. This was absolutely unbelievable for me.
There was a printed menu that informed the guests about their meal. While the guests relished the 3 Michelin star restaurant food, Saioa’s award winning choir group performed some of her favourite songs, along with a surprise Bollywood twist of “Mehendi hai rachne wali” at the end.
After coffee was served, Mandar and Saioa gave their parents very special gifts from Spain and India respectively. They also gave all the guests beautiful gifts in tiny cane baskets made by her father.
They had really gone out of their way to make everyone feel welcome and special by showering them with these thoughtful gifts.
Before the after party started, there was a small game to guess who would get married next. J Saioa handed two beautiful ladies bouquets to indicate that their weddings should be the ones coming up next.
And then it was party time! The party started with the “first dance”. It was a beautiful mix of a soft, emotional English song and an upbeat, fun Hindi one. As expected, no one could stay still through the Bollywood song.
And before we knew it, every single guest had broken into a dance. Even here, Mandar and Saioa had thought about the ladies wearing heels, and arranged for some comfortable dancing shoes for everyone.
The strangest thing about the party for us was that it was bright and sunny on the dance floor. They danced till their feet hurt, till much after midnight, and still we had bright sunlight till about 9 pm.
J As photographers we didn’t mind this at all. Instead of ugly coloured LEDs, the guests were dancing to retro music in the beautiful golden light.
Once we were certain of having covered the main shots, we joined the dance floor and taught the Spanish guys some awesome Bollywood moves like flying the kite and snake dance.
We left the restaurant with a sore body, aching feet and a heavy heart. This wedding gave us some very memorable moments, amazing friends and a family away from home.
The wedding was held in Bilbao in the restaurant Azurmendi.