In East Timor, Not Everybody has a Camera

The wedding

I was travelling through the hills of East Timor, which had recently become the first newly independent nation of the 21st century. As we came around a corner, we almost drove into a wedding party that had just left the village where the wedding had taken place. Thinking this would be a good photo opportunity for the book I was making about the country, we asked if it would be OK to shoot some pictures.

The bride and groom offered to go and change back into the wedding clothes, which we discovered were the same outfits worn by all the couples in the village for their weddings. I asked them where the wedding photographer was, and they said nobody in the village could afford to have their wedding photographed and they didn’t own a camera.

At the time, I was working with a plastic point-and-shoot camera, because I wanted to make the pictures for my project as simple as possible and to produce a timeless effect. It seemed strange that in this digital era, when mobile phones take pictures which can be flashed across the world in minutes and Google has the technology to show you walking down the street, I should find myself in a village where the only camera for miles around was my $50 plastic box.

I made prints of all the images I shot of the wedding — portraits, bridal couple, family group, guests, and sent them back to the village so they had a memory of the day.

When working with aid agencies in Africa and Asia, I have often given them copies of the photographs that I have shot for use in their publications. But also, whenever possible, I have sent pictures to the people I photographed — because many of them don’t have cameras of their own.