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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.