Dazzling photos of cultural weddings in Seattle | KUOW News and Information

Dazzling photos of cultural weddings in Seattle

Jul 31, 2017

Victor Zerga is a Seattle wedding photographer who specializes in "cultural weddings." He started taking photos with a point-and-shoot camera as a guest at his family's big Ukranian weddings, and eight years ago, his hobby became a career. 

Tip: If the images below appear slightly blurry on your phone, click on one of the photos and turn your phone horizontally. Then flip through all the images as though a slideshow. 

KUOW: What got you interested in photography?

Victor Zerga: When the digital cameras came out, around 2002 or 2003, I started shooting portraits for friends and families and playing with pictures. I got started with portraits first, then I shot some of my friend’s weddings.

How did you become a cultural wedding photographer?

I was working with a florist here in Seattle – she did flowers for a couple, immigrants from Ethiopia. They wanted to do a pre-wedding photo shoot with their wedding dress and a small classic car they rented.

They liked my images, and I said, "I can go with you guys if you want." We talked about the logistics – the wedding was four days, which meant I would be in Addis for eight or nine days. On top of the 24-hour flight.

There’s a huge Eritrean and Ethiopian community here, so after I got back, I started getting more and more inquiries.

It took me a few years to get into the Indian market. If a cultural group doesn’t see themselves on your website or your blog, they don’t know if you’re capable of shooting their wedding. They wanted someone familiar with their customs. 

The marriage of Alina and Andrey at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Seattle.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

For my first Indian wedding, the father of the bride emailed me. He said, "We like your images, but you haven’t shot an Indian wedding before." We talked about it, and when I gave them a good price, they said, "Okay, we’ll take a chance." I love Indian weddings – they're really colorful and action-packed. I really wanted to shoot one. This was an amazing, three-day wedding. After I shared the images online, I started booking more and more Indian weddings.

Today I shoot more cultural weddings than Western American weddings. Eritrean, Ethiopian and Indian weddings are the biggest part of my business.

What lessons have you learned?

You have to ask what is allowed. Sometimes you cannot use your flash. You can’t access certain areas of church or temple. You can’t turn your back to certain things in a temple.

In one of my first Ethiopian weddings, I tried to move something from the table during the ceremony. The priest paused for a few seconds and looked at me. I honestly thought he would ask me to leave. It was my first and last time touching anything during a ceremony.

Preparing for a Nigerian/Zimbabwean wedding. Tsitsi and Ife got married at Bastyr University Chapel. Their reception was at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Bellevue. Photographer Victor Zerga described it as ‘Great people, vibrant colors, tears, laughing, dancing and even a worship band at the reception.’
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Do you have a favorite wedding?

My favorite wedding was that first cultural wedding I shot in Addis. It was huge — 3,000 people — and it was my first experience with a cultural wedding, so everything was new and exciting. Also, because I was the only white person in the church, I felt like people were looking at me more than the bride and groom.

After the ceremony, a lady came up to me and asked me to marry her. She said, "I will be a good wife; I’ll cook and clean." I was just standing there looking at her, not knowing what to say.

One of the groomsmen — also my driver that day — said, "Yeah, don’t pay attention." We got in the car and left. But there was a lot of traffic around there, and as we were driving away slowly, the woman was walking behind the car and following us. It was definitely an interesting experience.

Vidya and Kavi's Indian wedding at the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland, Washington. The use of a white horse, for the groom’s procession, is common in Indian tradition.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Did you have a cultural wedding?

I’m originally from Ukraine (moved here in 1994) and our weddings are like American weddings, so not really. 

Aman and Rachel's Sikh/Christian wedding in Seattle. The groom was painted with a haldi paste made with turmeric and water (sometimes rose water).
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Keley and Ademola's Nigerian engagement and wedding. The wedding took place at the Rosehill Community Center.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

A photo from Victor Zerga's first cultural wedding. The couple, Martha and Teddy, were Ethiopian immigrants living in Seattle when they met Zerga. They asked him to travel with them to Addis Ababa for their wedding. Their wedding remains Zerga's favorite.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

A little girl is painted with henna for Jeetu and Monica’s Indian wedding, which took place at the Regency Hyatt in Bellevue.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Guests at Michelle and Adan's wedding at the Sanctuary at Admiral in West Seattle.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Vidya and Kavi, an Indian couple, were married at the Woodmark Hotel & Still Spa in Kirkland, Washington.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Israel, above, married Ortal at Sephardic Bikur Holim in Seattle's Seward Park neighborhood.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

TJ and Vicky's Lebanese-Indian wedding. Victor Zerga, the photographer wrote: ‘TJ and Vicky had a traditional Sikh ceremony in a gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, followed by a Christian ceremony the next day.’
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Seattle photographer Victor Zerga specializes in weddings for Habesha brides and grooms – those originating from the Horn of Africa. Here, bride and groom Redi and Wagahta had a destination wedding at the Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands. They had another celebration a few days later in Seattle with 800 guests.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Duy and Lam's Vietnamese wedding in Seattle.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Saba and Meron's Ethiopian-Eritrean wedding in Seattle.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Indian wedding photographers get married in Seattle. In this photo, the bride, Madhuri, shows off the intricate henna designs on her hands and feet. She and her husband Kanwal were married at the Kent Event Center.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Helen and Mintay on the second day of their wedding ceremony in Seattle. This is a photo from the Melse, which is the second day of Eritrean and Ethiopian weddings, and usually less formal than the first day, with a smaller guest list. Day 1 tends to be a more traditional, Western-style wedding, where the bride wears a white dress.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Steffanie and Amit's Vietnamese-Indian wedding at the Kent Event Center. The couple fused Christian and Hindu ceremonies ‘followed by one of the craziest dance parties I’ve seen at a wedding,’ said photographer Victor Zerga.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

Romaisa and Hassan's Pakistani wedding in Seattle.
Credit Victor Zerga Photography

See more of Victor Zerga's wedding photography at his website and blog.