Updated: Oct 4, 2021
*For religious reasons and with respect to the couple, pictures of the Bride and Groom's faces were not permitted for this post and only decorative items and reception hall photos will be displayed below.*
A month before their wedding, Alieeya and Zabee were in a jam. They had to find female photographers to document their beautiful day at the Albany Country Club. They found me on Google and The Knot and after some conversation, booked Redesignwithme to photograph their Afghanistan wedding on a late rainy Thursday evening in August. With less than three months to plan, each of them scrambled to get all the vendors and details taken care of.
I was very excited but also anxious since I had not photographed a traditional Afghanistan wedding before. Alieeya told me that there would be points in the evening where I would not be permitted to take photographs. Although I thought this was odd, I respected her wishes because I knew it had to do with her culture.
Weddings are often a time of self reflection and as I researched Afghani culture and watched videos of Afghani wedding traditions, I began to think about my own Jewish faith. I considered the possibility that in some areas of the world, the Afghani and Jewish people could be fighting instead of speaking to each other. I consider myself lucky to live in an area where I have access to a diverse community which is a large part of why I became a photographer.
Afghani Wedding Day
My associate photographer, and college friend Lauren and I began our day photographing in the getting ready room with Alieeya and female bridal party. Although it was an overcast rainy day outside, there was still enough natural light to capture some beautiful dress, bouquet, and boutonniere photos near the window facing the golf course at the Albany Country Club.
I noticed a gorgeous black grand piano in the corner of the side room which offered some beautiful reflective shots of the shoes and bride's crown, adding variety to the beaded details within the photos.
Alieeya and Zabee's wedding was not unlike other traditional Afghan weddings, which usually begin later in the evening and end early the next morning. Guests were welcomed as the bride and groom's families greeted and escorted them to their tables. It was almost impossible to distinguish guests from the bridal party, unless you spent the afternoon with them, because everyone was dressed in their best clothes and jewelry. When most all guests had arrived, the DJ started playing traditional music. In the center of the dining area stood a stage with flowers adorning the staircase. At the center of the stage sat a decorative white couch or loveseat while a sequined drapery hung with a crystal chandelier as a backdrop. A beautiful table was arranged in front of the couch displaying presents and expensive gifts for Alieeya and Zabee.
The women lined up along the wall to greet Alieeya and Zabee as they entered the reception. The couple was revered as royalty, following tradition where the bride and groom are respected as King and Queen of the night. As Alieeya and Zabee made their way to the stage, relatives and guests snapped several photos on their phones to commemorate the moment the two entered the hall. Alieeya and Zabee made their way onto the small stage and sat together on the decorated sofa while family members showered them with chocolates and hugs. Traditional music played as the party began on the dance floor with performances and family photo session opportunities on the small stage where the couple sat.
After some performances, the bride and groom initiated the dinner hour by rising from the couch and walking to the lavish spread of traditional Afghanistan dishes. The wedding feast is called the Walima and in some cultures, can last for two days. Faith forbids the consumption of alcohol in Alieeya and Zabee's culture. After the bride and groom were served, they adjourned to a separate room to eat their meal as the guests lined up to get their food. During the reception, men and women celebrated in separate rooms. Gender separation is a normal part of this culture's wedding traditions. Not every couple will choose to separate the genders at their wedding, but more traditional ceremonies will have men and women celebrate apart from each other.
After the Alieeya and Zabee returned from dinner, they performed their first dance as husband and wife to traditional music. After their performance relatives gathered around the couple and congratulated them. A few of the groom's family members participated in a cake knife dance, known as Raghseh Chagoo, which is a Persian wedding tradition that begins the cake cutting. The purpose of the Persian Knife dance is for the couple to retrieve a knife from the dancers so they can cut the wedding cake. The dance starts with one person dancing a typical Persian dance with the serving knife until the couple gives them money. Once the first dancer receives the money, the knife is passed on to the next dancer. The bride and groom continue to offer money to try and get the cake knife. A little back and forth, and a few dance moves later, the couple is finally given the knife and is able to cut the cake. After Alieeya and Zabee cut and tasted their wedding cake, they shared sweet lavish desserts and chocolates, and drank fresh juices with their arms intertwined.
The couple made their way to the stage again and participated in a special tradition called “mirror and Quran.” A decorative shawl was raised over Alieeya and Zabee as they were presented with the Quran and looked at each other in a decorative mirror for the first time as a married couple.
Towards the end of the party, more traditional Afghan dances were performed by the bridal party in celebration of the wedding until the end of celebration approached.
Rukhsati, a tradition followed when the bride leaves her family to join the groom's family, was one event Alieeya mentioned she really wanted captured in photographs as part of the wedding day traditions. As Alieeya's brother entered the hall, tears formed and ran down Alieeya's cheeks. Her brother tied a green cloth belt around her waist and helped cover her in decorative white then green shawl. You could feel the weight and significance of the last moments in the reception hall as Alieeya and Zabee solemnly walked to a car awaiting them outside the building.
Special thanks to:
We can't thank the Albany Country Club enough for their help and arrangements with our photography equipment for the day of the wedding.
Thank you to my dear friend Lauren Wojtalewski for her time, skills and the company on the job.
I also want to thank Alieeya and Zabee for having faith in our skills to capture our first Afghani wedding celebration.