Gorgeous, funky, fresh...all around great.
For those less inclined with a sewing machine or up-cyclers, this idea could be used on thrift shop clothes.
Also, there is photo transfer paper that you can print your pictures on and use an iron to transfer them to the piece. No fumes (=
I know you said it was mistaken for a wedding dress at first and it was kind of frustrating, but I think it's actually an AWESOME idea for a modern wedding dress. Especially in the "around the hem and down the back" stage. With some pearls and some traditional embellishments, it could be gorgeous and very symbolic.
What's more special than making a sacred, lifelong covenant in a gown covered with the pictures of those from your heritage? Those people you'll reach out to time and again - who'll drive you nuts but help keep you sane...your family!
Congrats on a great project.