BEIJING – The photographer was waiting for the bride and groom when the ground began shaking. Then they were enveloped in dust thrown up by the mighty earthquake, and the photographer kept shooting, documenting a remarkable wedding day.
The wedding shots by Wang Qiang and other photographers on May 12 in the town of Bailu are an eerie record of China's deadliest natural disaster in a generation.
The pictures show young women in wedding dresses, dusty and shaken, with the ruins around them.
The photo shoot was taking place at the decrepit Church of the Annunciation, a 100-year-old building that was a popular spot for wedding pictures in recent years. The church was built under the direction of French priests outside the city of Pengzhou, and had been damaged long ago by landslides.
Wang had just photographed the bride and groom and was waiting for them to change their clothes when the ground started shaking. Wang's photos depict the church crumbling, with huge chunks falling off.
"I shouted to people, 'Run! Run!"' Wang said Thursday night by phone. "The ground shook and we couldn't see anything in the dust."
Most of the church "collapsed in 10 seconds," said Wang, who lives in Chengdu, capital of hard-hit Sichuan province.
One of Wang's photos shows a half-cracked, half-shattered church facade with its ruins spilling from the front door. Clouds of dust from the magnitude-7.9 earthquake float in the air.
When the dust settled, everyone stood up and realized they were all safe, Wang said. His photos show them standing in disbelief, covering their mouths, wiping dust from their hair. A bride from another photo shoot pulls up her dress, revealing sneakers.
They tried to head down the mountain to town, but villagers told them the way was blocked. They spent the night in a tent and made it down the next day with the help of a truck driver.
Wang shot members of the wedding group climbing into the back of the truck, while one groom, still in his white tuxedo, holds a parasol over some of the women.
"We could still hear landslides," Wang wrote in his online diary. He refused to give the couples' names, citing privacy.
Wang quickly turned from wedding photographer to journalist. He shot residents huddling under a tarp, relief workers climbing over broken buildings and a hillside that was raw from sliding stones.
"I shot these photos out of the instinct of a photographer," he said.
Wang has put the photos on his blog, calling it "Survivors of the Storm."
One photo shows a couple just before the earthquake, their arms around each other, smiling and clean.
"What is happiness, happiness is safe and sound," the caption says. "Having gone through a life-and-death test, they surely will clasp hands and grow old together."