Anastasia Taylor-Lind's best photo: A wedding in Nagorno-Karabakh -
Interview by Karin Andreasson
A wedding in Nagorno-Karabakh. Photograph: Anastasia Taylor-Lind
In 2011, the world's population reached 7 billion. When I looked into this more, I found that reduction programmes like China's one-child policyhad been well documented – but nothing had been done on birth-encouragement schemes. Nagorno-Karabakh, a small region inAzerbaijan that has declared itself independent but remains unrecognised by the rest of the world, was one place actively trying to increase its population – by giving out cash at births and weddings.
This couple, Artak and Armine, received around £470 at their wedding. They could go on to get £150 for their first baby, £310 for the second, £780 for the third, and £1,110 for the fourth. Families with six children under the age of 18 get a house. These are significant amounts in a country where income is very low. Within three years of the incentive being introduced, the birth rate had spiked by 25%.
It was July 2011 and the celebrations began at Armine's house, where she was getting ready with her friends. It is traditional to have two wedding parties, beginning at the bride's village and ending at the groom's. The day is long, there are lots of formalities – and even more drinking, eating and dancing. It was a challenge for me to keep moving and not to drink too much vodka, or eat too much of the delicious homemade cheeses and meats.
This was taken at the second celebration, in Artak's village. Artak and Armine are sitting in between their "best couple" – a pair who have been married for a few years and whose job it is to be their guardians, a bit like god parents. They will guide them through marriage, giving advice and support. Behind me are about 200 people eating and drinking. I think Armine looks sad because it was all so overwhelming. Not only had she just got married, she had also moved house – she wouldn't be going back to her village. After the wedding, she would live with Artak's family.
Although the distance is only 50km, it takes about five hours to reach Artak's village, which is on the border with Azerbaijan, inside a demilitarised zone. The driving is difficult – no tarmac, no gravel, sometimes no track.
My fixer and I got a lift with one of the guests and we booked a taxi for the return. I knew this guest was drunk, but I hadn't realised how badly. It took us seven hours because he kept stopping to drink. I thought I might die – we were being driven by a drunk Russian on mountain tracks with sheer drops. I nearly got out to walk, but the fixer said we might get shot walking at night. The demilitarised zone is heavily patrolled – by the Armenian army on the Nagorno-Karabakh side and by the Azerbaijani army on the other. They often have stand-offs, he said. Soldiers and civilians get killed.
By the time we got to the reception, we only had 20 minutes till our taxi. I thought: what a waste of money, and what a terrible risk to take, for nothing. I had only had time to take this one photograph. I was in a stinking mood, but I loved the picture when I saw it.