Natasha, 35, performs as the Snow Queen in the kindergarten where she works in Vitebsk, Belarus. She bought the wedding dress five years ago for this purpose. (Oksana Veniaminova) Galina, 60, wears her wedding veil at her home in Dubrovno, Belarus. She has held onto the veil for 40 years. "My grandmother told me to keep my veil and the icon. So I am still keeping them. I believe in the power of the veil." (Oksana Veniaminova)
Photographer Oksana Veniaminova set out to focus her graduate-degree work on the theme of women’s memory — particularly, she told In Sight, “recollections that are purely feminine and can’t appear in a man’s head." Then she narrowed the theme to recollections associated with weddings, a monumental event for women in her native Belarus.
Veniaminova hopes to publish her photos in a book.
“The marital state serves as an indicator of a woman’s success . . . so each item connected to this gala day has a very special meaning, even afterward," she said. “The wedding dress, the veil, the icon used during the ceremony, the bouquet and so on are shrouded in myth, awe and superstition. Popular belief endows the wedding gown with a mystical power to preserve a happy marriage forever and prescribes keeping it.”
Superstition dictates that selling or giving away the dress could negatively affect a marriage or the woman herself. To many Belarusan women, the veil holds its own perceived powers, and generations pass down the instructions to hide the veil and not take it out of the home to ensure a solid marriage. Others believe the veil can be used to calm restless or crying infants and use it cover cribs.
Veniaminova notes the irony in the act of repeating this tradition for second marriages, illustrating that sometimes the only lasting marriage is between a woman and her dress.
A self-portrait of the photographer, Oksana Veniaminova, 30, wearing her wedding dress in her grandmother's apartment a year after her divorce. "I’m still keeping the gown because I want to cut it for the cover of the photo book about the White Dress," she said. (Oksana Veniaminova) Liudmila, 42, wears her wedding dress at home in Vitebsk. She has kept the gown for 20 years. "My grandmother also kept her wedding dress, and when I was 5, it was the first time I saw it. It was very touching, one of the most intense impressions of my childhood." (Oksana Veniaminova) Tatiana, 56, poses in the wedding dress she has kept for 30 years in her home in Vitebsk. She has a second husband now but still hangs onto the dress she wore at her first wedding. "I am sentimental," she said. (Oksana Veniaminova) Valentina, 38, of Vitebsk, has kept her dress for 19 years. "Five women wore this dress during their weddings, and I didn't want to give it away," she said. "I also have my veil. I used to cover the crib with the veil when my child was sleeping uneasily." (Oksana Veniaminova) Olga, 32, wears her wedding gown at home in Vitebsk, 12 years after her marriage. "I made up my mind not to give away my dress after the wedding," she said. "I feel like a princess while wearing it." (Oksana Veniaminova) Antonina, 43, poses at home in Vitebsk with the wedding dress she has kept for 24 years, despite being divorced. "My husband and I divorced after six years," she said. "I keep the dress just because it doesn't hinder." (Oksana Veniaminova) Vera, 35, wears her wedding gown in her apartment in Vitebsk. She's kept it for 14 years. "Probably I will pass on the dress to my daughter in whichever form," she said. "She can make a dress for a dancing performance or graduation ball out of it." (Oksana Veniaminova) Galina, 66, of Vitebsk, holds up the wedding dress she has kept for 33 years. "I wanted to turn it into a blouse, but something in my heart stopped me. I would like the dress to be buried with me." (Oksana Veniaminova) Snezhana, 40, wears her wedding veil at home in Vitebsk, Belarus. She has kept the veil for 17 years. "Because of the tradition," she said. (Oksana Veniaminova) Lena, 34, of Vitebsk, shows off the gown she wore at her wedding 10 years ago. "This dress is an important part of my memory about the happy event," she said. "I am happy it still fits me." (Oksana Veniaminova)
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
More on In Sight:
This photographer hung out with some Jane Austen mega-fans. Here’s what she saw.
The unexpected spaces inside Ukrainian prisons
A photographer explores the mystique behind her memories of Crimea