Interview to Cristiano Ostinelli: the couch, the cow and the holy man

Written by Barbara Zanon

BZ: Hello Cristiano. I know very well your work and I must say that what fascinated me most of all was the one in India. My first point blank question to you is: how much this experience and this journey has enriched you?

CO: Hello Barbara, certainly India is a country that affects people: I’ve been there already 6 times in the past, creating reports on cannibal monks and on the slums of Mumbai. But I have to say that the wedding was a new experience; it lasted 4 days.  This type of experience does not enrich you only photographically but also you learn many things about the customs and traditions of a country.

BZ:In the wedding photos there is always a deep sense of joy and celebration. And this is natural, because we know well as photographers that people expect from us a happy, spectacular and sacral memento of their day. But we know likewise that it is not always easy to take those special photos. So I ask you: how hard was to create this service?

CO:The wedding photos can be happy, joyful but also moving and intimate.  I like to tell the craziness of that day. Never taken for granted to do a good job, India itself is full of things and confusing and it is not easy to isolate people or events and create some really unique photographs. Sometimes you travel for hours to get to a place that can be photographically interesting, sometimes you have to adapt to what you can find and improvise.  As for the language fortunately many Indians speak English and people are helpful and with unmatched kindness.

BZ: This type of work can not be considered just wedding photography. This type of work, in my opinion, especially regarding some images, has a strong reportage value in the strict sense. What do you think?

CO: The two things come together, to a large extent the service is a photo-journalistic account of the event, mixed with moments of creative poses and settings.

BZ: What struck you of the Indian traditions?

CO: The fact that the wedding ceremony lasts 4 days and every day has different celebrations is already very interesting. These events are reserved only to Indians. The ceremony began at midnight and lasted 8 hours, along with rites that for us are totally unrelated and difficult to understand. The bride’s family was from Varanasi, the holiest city in India, and therefore to respect the traditions for this event was essential (no meat, no alcohol … strange thing because in many countries it is the level of alcohol that makes the quality of the wedding!). Their music is overwhelming and the participation is total both from children and adults. Being able to experience first hand their wedding is a wonderful experience.

BZ: Looking at this work we perceive a huge number of guests. How’s the celebration experience for them?

CO: The party has various aspects and different guests. On the first day only close relatives are involved, who are often already hundreds! The day after there is a party for women only (henna ceremony) and finally we get to the actual wedding ceremony that involves the entire village. The last day is devoted to the farewell and delivery of gifts from relatives. Besides all this, the couple have granted us an extra day in Varanasi on the Ganges river to make the photo posing.

BZ: For this work, I know that you travelled with the other photographers of your studio. How much this has helped you in the overall management of the event?

CO:For this work we were 3 photographers and 2 videographers. For me it was important as well as to get some help, also to share with them the experience. Sharing is crucial. I’m not a loner and if I can make live an experience like this to someone I do it willingly. Among other things, these conditions shape indelible relations between colleagues.

BZ: I know that you had to exchange views with Indian colleagues hired by the same couple. How was it working with them? What did you learn from this exchange?

CO: This is the fun part. The couple’s relatives in India engage personal photographers. The family of the bride chooses some, the groom others. The couple in this case chose us. Result, the first night not to make a fool in front of our international team, there were about 30 between photographers and videographers. Panic, it was virtually impossible to reach the bride and groom or not to have another photographer in the shots. It was important for us to clarify that the amount was not synonymous with quality and so it was impossible to work. The next day there were “only” 10. In all this I have to say that they were very nice and professional.

Indians create photo posing, very static, using artificial lights and spend a lot of time on family photos. This difference allowed us to spend time on other aspects of wedding, more like a reportage.

BZ: Among all the photos, can you tell me how did you made this?

CO: It is in fact a picture that needs to be explained. I saw this old couch in a corner, at the wedding ceremony. I specifically asked for it to be taken outdoors in the streets of the village where the henna party was held. With some vegetables, we have attracted a cow that passed nearby and with our luck at the same time a monk was passing by . The picture came to life in just few seconds.  I used a wide angle lens, optic that I like very much to give the image the maximum setting.

It’s a good story, isn’t?

Cristiano Ostinelli (CO) is an award winning italian wedding photographer, based in Como. He works as expert for Grace Ormond Wedding and he was WPJA photographer of the year and WPS Photographer of the Year.


Barbara Zanon (BZ) is an award winning italian wedding photographer and photojournalist, based in Venice, Italy.

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