Quick snap after you wed

Serbian father-and-son team Nikola and Goran Veljic (above) and Ecuadorian Braulio Cuenca (below) offer photography services outside the City Clerk's Office in Manhattan.
Serbian father-and-son team Nikola and Goran Veljic (above) and Ecuadorian Braulio Cuenca offer photography services outside the City Clerk's Office in Manhattan.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Enterprising photographers camp outside the marriage bureau in New York, sometimes doing double duty as witnesses

NEW YORK • Some approach from the flower booth. Others wait on the stairs. On hot, sunny days, still others appear as if out of thin air, stepping out of the shade of a nearby phone booth as they look for brides and grooms entering the City Clerk's Office.

"Photographer?" they ask.

The petal-strewn sidewalk outside 141 Worth Street is not only Manhattan's gateway to quick-andaffordable wedding ceremonies, but also the gathering place for enterprising photographers.

Eight or so regulars work the area on weekdays, 52 weeks a year.

The photographers come from China, Ecuador and Jamaica. So do their subjects.

The Manhattan Marriage Bureau is a major wedding and elopement destination for couples worldwide, in part because of its low price for a marriage licence (US$35 or S$48) and ceremony (US$25) as well as the brief 24-hour waiting period between the two.

Serbian father-and-son team Nikola and Goran Veljic (above) and Ecuadorian Braulio Cuenca (below) offer photography services outside the City Clerk's Office in Manhattan.
Serbian father-and-son team Nikola and Goran Veljic and Ecuadorian Braulio Cuenca (above) offer photography services outside the City Clerk's Office in Manhattan. PHOTO: NYTIMES

City clerk Michael McSweeney said the bureau has probably married couples from every country. Summer brings the busiest days, with nearly 200 couples lining up every Friday.

The photographers wheedle, barter and coax. They show off photo albums and slip between their native languages and English, trying to persuade couples to invest a little more in their special day.

"Photographer?" calls Braulio Cuenca, 51, as he hands out business cards. Sometimes, couples say yes out of administrative necessity.

Out-of-town couples often forget to bring a witness, says Jegede Bishop, 27, who has been hawking his services for nearly a year. A photographer, he tells them, can do double duty.

"I've met people from London, couples from Dubai, African countries and Asian countries," adds Bishop, who immigrated from Nigeria.

The photographers take advantage of this global arena, promoting their nationalities and mother tongues as selling points.

Asian couples sometimes favour Wai Mark, who is from China.

Couples who speak Spanish may gravitate towards Cuenca, who is Ecuadorean.

He likes to pose couples on a Citi Bike and offers to decorate the back of the bicycle with one of two Just Married banners he keeps in his bag - one in English, one in Spanish.

Bishop says: "When you see somebody you can actually identify with, it's easier for you to communicate with them."

He also seeks out shared interests. He persuaded his last English couple to hire him after discovering a mutual love of soccer club Manchester United.

Alton Martin, 36, who began photographing outside the bureau soon after arriving from Jamaica four years ago, offers a veterans' discount. He is a Navy medical staffer.

He also has another edge over the competition - he is licensed to officiate weddings.

At least once a week, a couple shows up just as the clerk's office is closing - it enforces a strict 3.45pm cut-off - and he performs the marriage instead.

He officiates in a small park across Worth Street, where he holds a brief ceremony and signs the marriage certificate as an ordained minister of the Church of God (Seventh Day).

Sometimes, he takes their photographs too. "I'll have them simulate the ceremony after putting on the rings," he says. "There's no minister in the picture, but no one knows the difference."

Goran Veljic offers all-inclusive packages, including one in which he delivers the marriage certificate to the couple's hotel and hires a solo violinist to play for them in Central Park.

The 47-year-old was one of the earliest photographers to set up outside the bureau when it opened in its new location in 2009. He had arrived from Serbia just days before and was passing by when he saw a parade of women dressed in white.

"I thought it was Fashion Week or something," he says.

Since then, he and his team have photographed more than 7,000 weddings.

He was at the bureau on July 24, 2011 - the first day the city began performing marriages for same-sex couples. He was there on Nov 11, 2011, and also on Dec 12, 2012.

"Twelve-12-12 was the busiest day ever," he said. "Eleven-11-11 was okay, but 12-12-12, and to get married at noon," he recalls with a smile.

Martin and Bishop say their starting rate is US$100 for photographs inside the marriage chapel and more for snaps elsewhere. Veljic charges around US$150.

Cuenca is happy to oblige couples who want just a photograph, printed on a machine he carries with him. He charges US$10.

The most important wedding Veljic has seen at 141 Worth Street, though, was one he did not photograph. It was his own.

He met his future wife while on duty, as usual in front of the Marriage Bureau. She was there to serve as witness for another wedding.

He asked if she needed a photographer. "She said: 'I'm not getting married.' But just in case, I gave her my business card."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2017, with the headline 'Quick snap after you wed'. Print Edition | Subscribe