April 3, 2019
The Bride of Benin City
Julia Forsman, the creative force behind A Rock and a Soft Place Photography, has an intrinsic ability to connect to people, fueling the underlying realism in her lifestyle, fashion, and wedding stock photos. Hailing from London, Istanbul, and Finland, Forsman is no stranger to popping the comfort zone bubble, always game to try a new experience.
Recently traveling to Nigeria to photograph a close friend’s wedding, Forsman was confronted with an intensely emotional landscape, resulting in a robust and extraordinary African wedding shoot. Below she tells the story of capturing this shoot and the post-production experience that unfolded afterward.
Photographing this wedding was by far the most emotional and out of depth I have ever felt during a shoot. The challenges were all new and the whole trip was an intense experience.
I met Florence in Istanbul when we both were living there some years ago. She helped me through some tough times and our bond of friendship grew very strong so when she told me she was engaged and going home to get married, I knew I would photograph the wedding, whatever the circumstances.
The wedding was held in Benin City, Nigeria; a place totally foreign and unfamiliar to me where I stuck out like a sore thumb. On the day before the ceremony, I went with Florence to meet her family whom she hadn’t seen since she moved to Istanbul 6 years before. I stood by as she navigated the emotions of returning home after all the growth of independent experiences and travel. It was all really intensely emotional but I was welcomed with great warmth as we perused the markets, cooing her sister’s new baby and laughing all the while.
The wedding day itself was full of challenges. It was hot, the church was packed, all the windows were covered, and there was little room for me to move around. Setting up flashes was nearly impossible in the crowded space so I was shooting into semi-darkness. Thankfully the videographer saved me and the photos by directing his light where I needed it. The ceremony was several hours long and the guests thought I was a complete nutcase, running around awkwardly trying to take photos in the stifling heat but I was determined not to miss anything important.
“The ceremony was several hours long and the guests thought I was a complete nutcase running around awkwardly trying to take photos in the stifling heat — but I was determined not to miss anything important.”
After the ceremony, I was thankful to get outside and take some portraits — that is, until one man ushered the wedding party to gather in a little parklet by an ugly parking lot. Florence was laughing at my dismay the whole day. She too had little control over how events unfolded. Rather than feel defeated, after most everybody left, we found a much nicer backdrop at the local golf course to shoot some portraits more to my liking.
The next day Florence, David and I began our 8-hour journey back to Lagos which began with my traveling companions saying a religious prayer so kidnappers would not see us on the roads. Our bags were piled all around us but, despite the potential dangers of taking the trip, I was allowed to have a small opening so I could see out the window. It was heartbreaking not being able to stop and take photos of the beautiful country as we drove at high speed through rain, pot holes, and groups of people pushing against the windows to sell us plantain and snails. After saying goodbye to Florence and settling in on the plane, it dawned on me that it had all been a blur and I was totally overwhelmed the whole time I was in Nigeria.
“I can see that my love for Florence is evident in the pictures and am so glad that I have been able to show her how seriously beautiful the whole experience was through my eyes.”
It took me several months to start going through the pictures I had taken at Florence’s wedding. There were plenty of excuses for not having the time, but really, I was afraid that all of the combined circumstances had compromised the quality of the photos and I didn’t come near to doing the day justice.
Now that some time has gone by, it feels like one of the purest experiences I have had as a photographer. Everything was fresh to me and I just documented as events unfolded. I can see that my love for Florence is evident in the pictures and am so glad that I have been able to show her how seriously beautiful the whole experience was through my eyes.