Making the Most

©Emin Kuliyev

Meaningful photographs sometimes must be taken in less than ideal locations. Emin Kuliyev photographed Ashim’s and Maddalena’s marriage day in New York City on January 5. For civil ceremonies such as this, he spends only two hours with the couple, meeting them for the first time before they walk to the city clerk’s office. 

A couple walks on a city crosswalk, the photo focuses on their shoes, the woman's shiny gold short boots and the man's oxford wingtips.
©Emin Kuliyev

Kuliyev often photographs a couple’s feet. “For me, shoes are something personal,” he says, and finding something uniquely personal is hard at weddings. “Shoes say something about your choices, your tastes.”

A man kneels as if proposing, holding the hand of his fiancée, at the top of the steps in front of the sign for the Office of the City Clerk of New York. Passers by are in the foreground.
©Emin Kuliyev

Outside the city clerk’s building, his purposeful focal point is the words by the entryway, Kuliyev says. “My goal with that image was for future couples [to show them] I can shoot at that place like nobody else.”

Two wedding rings are placed on top of the torn ticket number for office of the City Clerk of the State of New York. They are on top of a green and black marble ledge.
©Emin Kuliyev

With a capture of the couple’s rings alongside their ticket noting the date and time they arrived for their ceremony, Kuliyev gives the phrase “Take a number” romantic resonance. Kuliyev constantly looks for the special in the seemingly mundane.

A bride and groom stand holding hands in front of the city clerk to take their vows. The room is shabby with pink walls, dark green trim, and worn blue carpet. The clerk is behind a plexiglass shield.
©Emin Kuliyev

The ceremony takes place in what Kuliyev calls “one of the most ugly places in the universe.” New York has only one city clerk’s office. “It’s hard to not repeat myself in this room. I’ve tried to find another angle to shoot the place in some not-ugly way.” He uses a flash to heighten what details he can.

The silhouette of a couple stands out against the shiny backdrop of a glass building at sunset. A dark overhead structure frames the composition.
©Emin Kuliyev

Kuliyev’s years of street photography guide him to locations he uses for engagements and small weddings. “Photography has not given me a great amount of money, but it gives me feelings and knowledge of the city,” he says. “We were not just lucky. I know where sunsets happen in New York, and I slowly move the couple to those variations.”

See more photos from this civil union session.

Eric Minton is a writer and editor in Washington, D.C.

Related article: Mining for Magic: Emin Kuliyev’s wedding images showcase the unexpected