Bulgarian Pomak Bride

Creating this site has at times been difficult. I have such a variety of subject matter but very little (so far) in the way of wedding pictures. It could be argued that if you can take a picture of Robbie Williams performing at Knebworth or indeed manage to get two double page spreads in national newspapers on the same day when covering Princess Dianas funeral, then, it goes without saying, that to photograph a wedding should be easy.

Well to be honest easy it isnt! It is just the same. It is also news and performance. The event is happening in real time and will not be repeated. The wedding event has to be captured as it happens. There are no re-runs!

Only the understanding and foresight of the photographer will guide him/her to be in the right place at the right time to create a composition and to capture the smile, the kiss and the laughter….

By way of illustration over a year ago I took a series of photographs of a wedding in a mountain village in Bulgaria. Rhibnovo is in the Rhodope mountains and is home to a group of people called Pomaks. They are usually considered descendants of native Bulgarians who converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule of the Balkans (early 15th century) to the end of the 18th century. Their clothing and wedding customs are unique with the bride being presented with her face covered in heavy white cream and sequins, wearing a glittery shawl.

The weddings take place each year between the months of January and March as this is when the land is frozen and cannot be farmed.

Some of the marriages are arranged but on the whole the young couples have their choice of partner. Old traditions are adhered to with the father of the bride having to provide a dowry. In the pictures you will see many large rugs and fabrics displayed on a wall outside the brides house, these along with other items of furniture and appliances are on display for the whole community to witness.

The day culminates with the wedding being blessed and the bride and groom being displayed to the community. Neighbours then pass up dowry gifts into the brides house but instead of through the front door they enter the house over walls and into the second floor.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. To illustrate I have attached the original magazine text.

LIKE any young bride Fatme Alieva was full of nerves as she anticipated her wedding to the handsome young builder.

But for Fatme there was extra significance in saying her vows with fiance Ahmed Aliev, 24.

Her very marriage ceremony was helping keep alive one of Europes oldest and most unusual traditions.

The rituals carried out on this important day in a remote corner of Bulgaria are seen nowhere else in the world.

Imagine not only wearing a white gown, but having to cover your entire face in thick white make-up.

“You cant see a thing,” said Fatme.

“I had to carry a mirror by my chin, so when I looked down I could see the ground I was walking on.”

Fatme belongs to a race known as the Pomaks and she lives in a town called Ribnovo on the slopes of the Rodolphi mountain in southern Bulgaria.

Bulgaria has already signed up to the European Union – but in this remote region of 3,500 people, life goes on as it has for centuries.

“The day began with a small meal of meatballs and lemonade at a local restaurant,” said Fatme.

“Rakia, the local spirit, is not drunk in our town, so there is no alcohol.

“Then a local folk band arrived, followed by our other relatives and we went out into the street together to perform the horo, our traditional dance.

“All the girls were wearing their scarves and their traditional shalvari trousers, which come from Turkey.

“Then, after the dancing, I was led away by my friends to go back to my mothers house.”

Then it was time for the most important part of the preparations – the make-up.

Fatme said: “First the local make-up artist applied lots of different creams, then several different layers of powder on to my skin. It felt thick and heavy – but I was so excited I didnt mind.

“I really liked this part of the day. It is beautiful for the girl to have this make-up, and for the husband to see how beautiful his fiancee has been made-up.

“It has a special significance for us. The make-up symbolises being given from one family to another.

“Ahmed would have to remove it layer by layer before he could see my real face.”

The tradition of artificial make-up layering stretches back centuries to the time when men worked as shepherds in the fields.

When the groom arrived to greet his new bride, he might never have had any contact with girls before.

He would see his future wife covered in make-up and then have to remove it slowly – therefore learning to appreciate her beauty slowly and treat her gently.

“While the women were painting my face, I could hear guests arriving outside,” said Fatme, a machinist in a local factory.

“I knew they would be leaving the customary gifts for us, and I was excited and couldnt wait to see them.

“They brought clothes and shoes which were placed on a large wooden holder called a bayryak which my family left out for them.

“We were also given a rose branch with 10 leva bank notes on it which symbolises how we will earn money in the future.

“Another yard nearby had been set aside for the big presents – the furniture which would be placed in mine and Ahmeds new home.

“There was a big stove, pots, pans and even a fridge to keep food cold.

“Other people were carrying flags to the house and my dad was there handing out money to them to say thank you.

“On another large plank of wood, my family had laid out presents for the guests, which included scarves, carpets and blankets.

“I was thrilled to think this was all for me. But I was also dying to see Ahmed, so I could become his wife, and we could start our future together.

“When the final layer of make-up was finished, I was handed a mirror so I could look down to see my feet.

“I nervously walked out of the door and into the street.

“I couldnt see anyone around me, only the road beneath my shoes.

“My family helped to lift me up and place me on to a chair in the middle of the road. I knew Ahmed would be standing on his chair beside me, but I could not see him.

“Then each member of my family came up to me to wish me well, and I passed a small present down to each of them.

“They handed me some money in return and I put it in a small bag.

“I could hear the sound as all the furniture left by the guests was loaded onto a lorry ready to be taken to Ahmeds familys house.

“I had not met his parents many times before and I was nervous at the thought this would be my new home.

“Finally the most important part of the whole day – the wedding vows – began.

“A local hodja, or Muslim clerk, read out the oath which we had to repeat to him.

“We promised to love each other and stay together for ever.

“I felt very solemn because I knew we were making some important vows.

“I was so happy because I love Ahmed very much. I couldnt wait to marry him.”

She met Ahmed, a builder who works in a local factory, while walking in the village four years ago.

“As soon as I saw Ahmed, I noticed how beautiful he was and how attractive,” said Fatme.

“He said hello to me and introduced himself.

“I felt shy and didnt know what to say.

“There were other friends with me, and I would sit with my girl friends, while he was with the men.

“But we would often look at each other.”

The couple slowly became friends and started courting, taking walks around the square with other friends.

Sometimes they held hand – but were not allowed to meet alone or to be too intimate.

“All brides in Ribnovo must be a virgin on their wedding day,” said Fatme.

“It is forbidden to do anything which might bring disrepute on your family.”

Ahmed proposed to his girlfriend just two weeks before the wedding.

An excited Fatme was soon caught up in a frenzy of preparations and rituals to mark the special day.

“In Ribnovo, people are always married in the winter,” she said. “In summer many of the men are away working in big cities such as Sofia and Bansko, or abroad in Greece or Spain.

“Ahmed asked permission from my father for us to get married. My family like him very much, and they were pleased and congratulated us.

“Sometimes the parents do not grant permission, so we were excited that they approved.

“My mother and two sisters helped me to prepare for the wedding. There was a lot to do in such a short period of time.

“There were 12 weddings taking place throughout the winter, but my ceremony was the only one on our weekend.

“Four days after the wedding, the couple went into the city for a legal civil ceremony at a register office.

Now they are settling into life with their new gifts at Ahmeds family home

“I am very happy with my husband,” said Fatme.

“I hope to have children soon.

“I will give up my job so I can look after the home and family.

“My husband will earn the money to look after us.

“It is important to keep tradition alive in our village.

“It is the only place in Europe that people still celebrate these ceremonies.

“I would like to go to visit bigger cities one day- perhaps to Sofia.

“But I would always come back here. I hope life continues here as it always has.”

If you have enjoyed this post, Why not get in touch now to check availability and to book Dorset Wedding Photographer Linus Moran. Frequently photographing weddings in Devon, Dorset,Wiltshire & Hampshire offering a distinctive approach to documentary wedding photography.You can follow me on Twitter or become a fan of my Facebook page to keep up to date with my latest work.

Are you looking for something entirely new within Documentary Wedding Photography – why not check out my Photofilms ?

Photofilms interweave the strong stills imagery of documentary / reportage wedding photography with recorded sound from the vows, speeches and background atmosphere.  Photofilms allow me to present an emotive product & record of your day, containing timeless moments enveloped by the cherished voices of loved ones.