Wedding photographs from our grandparents' days made it seem like they were forced to marry each other, but as we sit down with Egyptian photographer Rafik Fouad, we discover how he brings to life the most passionate and joyous moments in still pictures.
Everyone tells you it's a night to remember; it's the most important night of your life. Excited as you may be, you can't help but sweat bullets when people say things like, "you're nervous", "your heart is racing", "you're questioning whether you're getting cold feet and having second thoughts." No. You're scared your wedding night won't turn out as well as you planned. More than anything, the thought of looking unattractive in your photos has been haunting every time you close your eyes. Cue 29-year-old Rafik Fouad – one of the most wanted men in Egypt. From Cairo to El Gouna, brides trust him with their wedding nights, confident in his extraordinary ability to capture anxious couples in their most cheerful, candid, and natural moments on their special day.How does he do it? Well...
How did you get started in photography?
I was introduced to wedding photography when I worked as a photo-editor at a friend’s studio. Although I had no photography background whatsoever, I started with documenting everything happening in my life – my friends, family, trips, anything. Luckily, I am a movie buff; I am always intrigued by how directors take their shots and I am always keen to try out new compositions. Then a friend asked me to work with him as he photographed scenes and actors on location for a TV series. I was photographing the directors, actors, and workers outside of my job – and people really loved the spontaneous moments I captured of them at work. However, I realised I needed to be photographing more live shots, not just actors posing at the end of a scene. I decided against continuing to photograph products, or any still objects – I wanted to capture life and real emotions. And that was when it all started.How did you then get into wedding photography?
I went with a wedding photographer friend of mine to a wedding and I instantly loved it. I loved capturing people’s emotions – whether it be children, older people, young people – candidly and spontaneously. The thing is, in weddings, I get to interact with people all day long; when the bride is with her girlfriends doing her makeup, with her parents trying to help her with everything. I get to witness many real emotions, from laughter to tears. It's these small and genuine details that I aspire to capture. I also don’t think weddings are redundant or repetitive, because every wedding has different people – people with different expectations and backgrounds, and I love having the power to capture them in their most genuine moments.
Most people think they’re not photogenic. I tend to disagree with that, as I always try to capture people in their most spontaneous and best reaction possible. That’s another reason why I love wedding photography, because for as long as I can remember, I held a strong interest in photographing humans being humans!How was the first wedding you ever photographed, and how has the scene changed since?
I remember at the first wedding, everyone, especially the family, treated me like I was one of them. I didn't try to bother people about posing and directing them, I actually opted for taking photos of them getting together, trying to pose for a photo, and they were all really happy with the results. And that's the thing about weddings now in Egypt; since the first wedding I ever photographed, people are becoming more comfortable with spontaneous shots. Before, it used to be very traditional – though the newlyweds still ask for a posed photo to hang in their parents' living rooms – but, now, it has changed a lot. People used to stare at the camera, but now I find that the most beautiful photos are the ones of the bride and groom looking at each other. So natural. Most of my clients generally tell me that they picked me after seeing my work, because of how much I tend to emphasise the candidness of the wedding day – and they trust me completely now to direct the scene at the wedding.
How do you feel photography changed you?
Photography teaches you to look at things, and people, differently. it's a cycle of reflection between the subject and the photographer. For instance, some girls ask me to take their photos about three times because they are always concerned about how they look, and I sincerely don't understand what they see wrong with the photo – to me, they look natural and gorgeous. Stuff like that made me see the depth in everyone's features and their own unique beauty. On an even more personal level, it changed my perception of people – people at weddings usually show their true feelings. You can’t fake happiness – it always shows even if they try to hide it. And sometimes, you see fathers who are trying to keep it together, but you catch them in a moment where a whirlwind of emotions is showing on their faces. You just see people's truer faces. Wedding photography also made me shift from being a really shy person to someone who can talk, interact, direct, give opinions, and even market my talents – it gave me confidence.How do you gain the trust of a bride?
There is a lot of counselling and consoling that goes on. I am with her from the beginning of the day, and whenever I see a bride drained and tired, I always ask if I can get her anything to drink or eat – it's those personal gestures that make her feel better. I also make sure to take photos of all the details people may overlook; the texture of her dress, the shoes, the accessories – things she has spent time on, but no one will necessarily focus on. One time, I remember a bride was super nervous about walking into the ballroom, and she kept asking her family about who arrived and who still didn't, and how the decorations and everything looked. I made sure to sit her down and tell her she can't go into her wedding with that mindset because she will lose all her special moments; and to just focus on her husband and be happy that her family and most important friends are around her.
Can you think of a moment that made you feel like 'This is it. This is what I should be doing with my life'?
Honestly, all the time. In moments when mothers are lovingly staring at their children during their first dance, or the father of the groom is proudly embracing his son's happiness. It's the uplifting spirit that I find in weddings and the comments of gratitude that can make everything bad going on in my personal life vanish with their joy. From my part, I also try to adapt to all that is happening around me at the wedding and I make sure I meet everyone’s expectations.
What do you hope to achieve in the future?
Destination wedding photography! I’ve taken photos outside of Cairo, and I’ve photographed weddings of foreigners. Destination weddings within Egypt are pretty nice; there are a lot less people and tons of activities, like brunches and rehearsal dinners, so that's always fun to document. I always say small weddings are always happier weddings; people just want to have fun with their loved ones, with no exaggeration of how weddings should be; as simple as it can get. These kinds of weddings give me the freedom to take genuine shots that the bride and groom will keep as a pleasant memory of their guests. Hopefully, my next step will be shooting weddings outside of Egypt.
All images provided by Rafik Fouad.
Portrait of Rafik Fouad by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions
Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb.
*The content of this article is sponsored.