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Field Notes
Photograph by Mark Thiessen
Jodi Cobb

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

There seemed to be weddings everywhere I went. And people were excited that National Geographic was interested in photographing their ceremony, so I was rarely turned down. One couple from Ireland got married in the Grand Canyon. Their helicopter only held six, but they made space for me. Everyone was like that. They just told me to come on in, even if I just happened to find their wedding while walking down the street in blue jeans.

After a while I found myself drawn to weddings; the feeling of hope among the bride and groom and their guests left me awed. There was such sweetness to the nuptials that I usually ended up crying.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

In India tens of thousands of boys and girls get married on a single day that the people consider lucky. But child marriages are illegal, so the police erect roadblocks to stop the marriages and prevent people from attending. Still, I wanted to photograph them, so I hid in the back of a small ambulance and rode through the countryside for about five hours. That was tough. It was 120ºF (50°C), and the vehicle had no air-conditioning.

We finally arrived in one village, but it was very dangerous for me to be there because the villagers feared outside attention. I started photographing two sisters who were getting married at the same time, when I heard murmurs and shouts from the crowd. Then a large group of men began gathering around me. I'd only been there about five minutes, but my guide was afraid a riot was about to begin and hustled me out.

A lot of people in the West think of marriage as happily ever after, but for a great deal of the world that's not the case. I saw these weddings as a tragedy because these children had no option. They were forced.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

Las Vegas calls itself the Wedding Capital of the World, and I found just about every conceivable permutation of a ceremony there. I photographed one place where an Elvis impersonator drove couples into a building in a pink Cadillac. Once they got inside, Elvis jumped out of the car, performed the ceremony, and sang as the couple danced.

I also saw a guy in a Dracula costume perform a wedding; the bride and groom were dressed in black. Then there were the weddings at the Venetian Hotel, where people got married in a gondola that floated through canals—on the second floor.

But my favorite Vegas wedding was a drive-through. A couple in a red Jeep showed up, and when I asked why they were getting married there, they said it was because half of their wedding party was too ugly for anyplace else. Then they pointed to their dogs sitting in the back seat. They didn't want to get married without them.