The couples living out Star Wars and zombie fantasies in their wedding albums
Singaporean photographer spins his cosplay hobby into a business shooting themed wedding albums
Two years ago, Mezame Shashin-ka was a cosplay enthusiast in Singapore, dabbling in photography, and wondering how to make his two hobbies commercially viable. He bought a full-frame digital SLR camera, began experimenting with lights and Photoshop software and eventually became a professional wedding photographer.
Now, thanks to a Star Wars-themed photo album for a soon-to-wed couple, the Singaporean lensman's work has gone viral.
The pre-wedding pictures - which look like stills from an obscure subplot from a galaxy far, far away - were shot in April at different locations around Singapore. First uploaded on Mezame's Facebook page in May, the images have since featured on more than 20 websites in China, Thailand, Italy and Britain.
"Wedding photos with a Star Wars theme is not new, but ours raised the bar," says Mezame, 32, who wants to be known by his professional name, which means "awakening" in Japanese.
Previous efforts by other photographers often feature subjects in standard poses, grasping light sabres, holding hands and positioned in front of droids or space ships, but Mezame took it further by creating a dramatic backstory for his clients, Adrian Ng and Adeline Wong, who tie the knot next month.
"We were not afraid to have the couple fight each other. We decided to go a bit bolder, so we had Adrian portraying a Jedi knight who goes to the dark side and fights his own wife. He eventually goes back to the light side and gets back with her," he says. "So there's a happy ending, with action sequences in it."
Mezame photos often involve outdoor shoots with lots of special effects. "Smoke machines, water guns and flames," he says. "Don't expect to go home from a Mezame shoot clean and dry."
He then uses photo-editing software to add digital effects such as putting the Millennium Falcon into the picture.
Mezame has an enormous collection of toy spacecraft, vehicles and other collectibles from the Star Wars franchise, which he photographs with macro lenses and uses to make composite images.
"I want the shots to be unique, to look different from others," he says.
"Some people say, when they look at wedding photos, it's always a simple backdrop, clichéd lalang [grass] fields, or running around with balloons. I wanted to market myself as a cinematic wedding photographer. Granted, the couple is not from another universe, but they want to have their idea of fantasy splashed across a photo series."
Since starting his service, dubbed The Art of Mezame, in 2013, the freelance photographer has completed 10 such themed projects, including anniversary and corporate commissions. Among them was a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed shoot, featuring Shyam Ramasamy, co-founder of freelance talent marketplace SourceGuru, as the Marvel character Star-Lord; and a zombie-themed series which drew on The Walking Dead TV series for newlyweds Joe Hanan and Siti Maisarah.
Mezame's prices range from S$2,000 (HK$11,350) to S$5,000, depending on the package, appropriately titled "normal", "mid-tier" and "epic".
Clients typically contact him by email, and then follow up with a preliminary meeting to discuss the details. "Some people want something crazy or extravagant," Mezame says. "But I'd rather under-promise and over-deliver."
The cinematic projects require elaborate preparation; location shoots take months to plan and require a crew of five. Then there is the matter of coming up with the overall look and effects, including prosthetics created by his fiancée, a make-up artist who goes by the pseudonym MizDesert.
Mezame, who studied film and media at a polytechnic, also acts out scenes to guide clients, who often have no previous acting experience. "I look very silly, but the crew loves it when I do that," he says. "I enjoy myself, and the couple feel more relaxed. If they see me do it, they know they can do it too."
Recalling the humour on set during the Star Wars shoot, he says: "One man said, 'I want a glorious death', so there's a picture of him being pierced by two light sabres."
On a recent Friday evening, Mezame met the Star Wars couple to present the completed photo book, along with two posters featuring them as Jedi knights. They were delighted with the results. The bride, a 29-year-old civil servant, didn't want conventional nuptial photos, and opted for a dramatic treatment after seeing Mezame's The Walking Dead shoot online.
But the couple quickly decided a zombie theme was out of the question: "Our parents would be against it," she says.
Instead, they shortlisted three movies: The Matrix, Jurassic Park and Star Wars.
Being a fan of the George Lucas space adventure series, Mezame convinced the pair to choose Star Wars, what with Episode VII set for release at the end of this year. Besides the photography package, the couple spent an additional S$500 on costumes and props, including custom-built light sabres made by a hobbyist.
The couple's parents are still wondering if they will take traditional wedding photos.
"They asked if Adeline would eventually take photos in a wedding gown," the groom-to-be says, "and I was like, 'No, no, no'."
Still, the couple have to be sensitive to the older generation's views about inauspicious imagery, so the video montage at their wedding banquet will not feature any light sabre duels.
There is a backstory to Mezame's own Star Wars fandom: his parents' first date in 1977 was to watch the original film.
Similarly, he wooed MizDesert with the space saga.
"I courted her through Star Wars. I had a long talk with her about it and she was intrigued."
The couple, who decline to give their real names ("clients and people who work with us know us by our monikers, it's like a superhero identity; revealing real names would be jinxing things," says Mezame), work together on commercial as well as passion projects.
"We are each other's critics," he says, adding that they never quarrel as their collaborations never feel like a chore.
Both picked up many of their skills by watching tutorials on YouTube.
She made the horrific-looking prosthetics for the zombie shoot using a mix of materials from liquid latex to cotton wool, testing the "open wounds" effect on herself to make sure the layers were comfortable and had enough room to breathe.
Ribbed about the extent to which his fiancée is willing to "disfigure" herself for him, Mezame smiles and says: "I'm her canvas, too."
Fittingly, he proposed to her earlier this year while they were at a concert by Lindsey Stirling, the American violinist known for her fantasy-themed videos.
Having set their wedding date for December next year, what will their own nuptial photos be like?
"It's a secret," Mezame says. "I have something in mind, but we want to surprise everybody on the day itself. It will be a mix of everything we love."