Am I boring you yet? You know, with all these journal-type posts? That question, of course, goes to those who know me personally—friend or foe, I must say—because I just know that a couple of brows are going to raise, and they’d be, like, “Tell us something we don’t know,” or, “Show us something we haven’t seen!”
I can’t exactly blame them. It’s no secret that when I put up this blog a little over two months ago I declared that I was going to be using it as a vehicle for my foray into photography. An inconvenient truth, as it turns out now, but it’s the truth anyhow. It’s only natural that people are expecting this to be more of a photoblog than anything else.
But you gotta cut me some slack. One thing I can tell you right now is that, being new to this whole blogging thing and all (I’m not even sure if I can spell blogosphere correctly—did I get that right?), I’m not sure if it comes with a set of rules, and if it does, where to get a reliable handbook. You must remember that, in the beginning, I wasn’t exactly sold to the idea of blogging. I’d never thought I’d live to see the day that I would be putting up a blogsite. For eons my friends had been badgering me to start a blog, and always I’d rebuffed them by saying, “I’m a writer, not a blogger.” My contention was that to those of us who had seen our work on newsprint or some other sort of physical medium a little over a hundred times pre-Internet era, the idea of intangibility was frightening, not to mention the notion of self-publishing a little unceremonious, slapdash and narcissistic. And so when that day came when I had to erect this whole thing, I didn’t have a single clue what I was doing, much less if I was doing it right. Safe to say that until this very day I’m still clueless! Which is why I rely on friends who’ve been doing this a long time to give me some direction (one of them my writer friend Debbie Rojonan, who maintains two blogs—including Balaki Ko, which aims to encourage penning poetry in the vernacular—and whose Tweet from months ago that said “Where in the social media engagement pyramid are you? Still a lurker? Move up. Share, comment, produce, curate. It’s the information age” was what had given me that much needed thrust).
To cut to the chase, the consensus was that, no matter what your reasons for putting up a blog, it has to show the world your character, a dose of your personality, and ensure that your identity doesn’t get “lost in translation” in the process. This tenet is especially crucial for someone like me, a startup photographer, because it offers people who have not met me or heard of me yet a window into what it’s going to be like working with me. I’ve decided the best way to do it is through snippets from my journal—not only does this give my audience a peek into my progress in learning the craft, it also shows what inspires me, in the hopes of perhaps catching the eye of those who are inspired by the same things, and of eventually paving the way to winning collaborations.
That being said, you’re going to have to get used to this, because from here on out, at least once a month, this is what you’re going to be getting from me. What it is is I’ve elected to tap into Instagram to help me carry this whole thing out. (I’m sure all of you know what Instagram is, but to those of you who don’t, it’s the free app for iPhones that lets you take snapshots, apply filters to them, and then instantly share them with friends.) And so, you see, it’s not going to be all writing, and somehow I’ve managed to figure out a way to carry on in the same lane! Instant photos are still photos, whether you like it or not!
One day I will eventually get to that point where I get to do what most seasoned photographers do—that is, just STFU, post the damn photos and then let them do the talking. Wouldn’t that be nice? But I know I got an awful lot of work to do before I can turn up at such plateau. In the meantime, I’m just glad I can share with you the little things that make this work in progress an exciting one and this journey worth the while.
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The beginning of this month saw me getting the New York blues. I was browsing through my good friend Kathleen’s Facebook photo album of her trip to the City that Never Sleeps, feeling sorry that I wasn’t in any of the pictures. I was supposed to go with her on this trip, you see. We’d talked about it for a year—the plan was for me to leave for L.A. late May, and then meet her in the Big Apple a month later—but, as luck would have it, her vacations dates were approved, while mine got the red light. To say that I wallowed in pain would be saying the least. My brother would find me crouched in the breakfast nook, just staring blankly at my I Heart NY keychain and the MTA subway/commuter railroad map (01) from my first trip. I even hung my $3 I Heart NY souvenir shirt in my bedroom window (06) just so I could stare at it before falling asleep. It all turned out fine, though, because while I couldn’t go to New York, it was New York that found its way to me!
Yes, my friend Anne Alegrado and her family (04, 05), my gracious hosts during my first NY trip some two years back, came to Cebu for a quick vacation early this month. It was nice to be within hugging distance with her again, and with her daughter Ellis (02). Remember Ellis from my previous post? The little girl who took me to the Brooklyn Bridge—or, as she called it, “the bridge from the princess movie” (she was talking about Enchanted)? Yes, that girl. She remembers me as “the uncle who slept in our couch and walked me to school couple of times.” Last time I saw her she was into, well, “princess movies” and mathematics. Now she’s into ballet and yoga (03). Proud mother Anne was happy to report that the little girl was learning to play the guitar, too! “[Her Dad] Jovi bought her a Beatles guitar chord songbook,” Anne shared, and then Ellis wasted no time in singing to me her favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” from Abbey Road (07). She knew all the words, and sang in perfect tune! It makes me happy seeing my friends’ kids grow up like this—I’m never going to have kids of my own, so moments like this are the closest I can get to feeling like a proud parent. Our reunion had to be cut short ‘cause they had lots of other people to see—and plus they couldn’t stay long in Cebu ‘cause they had a European trip to embark on (as of this writing they’re in Madrid, I guess). For days I couldn’t get Ellis’s rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” out of my head. It inspired me to take this snapshot of a sunrise one morning (08). To me, the song represents her future, one that’s definitely going to be bright. I hope I live to see the day when she gets there—remind me to bring sunglasses!
Not really big on taking photos of flowers, but I was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen (it was the 136th anniversary of his death the beginning of this month) and the stories I’d grown up with—particularly that one that told of a butterfly looking for a flower to become his bride, and it was a daisy named Marguerite he first approached for guidance as she was “the wisest one.” I’m not really sure these were daisies (09, 10), but they were gorgeous.
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My favorite pieces from fashion designer Dexter Alazas’s most recent collection (12)—he calls it the “peacock collection.” Always I’ve been a sucker for tasteful melees of ornamentation, and these pieces are testimony to Dexter’s mastery in this department. I would love to be able to use them for a shoot one day—that is, if no one beats me to it and I can find a client who can fit into them! I love visiting my friends’ ateliers and browsing through the racks. Dexter’s atelier (11, 12) is special because not only does he put on display his newest creations, pieces from his past collections are within reach, too—and these things, they have a way of taking you back (I think he still has this one gala gown that was used during a shoot I had with the photographer Wig Tysmans and the model Melanie Ediza for CeBu! Magazine some 10 years back.) Rumor has it that for his 15th anniversary two years from now Dexter will be putting up a retrospective. If there’s any truth to that at all, then I’m not the least worried—his archives are carefully arranged, and so curating is going to be a no-brainer.
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The indefatigable Ms. Marlene fitting me into a Dexter Alazas barong Tagalog (13, 14). This was my first time ever to slip into a barong. Always I’d been a suit person. My sister saw these snapshots and exclaimed, “Never thought I’d see the day!” I mean, I still remain partial to suits, but this time I had to make an exception—I was about to attend one of the most important wedding of my life, and the dress code called for traditional Filipino for the gents. The things you would do for a best friend getting married are nothing compared to the things you would do for two best friends getting married to each other! Well, that, plus the fact that, as you get older, you strive to be more polite in social functions—and that includes playing close attention to the dress codes. Turned out wearing a barong wasn’t too bad after all—the only downside is that you can’t smoke a lot or be around smokers ‘cause one flick of ash on the material and then you’re dunzo.
But enough about barongs and dress codes and stuff. Let’s talk about Ms. Marlene. Most of you don’t know her, but I have so much respect for her. She’s, like, the Cebu fashion industry’s best kept secret. She’s non-exclusive; she works for quite a handful of local design houses. The reason she is indispensable is that she sees eye-to-eye with these designers. A designer gives her a sketch, or an idea, and she executes it flawlessly. She is very diligent, too—working long hours, especially when it’s show season. She and I go way back—always at my side whenever I was commissioned to style a Kate Torralba fashion show, and always ready with her quick fix kit for instances that required last-minute alterations and I refused to let pins and binder clips do the trick. I look up to people like Ms. Marlene—the people who work behind-the-scenes tirelessly and fervently to bring beautiful clothes to life.
New York just wouldn’t stop coming to me. This time it was in the form of Nila Romano and Dr. John Seno, who flew into town early this month so they could get married in front of family and friends (17-28). Well, technically they’re not from New York but from New Jersey, but they live in a town called West New York, which is nestled right by the Hudson River and is considered a part of the New York metropolitan area—you can see the Upper West Side of Manhattan if you face east—so, yeah, they’re still New Yorkers to me. (Nila was also one of the few people who showed me around the Big Apple when I was there during my first visit two years ago.) This wedding was special to me—I’d waited for it like it was my own. I’d been with this couple, you see, since the beginning, since the courtship stages, and I’d witnessed the whole thing blossom into a beautiful, strong bond. Fifteen years! That’s how long they’d been together! Very few relationships get to stand the test of time. It’s a connection cemented by his unwavering faithfulness and her eternal optimism. Nila’s older sister Dory Cusi, who’d flown in from SoCal, would later toast to many of John’s finest qualities and heroic deeds, including how, when Nila couldn’t fly to the Unites States yet, he single-handedly chaperoned Dorly’s little children across the Pacific so they could finally be reunited with their parents—“and that’s when I knew he was the right guy for my sister.” They tied the knot at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral (21-23)—it was my first time to step inside that church, and it was glorious. The bride wore a dazzling floor-sweeping strapless sweetheart-neckline gown that they’d snatched in Manhattan. John’s mother had commissioned a choir to sing “Ave Maria” as Nila’s walk-down-the-aisle song. The whole thing was so surreal I was brought to tears. A great bonus was that I got to be reunited with my some of my closest friends from college, and with the rest of the Seno family, especially John’s brothers Joey (25, delivering his best man’s speech) and Rico (26), both of whom I had become close to as John and I had lost touch.
Just a couple of photos from a recent engagement session that I did (29-32). This one took two days because we had to go up the mountains! Yes, it was grueling! The pictures came out pretty good, though, thanks to the fact that this was the first engagement shoot wherein I had absolutely nothing to do with the styling—i.e., someone else took care of the clothes, leaving me with nothing else to attend to but my camera! I should do this more often—you know, just take pictures and leave all the other aspects like the styling and the props to others. It gets you focused like that. I am unable to upload that set on here just yet ‘cause I am not allowed to publish the photos until the days leading to the wedding, so you will have to stay tuned.
Every Wednesday morning my friend Jeff and I make it a point to visit the Carmelite Monastery down Mabolo (just a good 10 minutes’ walk from our office) to light a few candles and say a little prayer (33-35). (By the way, last week, August 24, was the 48th anniversary of the consecration of the Monastery.) I can tell you that not one prayer has been unanswered. More often than not I pray for good health for me and my family. Sometimes I pray for good shoot weather, and I almost always get it! Of course, I go to the Redemptorist Church, too (36)—I live right next door!
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So a friend brought me to a place that specialized in bespoke menswear (37). I can’t disclose the name of the institution ‘cause I’ve kind of been sworn into silence, but they’ve been making bespoke suits and barong Tagalogs for a privileged group of Cebuanos for years, relying mostly on astute word of mouth. I ran my hands through some of the suit jackets laid on the dress forms and was amazed by the precision and the sharpness—what great handiwork! I hope to make an appointment soon.
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That’s a tally of my daily cigarette consumption right there (38). I was really sick beginning of this month, and when the doctor asked me “How many sticks do you smoke in one day?” I could not answer her. And so she told me that I “better start keeping track.” And so here we are. Turns out I am a pack-a-day smoker. Yikes. The good thing about keeping a record, though, is that it kind of disgusts you every time you look at it, and so it kind of keeps you in check. I am not in a struggle to quit or anything—I just really want to minimize my burning up is what it is. Smoker’s cough is not exactly music to anyone’s ears—even to the smoker himself.
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One of my best friends from high school, Rhoderick (39), blew another birthday candle this month. While I could count the candles, what I couldn’t count was how many times this person had been there for me and my family throughout the years, so I knew it was time to give back. I threw a little birthday dinner for him at my place, and we had habichuelas (his favorite), among others, and I made Do-Over-style sangria, too! I’m happy to report I’m getting good at this thing—that is, cooking and entertaining at home. Sure, it’s labor-intensive and time-consuming, but it gives little celebrations a great punch of importance and a touch of individuality, as opposed to, say, just dragging someone to the usual restaurants. Just a little something I picked up from my recent obsession with Rita Konig (I talked about this briefly in my previous post). It is not my intention to do this more and more, but to do it more often than not, maybe at least once a month. You see, there was a time I could not cook, even if it meant saving my life. To borrow a line from Carrie Bradshaw, “The only thing that I have ever successfully made in the kitchen is a mess.” But I’m not twenty-something anymore, and now that I am running my own household I am somehow responsible for injecting a little, um, wisdom into it. Those closest to me will laugh when they read this because they know I am a first-class slob. But, hey, I am working on that, too. One step at a time! This year it’s all about cooking for me, and maybe next year it will be cleaning (LOL). Here’s a serving of the vegetable/seafood pesto pasta that I whipped up some two weeks ago (40). Yes, my brother loved it, and I’m making it again this week.
One of my all-time favorite shirts: a black and white “she-Che” raglan (41) from Cecile Zamora’s Defect that my best friend Yna Varias gave to me for Christmas ’99—yes, it is 12-years-old, and I still wear it like I only got it yesterday!
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Herb Ritts is, like, my all-time favorite photographer. As a young boy growing up in a small town, I would flip through my Mom’s and my aunts’ old Vogues and be mesmerized by his work. The first time I knew I was going to make fashion a huge part of my life was when I saw the cover of American Vogue’s April 1993 issue—Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Stephanie Seymour all playful, wearing candy-striped crop tops by Marc Jacobs paired with white Daisy Dukes, photographed by Herb Ritts. I would later find out it was him who’d directed two of my all-time favorite music videos, too: Madonna’s “Cherish” from 1989, and Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” from 1990. Ever since then I’d become obsessed with his style, his penchant for black-and-white and the way he’d approached chiaroscuros. I remember crying so hard when he died in December of 2002. Three weeks ago, on the week of his birthday (August 13, he would’ve turned 59), I paid tribute by setting my favorite Herb Ritts photograph (“Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage, 1990″) as wallpaper on my phone (42, 43). Around the same time, the Getty announced that they had just acquired 69 Herb Ritts photographs, and that they were planning to put up a retrospective in the spring of next year—God, I hope I’ll be in L.A. in time for that!
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Another person whose demise brought me to my knees: the Filipino actor Rico Yan. I was watching Got 2 Believe, his last movie, in which he’d played a wedding photographer. I had to grab my phone and take pictures of freeze-frames (46, 47) of him crying. He was most beautiful when he cried.
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So, remember last month when I talked about how I stockpile on Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Green in Lemon Jasmine? I got an e-mail from someone who blogs about teas asking why I loved them when there were a lot of better tasting sleep-inducing teas out there. Here’s my answer: They come in string-less, tag-less, staple-less pillow-style teabags (44)—in short, they are environment-friendly.
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Another e-mail I got was from someone who wanted to know how the oversize mustard grandfather cardigan that I let a client wear for a nautical-themed set qualified as, well, nautical. My answer: I know that when we say “nautical fashion” we are quick to think blue-and-white stripes, and then a little red highlights here are there, but what some of you don’t know is that yellow is part of the basic sailorman palette, too—owing to the yellow slickers that sailors use (I did a little bit of research and found out that the yellow “resulted from treating canvas with linseed oil to make it waterproof”). Also, I did take a closer inspection at the buttons of that cardigan: they were gold-colored, like those of the traditional Service Dress Blue uniforms, and they had these embossed yacht anchor details, too (48)—you can’t get any more nautical than that.
This past month was special for a lot of different reasons, but this one right here could be the biggest highlight of them all: A little over two weeks ago I started my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy Photography. Single-handedly run by the beautiful and brilliant Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon (49, 50), Shutterfairy is one of the best-known boutique wedding/lifestyle photography firms in this part of the country. I had been an avid follower of her work, even before I could get a camera of my own. It was a bold step in my part deciding to pursue this apprenticeship. Towards the end of June, after five or so solo shoots, I’d felt I’d needed to push myself some more, and that all this business about being self-taught was getting old. I’d read somewhere about Victor Demarchelier, Patrick Demarchelier’s son, being his father’s principal assistant. “There are [other aspects of photography] that you can grasp faster as an assistant,” he had been quoted as saying. How cool is a father-and-son team? But my father was no longer here to teach me, so I had to look outside the family circle. I pulled a couple of strings, managed to get good viva-voce recommendations, sent a letter of application, and in no time found myself under Mai’s wings.
My first session with her was for an engagement shoot. We were going to be shooting at a farm up the mountains in Carmen, some two or so hours northeast of Cebu. As luck would have it, the couple we were going to be shooting were from New York—I swear to God, the New York streak just kept on coming! Cherry, who has roots from Cebu, was about to marry her fiancé Christian (56) in less than a week. I asked why they decided not to have their engagement photos taken in their new hometown of New York, and she said it was Christian’s idea for them to be taken here, in this very farm, ‘cause he’d fallen in love with this place when they’d first visited about a year ago. What was not love? I looked around me and I couldn’t keep my jaw from dropping—everywhere you turned it was picturesque (49-56). The place is called Noah’s Farm, and it is owned by Cherry’s sister, Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who likes to take her family up there once in a while when they want to shy away from the city life.
What I did was mostly help the couple with their outfits and scout for settings, but I did take a couple of pictures, too, ‘cause Mai would be, like, “Where’s your camera? Why aren’t you taking pictures?” I can’t post any of my photos from that day on here yet, ‘cause I have yet to get approval from Mai and, well, the clients, but, here, feel free to go to the Shutterfairy blogsite to view Mai’s gorgeous set from that day.
Remember two months ago when I inaugurated this blog and I talked about how photographers these days, in an effort to stand out and be cut above the rest, “hold back on the sharing?” Well, I take that back now, because Mai here was just amazing. She answered all my questions, even those that I did not ask out loud (it was as if she was reading my mind!), and she was always pushing me to get to the work at hand. I will write more on the things I’ve learned from her in my future posts. Right now let me just soak up in the awesomeness of how lucky I am to have found a mentor who is as generous as she is talented.
I have quite a number of Nike Dunks, but this pair right here (57), I must say, is my favorite. The sangria/saffron combo always does it for me.
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OK, so I’d been hearing through the grapevine that there was this store in Cebu that sold items from IKEA, but I’d never really paid attention to the buzz. And then I chanced upon the store myself. The store is called Förskö (60), and they are located at the second level of the Banilad Town Centre. I must’ve foamed in the mouth a little when in the corner of my eye I saw the IKEA logo. Never in my wildest dreams had I seen this coming! Not a lot of stock in there, though, and their space isn’t large enough to accommodate the showroom types of displays that IKEA is known for, but they do have a couple of winners, including the LACK side tables (the solid painted versions and the clear lacquered birch effect versions), the silver TERTIAL work lamp, and the MAKROS pendant lamp (58) that I loved from the 2011 catalog. They also have the KNAPPA pendant lamp (59) which I don’t remember from the 2011 catalog, so presumably it’s from a newer line. If you can’t find anything you love, that’s alright—just flip through the pages of the catalog, point at something, and they’ll place the order for shipment later! I’m thinking of getting the NASUM storage baskets (in clear lacquered banana fiber weave). We’ll see.
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The fresh carabao’s milk pastillas (64) from Carigara, Leyte, are simply the best. You should try them.
I forgot to mention my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy comes with a huge bonus: For package deals—e.g., engagement session plus day-of-the-wedding coverage—Mai works with a husband-and-wife team, Paul and Charisse Calo (71), a.k.a. Calography. I met Charisse (66) during the previously mentioned first session with Mai, and I would get to work with both her and her better half a couple of days later during my second session. Both teams were commissioned to do the engagement photos of visiting Zamboaga-based couple Al and Pie (67, 68, 69, 72) who were going to be married in two months. It was fun for the most part because Paul turned out to be the adventurous, adrenaline-driven type, and there was never a dull moment because we were always moving from one location to another. Even more amazing was the camaraderie between the two teams, and that they saw eye to eye and there was never a conflict of ideas. That day I learned some of the technicalities of shooting under harsh lighting conditions, like minding my ISO and all that other good stuff. It’s so cool that I get to pick at not just one brain but three! I cannot wait to work with them again. Click here for a couple of Paul’s and Charisse’s shots from that session.
Proud of myself because this month I kept true to my promise of buying more books and fewer magazines! In fact, no magazine purchases at all this month! (Well, next month is a going to be a different story altogether, as I am determined to grab the September issue of Vogue—Kate Moss on the cover, my dears, and an exclusive coverage of her wedding to Jamie Hince!) So my brother Jake came across this bookstore that sold hard-to-find volumes at steeply discounted prices, and I wasted no time in checking it out. The photography shelf was what I checked out first (73), but it turned out all it contained were books on graphic design and illustration—the salesperson told me they were running low on photography titles, but I enlightened her that maybe all they needed was a little rearranging, because I did find this one baby, Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan by Douglas R. Gilbert (with text from music journalist Dave Marsh and a foreword by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian), in the shelf labeled Fashion. I couldn’t believe they were selling this book for, like, less than Php 200. I loved all the photos in it, but my favorite was this one photo of Dylan singing to the poet Allen Ginsberg in some kitchen while Sally Grossman (better known as the lady in red on the cover of Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home) looked on (74). As I did more digging I was able to unearth a copy of Vivienne Tam’s China Chic (75). For years I had been looking for this title, and finally here I was holding a copy of it with my bare hands. My first impulse was to add it to my cart, but then after leafing through the first few pages I decided it wasn’t for me. No disrespect—Vivienne Tam is one person I look up to, along with other Asian and Asian-American designers like Anna Sui, Vera Wang, Jason Wu, and Alexander Wang. But this book was just not me at all—best left to Winnie Narazeths of the world. Perhaps Anna Sui by Andrew Bolton would be more in my lane, what with her rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic and all. So, no, I do not regret not buying this one. One thing I do regret not getting was this huge Collector’s Library Edition volume of Oscar Wilde’s works (76). I’d turned away from it in favor of a book on the makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin. Asinine move in my part, really, and I should’ve listened to my writer friend Xiomara Demeterio-Glindmeyer when she said, “I would grab Wilde in a heartbeat.” I was tempted, you see, by the immediate practicality the Aucoin book had offered—like, hey, I was going to be doing shoots for a living, so best to grab the one that would teach me a thing or two about makeup, a very important aspect of every shoot. I realize now, of course, that the Wilde book would’ve been the more practical choice—the Aucoin book, easy to find, whereas the chances or finding another Wilde book in this part of the world, close to impossible. Oh, well, you live, you learn.
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Just a couple of days ago I was reunited with someone I hadn’t talked to or seen in a very long time—I’m talking about the singer/songwriter Cattski Espina (77, 78). She had just finished titling and tracklisting her new album (to be released really soon!), and now it was time to get to work on the album cover. She had commissioned Shutterfairy to do her portraits, and since Mai was in Manila for a family thing I took the liberty of setting up the pre-shoot meeting myself. What was supposed to be a quick discussion turned into 3- or 4-hour meeting, ‘cause there was a lot of catching up to do in my part. I confessed that the last album I’d heard about was Vacuum My Inside (released late 2003), the follow-up to their 2001 debut Cattski EP. Turned out that I’d missed out on a third album (a 2009 release called Sound Minds Speak Volumes) because this thing she was about to launch was her fourth. I also learned that she was on her own now—this new release was going to be the first from Cattski the solo artist; Cattski the band was no more. “Which is why I’ve decided to call it Zero,” she shared, “because it’s like I’ve gone back to zero.” I’m not allowed to let anyone in on the details just yet, but suffice to say that, like the album title, the recording is going to feature a pared-down sound—a departure from the heavier sounds in her previous works. “More electronica than rock,” she pointed out. This called for a brand spanking new look. We got to work, and I was happy with the styling concept we were able to come up with. The shoot’s this weekend, and I’m excited. I can’t wait to see how it’s all gonna turn out.
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Cattski couldn’t help but notice the wallpaper on my phone. I told her that this was my own little way of paying tribute to someone. Couple of weeks ago it was Herb Ritts (42, 43), and these days it was Aaliyah (79, 80). It was the 10th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death last August 25. Can you believe it’s been 10 years? Feels like it was only yesterday that I cried myself to sleep, after seeing the news on the plane crash that killed her. In her song “Try Again” from the soundtrack to Romeo Must Die, Timbaland ad libs, “It’s been a long time/ We shouldn’t have left you/ Without a dope beat to step to.” Well, at least Aaliyah didn’t leave us without a dope beat to step to. Up to this very day I still dance to “Back and Forth” in my room, the same way I used to do it back in ’94, and it’s something I’m not ashamed of. Nothing wrong about getting up and letting “this funky mellow groove get you in the mood”—yes, “you know it’s alright.”
Just when you think I’m done with this crap, here I am again with another set of Poladroids.
Blame it on design It Girl Rita Konig. I was at three different bookstores this month looking for a copy of her book Domestic Bliss but couldn’t find one (don’t they stockpile on anything other than teenage vampire horseshit these days?), so I was forced to dig up the archives at NYTimes.com to revisit her old columns (she no longer writes for them, by the way; I think she has since moved to the Wall Street Journal). For once, I was beginning to obsess about decorating, and not spending too much time looking at photoblogs. I read about her penchant for charming pieces of tobacciana (a pink glass ashtray that gets to go with her wherever she goes, cute little glass match strikers, etc.), and her quirky yet practical method of entertaining (“I don’t have a dining table, but I do have a coffee table, a newly upholstered sofa and a kitchen large enough to cook in, so dinner is eaten off of large art books on laps, or sitting cross-legged at the coffee table”). But what really struck a chord with me was her article on “sticking photos straight up on the wall,” pointing out “how unfashionable it has become to put framed photographs on tables,” and so what she does is she puts up a Polaroid wall in her kitchen. What a novel idea! Not to mention practical and stylish!
Well, the practical part is almost debatable. For one, nobody could figure out where my Dad had kept his old Polaroid Sun 600s (if he’d even kept them at all), and even if we knew, it would be fiendishly difficult to obtain instant film in this part of the world. But, hey, there’s always Poladroid, right?
Here are some of the Poladroids that I am considering printing and putting up against my kitchen wall, again, created using random snapshots from my trips from the last three years. Of course, this means I’m going to have to print some of the ones that I made last month, too. They won’t look like actual Polaroids when they’re printed, but they will, from afar (I love that I kind of have that Rita Konig kind of thinking now!).
You guys have a good weekend now! Remember, inspiration is everywhere—even in the things that you settle for when you still haven’t found what you’re looking for (am I even making any sense here?).
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#46 and #47: At the Brooklyn Bridge with my friend Anne Alegrado’s daughter Ellis, a.k.a. my uptown girl. This was my first morning in New York, and they took me to the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d always wanted to see the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d always thought, Oh, that’s where you fall in love all over again. Thanks to that one pivotal scene an hour and 59 minutes into the first Sex and the City movie wherein Miranda and Steve decide to let back together and leave the past behind, with Al Green’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” playing in the background. “Very logical, yet poetic,” Carrie had said about the choice of rendezvous. So when I got there, I expected it to hit me—I thought of those who’d broken my heart, or those I’d hurt, and waited for a little voice inside of me to say, “Hold on.” But then the only little voice I heard was Ellis’s, who was quick to quip, “Hey! This is the bridge from the princess movie!” And then I realized she was talking about a scene from Enchanted, in which Princess Giselle was finally reunited with her Prince Edward—which she’d thought was all she’d ever wanted—until, walking side-by-side with him on this very bridge, she realized it wasn’t the Prince she was in love with, it was McDreamy. And so I stood there and got into thinking: Do I hold on, or do I let go? In life, it’s easy to get stuck between two places—in this case, it was literally, between Manhattan and Brooklyn—or in a place that means two completely different things. And that can be a pretty sticky situation. It can cause you sleepless nights. Luckily, for some of us, we can just shake it off, and do something stylish. It’s OK to lose sleep, anyhow—especially when you’re in the city that never sleeps.
#48: The rooftop at Anne’s Upper East Side apartment (the Wellesley on E 72nd, between 2nd and 3rd Ave., a red-brick 35-story tower). I’d be up here every morning, barely out of REM sleep and not having had coffee yet, just soaking up the sun and the incredible view of the neighboring skyscrapers. Her family have since moved to Brooklyn so Anne could fulfill her dream of sitting on the apotheosis of domestic bliss (well, I kind of like the sound of “Brooklynite gardener,” too), so it’s safe to say I won’t be seeing this rooftop ever again. At least I have pictures that I can look back on.
#49: I hadn’t seen this girl Liz Marsh in, like, 10 years—so you can imagine my surprise when she called and said she had to kidnap me for a day! Always nice to be reunited with old best friends. It’s amazing how she’d managed to stay the same after all those years—same hair, same eye makeup, same laugh, same everything—while I’d become 60 lbs. heavier! Well, her taste in music had changed a bit, but in a good way. Nothing beats driving around West L.A. with Deftones blasting from the car stereo. Speaking of driving, another thing that hadn’t changed about her was, well, her driving! That girl could bust a U-turn (and I don’t mean a legal one) like a gangsta! Luckily, we didn’t get into an accident like that one we got into some 10 years back at the DTM /Reclamation area. I almost got killed, though, when she tried to stuff me with Brazilian barbecue (carneiro, picanha ao alho) at Pampas Grill and “Around the World” combos at Sushi A Go Go—as if I wasn’t fat enough already.
#53: That’s Kloodie, one of my best friends, on her wedding day late last year. I just had to squeeze this photo in. Her wedding dress was the most divine thing I’d ever seen—I mean, look at that! It’s a Jun Escario, by the way, in case you’re wondering.
#56: My friend Janice Larrazabal took me to the Getty to see Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties. It meant so much to me being there and standing face-to-face with the works of the likes of Mary Ellen Mark, James Nachtwey, and Philip Jones Griffiths. Griffiths was my father’s favorite photographer, you see, so, yeah, it meant the world to me. Click here to read more about that experience.
#58: Four months after Michael Jackson’s passing, Angelenos and tourists alike flock to the Staples Center/Nokia Theatre L.A. Live area to pay tribute by dancing to “Thriller.”
#61: On my fourth day in New York I met up with some of my best girl friends from college, Nila Seno, Jam Montecillo and Charmaine Nadela.
#62: After a grueling trip to see Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone in the Greenwich Village the girls and I rewarded ourselves with these divine cupcakes from the world-famous Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker and W 11th. Divine!
#64: I’d wanted to go back to the beginning, so off we went to the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District at the site of the city’s original settlement (downtown, right by the Union Station and the City Hall). I’d been in this area back in 2008, but never got the chance to see the mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles, so I made sure there was no missing it this time around. I said a little prayer, and then went on to explore the colorful Olvera Street. We were right for going on a weekday; we didn’t have to squeeze through crowds of tourists. It was a nice experience: The sound of Mexican guitar and people pronouncing it “Loce Ang-hel-es.”
#64: San Francisco’s J. Boogie on the ones and twos at the Do-Over. A must-do when you’re in L.A. between mid-May and early November, the Do-Over is a Sunday afternoon “backyard barbecue-style” party (they used to throw it over at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern down N El Centro, between Hollywood and Selma, a stone’s throw away from Roscoe’s on Gower, and now the whole thing’s been moved to the Cabana Club a little off Sunset, right by the Arclight). They call it the Do-Over—because, well, as one of the bouncers put it when I asked, “do it once and you’ll want to do it over and over again!” My first Do-Over experience was the bomb, thanks to J. Boogie right here. Famous for his blend of roots reggae, dancehall, Latin hip hop, jazz rap, soul, and new jack swing, he got the crowd swinging nonstop, from Max Romeo’s “Chase the Devil,” to The Fugees’ “Ready or Not,” to Buju Banton’s “Mr. Nine,” to Richie Spice’s “Youth Dem Cold,” to Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s,” to Lady G’s “Nuff Respect,” to Tony Rebel’s “Know Jah,” to Q-Tip’s “Breathe and Stop,” to Bill Withers’s “Lovely Day,” to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” to Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” to Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” Next in the lineup was King Britt from Philadelphia, who kept the classics coming. I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t danced to SWV’s “Right Here/Human Nature” in so long, and it felt pretty damn good to be able to do so again. I can’t believe they brought the Do-Over to Manila just last month (July 23)—I would’ve flown! Oh, well, I sent them a Tweet saying they should swing by Cebu the next time they visit this part of the world. Let’s see what happens (or maybe I should just let my event organizer friends to make it happen). #65: Oh, and did I mention the sangria at the-Dover was the shiznit? I could finish 5 carafes of that shit. Well, now I got a deadly stain on my white boat shoes, but I don’t care—I’d like to think of it as a remembrance of a West Coast life well lived.
#66: With my best friends Ronald Conopio and Julie Pongos enjoying supersized mojitos at The Abbey in West Hollywood. We’d dreamt of this very moment when we were kids—all three of us, together again, in the same ZIP Code, particularly one that starts with a 9 and a 0. And so there we were, picking up the pieces, from 90067 to 90069 to 90210. And the coolest thing about it was that none of this was planned! It just happened, just like that, like a comet, like laughter, like forgiveness, and all those other things you can’t explain—a lot like the day we first met some 20 years ago!
#67: It was dineL.A. Restaurant Week. My best friend Chiklet was in the mood for a little sophisticated Spanish, so she took me to The Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (no, we were not there to stalk Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom). Loved loved loved the Gazpacho estilo Algeciras, the Tortilla de Patatas, the Papas Canarias, the Jamón Serrano Fermin, the Buñuelos (codfish fritters, honey alioli), the Croquetas de Pollo, and the Beef Hanger Steak (cooked in its own fat and drenched in piquillo pepper sauce). Of course, you don’t need to ask if I liked the ambiance—everything was screaming Philippe Starck.
#69: My goddaughter Tabitha, cutest little thing on earth. This was taken last December when she and her mom Yna Varias came to visit me. I love that she loves to overaccessorize. She has those sunglasses in three different colors.
#72: Me and my best friend Julie with Chad Wolf, frontman of the band Carolina Liar. This was taken after the Rob Thomas/OneRepublic concert at the Gibson Amp, in which they were opening act. Ah, fucking crazy! I got to talk to him and lead guitarist Rickard Göransson and tell them about how their song “California Bound” was, like, my soundtrack for this trip—or, for all my Californian adventures, for that matter! “Well, thanks for finding us, man,” Chad told me as we were about to leave. You should’ve seen me. I was beaming the whole time. Another rock ‘n’ roll dream come true!
#77: One of my favorite couples, my cousin Randy and his beautiful wife Sue, who always make it a point to see me whenever I’m in California. Well, Randy is not really my cousin—our moms are just real good friends, so, there, we’re sorta cousins, which makes Sue my sorta cousin-in-law. LOL. I’d love to photograph them one day, just ‘cause their chemistry is amazing, not to mention they’re both very stylish. The plan is to do a session before their Cebu wedding (yes, they had a California wedding, but Sue wants to have a Cebu wedding soon). Well, Randy is a photographer himself (see samples of his work here), but he can’t do his own pre-second-wedding photos, can he? You guys, this is my sales pitch right here.
#80: My nephew Jamim. Well, his real name is Prince James, but we call him Jamim—a moniker that big sister Oona came up with when should could not pronounce James, and it stuck. He calls me Antle because he can’t pronounce uncle, but that’s alright with me because, really, if you come to think of it, it’s like a portmanteau of aunt and uncle. LOL. He knows alligators are green, and dragons are orange. He loves guitars and drums, and it is my intention to start him early. He smells like Irish Spring, which is why I like to hug him. A lot. He can be clumsy at times, and once he amputated my Deep Space Starscream, but I love him all the same. He is the only human being who sees the good in me, only calling me “Bad!” when I cut his spaghetti into small bits. How nice that somebody in this world is capable of looking at me with a fresh pair of eyes.
#84: My godson Ari is growing up too fast! One day he could barely crawl, and now he was running around The Grove my knees were shaking as I was chasing him around. His mom Cai had asked me to take pictures of him, but it was just diabolically difficult trying to make this one stand still. Note to self: When photographing a child, make sure you’re on Red Bull.
#85 and #86: Couple of photos from my visit to the Kentucky Horse Park. I had promised my cousin Amanda Liok, who loves horses to death, that I was gonna take a lot of photos for her. There’s a certain kind of magic when you look at horses. Maybe it’s their necks. Maybe it’s their manes. Or, could it be their rear ends that remind you of a woman’s behind when she is wearing the right stilettos? I don’t know. I just know it’s magical. But even more enchanting is when you get to know their names. One of the girls I talked to calls her horse Moonshine—who knows if she meant moonlight, or liquor, but this was Kentucky so it’s probably the latter—and that just took my breath away. Another girl calls her horse Alcatraz. Amanda has a couple of horses in her backyard, and all of them have beautiful names: Salsa, Moondance, Taco, Chili. I would love to be able to own a horse one day. Maybe I’ll call it Baroness, after my favorite G.I. Joe character. Or maybe I’ll call it Malibu, after my favorite beach city. Or maybe I’ll call it Lexington, after my favorite summer fling. Or maybe I’ll call it Ava Adore, after my favorite Smashing Pumpkins song. Whatever it is, it definitely won’t be “a horse with no name”—although I kind of love that song, too.
#88, #89 and #90: Who doesn’t love the Santa Monica Pier? I know I do. And not just because this was where Spencer Pratt proposed to Heidi Montag—hey, I was a Baywatch baby long before I became a The Hills hoe. But, of course, it wasn’t the David Charvet types I’d come here to ogle at. Sitting there and watching the birds crisscross the horizon, I thought to myself, “Wow, I would come here everyday if only I could.” There’s this incredibly talented singer-songwriter named Terry Prince (I just recently learned that he has Fililipino roots, too!) who performs there on a regular basis. That definitely added a nice bonus to our visit. I mean, California is the last place you’d expect to find an old soul when it comes to music, and yet here was one guy who was not afraid to share his stories of inspiration through his soulful voice and pared-down melodies. Everyone stopped and listened. My favorite song was “Imagine Love.” I regret not capturing it on video, but, here, someone else did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WZoH2UP4PI. It’s even more beautiful when you’re actually there, I promise. The first few lines of the song goes: “Imagine love/ Imagine heaven here on earth…” I did not need to imagine heaven here on earth. Thanks to the birds, the horizon, and him, I was already standing on it.
When you ask someone about their taste in shoes, you don’t expect them to take it quite literally. But hearing Gayle Urgello say she likes shoes that are “good enough to enough to eat,” well, that doesn’t come as a shocker—what else do you expect from someone who is a serious pâtissier by day and transforms herself into a super stylish It Girl by night?
It should be no shocker, too, then, that accessories designer Mark Tenchavez of Shandar picked her as the second of four muses to inaugurate his shoe line. Before I could have a taste of her baked goods, it was her delish taste in footwear that had drawn me to her. I’d bumped into her a couple of times before, but it wasn’t until three years ago, at a mutual friend’s “crazy shoe”-themed birthday party, that I knew she way my kind of girl—while everyone else in the guest list stepped into the scene in strappies and gladiator sandals, she kicked it knee-high boots in patchwork suede and velvet, at once giving new meaning to “hot fuzz” and being a throwback to Penelope Tree (or Talitha Getty, if you will). Ever since then I’d become hooked, Facebook-stalking her like a crazy fan, waiting for her to put up the next photo album just so I could see what shoes she had chosen to wear to which occasion. At one point she even had this one album that served as her bucket list at the same time, filled with screenshots of gorgeous shoes that were not hers yet but presumably were going to be hers soon—outlandish-looking wedges from British high street fashion brand River Island, studded ankle boots from Spanish brand Bershka, electric blue Jeffrey Campbell booties, etc.—with hilarious little captions that said, “Hello there! Why are you so beautiful?” And so, you see, she was a natural choice for Mark’s team. No one had S-H-O-E-S written all over them like this girl did.
At first I’d wanted to shoot Gayle wearing nothing but laidback jeans, to differentiate her set from those of the other girls to be featured in the same catalog who were going to be wearing designer cocktail pieces, and to contrast Mark’s ultra-glam shoes. I’d even wanted to shoot her in her chef’s whites and toque blanche. But Mark and the stylist Meyen Baguio had a different agenda—they wanted abbreviated hemlines, Jenny Humphrey-style, to underscore her gams, which, to them, were “her best asset.” They also disapproved my chef’s uniform idea. I’m glad I followed instructions, because, as it turned out, Gayle indeed had some of the prettiest legs I’d ever seen (the third party guy who does all my retouching would later thank the heavens, saying Gayle’s legs required little to no airbrushing), and she had already been photographed in chef gear for a magazine feature a couple of months back. I can’t say I wasn’t happy with the clothes. Meyen did a great job mixing designer and ready-to-wear pieces, and I loved that she made the bold move of raiding Gayle’s own closet and ended up pulling out a delectable little skirt that the designer Barbie Alvez had made for Gayle for Preview’s 15th anniversary party. The skirt emphasized Gayle’s legs, and went really well with Mark’s stunning wedges in regalia patent leather and royal purple/satin sheen gold animal-print textured suede.
We shot on two different occasions, the first at Gayle’s parent’s house (an “imposing manse,” as one society writer had described it) in Maria Luisa, which had a patio that offered the most incredible view of the mountains, the second at the Banilad branch of their café/bakery Cream ‘n’ Cupz. We meant to do it all in one afternoon, but we couldn’t shoot in their kitchen that day—or ever!—because Gayle’s boyfriend Gerald, who is Singaporean and is also a pastry chef (they met and fell in love in Sydney, where they took the same classes at Le Cordon Bleu), was hard at work at something. There were two more shoes to shoot, so we had to push back to a different date to give us more time to look for a kitchen to shoot at—yes, although we were skipping the chef’s whites idea, we still wanted to feature that side of Gayle, and so a kitchen setting was a must. I’d wanted one that was quaint and homey. It took us weeks scouring the metro for that kind of kitchen, and I was about to give up when Meyen gave me an old Vogue of hers that had this one spread by Norman Jean Roy of Raquel Zimmerman helping out California-based chef Travis Lett in his Abbot Kinney hub, and that’s when I realized that a modern kitchen with stainless steel surfaces wasn’t a bad idea after all! Luckily this was the exactly the kind of kitchen that Gayle had at Cream ‘n’ Cupz, and so we had to look no further! It got me pumped thinking about the setup—it’s always nice when you get to shoot someone in their workspace, their “habitat,” kind of like how Hedi Slimane does it, visiting his favorite installation artists’ studios and taking pictures of them at work.
OK, I will come clean and say that another reason I was psyched we were doing it at her café’s kitchen was the prospect of getting free samplings of her delightful cupcakes. I hadn’t had red velvets since West Village’s world-famous Magnolia Bakery almost two years ago, and I’d heard Gayle’s babies were quite the treat, and so I figured it was about time for a sweet little relapse. And, boy, did I relapse! At least now I know I don’t need to wait for my next trip to the Big Apple to enjoy that one sinful bite! (I must not forget to Gayle’s wait staff: Thanks, you guys, feeding us—and for being so patient with us and helping out with the props, too!—and I hope we lived up to our promise of having minimal impact to your BAU!)
Speaking of red velvet cupcakes, these were exactly what Mark had in mind when he was designing the shoes that were going to be named after Gayle. Well, before I knew they were going to be named after her we kind of kept on calling them the “red velvet shoes” (like, “Hi, Meyen! Have you seen the ‘red velvet shoes’ already? What do they look like?”), so don’t be confused—they’re one and the same style. Like their namesake cupcakes, they’re creamy, full of texture, at once bright and noir, almost sinful to look at, and impossible to resist (well, kind of like their namesake muse, too, if you come to think of it): peep-toe wedges in lava/Falu red textured suede with coquelicot patent leather straps. She wanted something that was good enough to eat—well, that was exactly what she got! Needless to say, they were my favorite pair. I think it annoyed everyone that it took me two or so hours sprawled on the floor just taking pictures of them. Yes, I get obsessed like that. But, hey, who could blame me? How else were you supposed to photograph something you were head over heels with but to do it quite literally, with your face in the ground?
Another thing I fell head over heels with was working with the makeup artist Jessie Glova. He did the second session, when newcomer Hans Ferrer, who’d done the first, couldn’t make it due to scheduling conflicts This was my first time to work with Jessie, despite the fact that I’d known him for years. He just took one look at Gayle, one look at the shoes, one look at the clothes, and then he got to work—I have so much respect for people with this kind of aptitude, because I know very little about makeup, and explaining to a makeup artist what kind of look I want can be a real pain in the backside, and so someone who just gets down to work without needing to be told is just a joy to work with. He also loved to tell jokes. I think it was Christy Turlington who once said that the one thing she loved about the late Kevyn Aucoin was that he was always trying to make people laugh, whereas “most makeup artists try to prevent you from laughing while they work”—well, Jessie had that thing, too, wherein he could get you laughing nonstop and still be really skillful with his hands. The end result was just fabulous. I almost cried when Gayle hopped out of the makeup chair—I’d never seen feline eyes done this beautifully. (PR and marketing whiz and eventologist extraordinaire Jaja Rama would later comment on the behind-the-scenes snapshot that Gayle posted on Instagram that she looked like the English actress Tamsin Egerton, a.k.a. Guinevere in the TV series Camelot.) And as if that magic touch wasn’t enough, Jessie asked to tag along for the shoot, despite the fact that he was expecting more clients and was busy laying the groundwork of the new salon that he was about to launch in a little over a month. On set he acted as coach, teaching Gayle how to smile with her eyes, how to give out the right pout, how to twist her hips, etc. We had it all too easy, thanks to him! I don’t think we could’ve done the kitchen countertop set effectively if not for Jessie. I cannot wait to work with him again.
Gayle Urgello for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City on March 28, 2011, and on April 28, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Jessie Glova (to book Jessie, click here) and Hans Ferrer (to book Hans, click here) | Special thanks to Blenn Suan and Nestor Castillano
Behind-the-Scenes Instagrams Clockwise from top left: Stylist Meyen Baguio helping out with the props; the set that never made it to the catalog—shoes against colorful menu blackboard—although now I kind of wish it did; makeup whiz Jessie Glova working his magic; we invited stylist Blenn Suan to help us with the set concept, and he ended up being sittings coach, too; Meyen taking a break between sets; Nestor Castillano overseeing the shoot from afar (Gayle’s parents house is sooo huge I think I got lost three or four times); Hans Ferrer doing a quick fix to Gayle’s hair; I won’t lie, that’s me trying to show Gayle how it’s done, but failing miserably anyhow—thank God Jessie was there to take over the reins.
We go way back, this girl and I. She was only 13 or 14 when Elite Model Look-Philippines 1996 winner Charity Lagahid and I met her at a coffee shop one Saturday afternoon a little over a decade ago, a peppy high school athlete who, up to that point, had wanted nothing else but to follow in her parents’ footsteps (both of them lived and breathed sports—her father a basketball player, at one point for the MBA and at another for the PBA, and her mom a volleyball player). A few days later I would chaperone her to her very first casting (for a Levi’s fashion show), and that was when I introduced her to Valeriano “Chicoy” Tomol III, founder of the indefatigable institution Models’ Association of Cebu (MAC). Chicoy would take her under his wing, and the rest, as they say, was history. Under Chicoy’s skillful tutelage she would graduate from ingénue to spitfire supermodel faster than one could go through, say, high school, bag the Ford Models Supermodel of the World-Philippines title in 2001, make it to the top 10 at internationals in Miami later that same year, and then take the Asian fashion worlds by storm. Marjay Ramirez was unstoppable.
So unstoppable, in fact, that I would lose touch with her for quite a while—once she got it rolling, that was it, she was all over the place, and it became fiendishly difficult to pin her down! Funny thing, really, ‘cause I’d known her literally since the beginning, but I never got the chance to work with her, not once. Well, not until now.
She was home for an extended vacation early this year (she is now based in Calgary, AB, where she works for a telecommunications company and part-times as, well, a model, represented by I Model Management), and we would bump into each other while carousing in the streets on Sinulog day. I must’ve hugged her about fifty times that day. She asked what I was up to these days, and I told her I was sort of into photography now—but I must’ve been really wasted ‘cause I forgot to ask her what I’d been meaning to ask her for a long time, which was for a chance to get to work with her! Luckily, about a month later, she would chance upon my very first solo work (the grunge/’90s-themed engagement shoot I did for an Ormoc-based couple), and then she hit me up asking if I wanted her to sit for me. Of course, I did! Now more than ever, I said, that I was only starting out and could use all the help I could get to build a portfolio, not to mention I was leveraging the long-lost art of grunge as launch pad—and you couldn’t get any grungier than this girl, right, what with her air of insouciance and her current penchant for tastefully tattered shirts in Alexander Wang-like silhouettes (i.e., oversize, with asymmetrical hems), tomboy denims and work boots. My head was racing with ideas on where to shoot, what the styling would be like, etc. Time wasn’t on our side, though, and we would soon run into scheduling conflicts—I was only available to shoot on Sundays, but with only two Sundays left before she was to board the plane that was to take her back to Canada, she said she’d rather spend them on the beach with her family. I had to give it to her—I knew how important quality time with her mom was for her.
My lucky stars would shine on me once again, though, when, a few days later, I got a call from Mark Tenchavez, head designer of the local fashion accessories house Shandar, telling me about the shoe line he was about to launch under the same Shandar brand, and commissioning me to do the photos for the premier collection catalog. I was stoked—not only was this my first commercial job as a photographer, I was also going to be working with an A-team that included my stylist friend Meyen Baguio and, well, Marjay! The concept was rather simple: the shoes were to be donned by four of Mark’s muses of the moment, and that included Marjay (it would turn out she was going to be the only legit model in the roster, as the rest would be “real women”). True to form, she had given an availability of a Monday. This time I had to say yes—I figured, if this was my only chance to work with her, I had to compromise, and, boy, am I glad I did!
On the day of the shoot Marjay arrived in her ultracool uniform of the moment—oversize ripped tank top, harem-style sweatpants—and I kept thinking, you know, that this was the Marjay I wanted to shoot so bad. But Mark’s shoes were glam—bejeweled patent leather strappies in fire engine red, snakeskin stilettos, etc.—and so there was no way it could’ve worked. So much for the grunge concept that had been dancing around in my head for days! But that was alright. The beauty of it all was that you knew that whatever Marjay slipped into, and whatever theme or concept you threw at her, you were still going to end up with a perfect picture no matter what. Mark couldn’t have put it more dead-on when he said that she was the “ultimate chameleon…an amalgamation of everything her jetset life throws her way.” Her profile pictures in Facebook is testimony to this: one moment she’s thrift-store garage rock (à la everyday Kate Moss) in Romania, the next she’s laid-back tomboy in the streets of Kathmandu, the next she’s geeky/sleuthy cool in Berlin, the next she’s biker chic in the Canadian Rockies. And then there’s that photo of her sashaying in a cobalt blue décolletage cutout bodycon dress from a Vania Romoff lookbook, taken by her good friend Vito Selma, that just proves that she can take glam to the next level, too! And so, you see, I had absolutely nothing to worry about! When Meyen ushered in the rack of cocktail pieces from Ronald Enrico’s Holiday ‘10/’11 collection, that’s when I knew I was in for a real treat.
I don’t think I’d ever enjoyed shooting someone like I did that day. I was reminded of how far more special it was to work with a bona fide model (and take note I’m using this term to differentiate them from the, um, B-list models, for lack of a better term, not as opposed to real people, because real people are a different story altogether). Not only was Marjay a champ at utilizing a bit of method acting on set, she also demonstrated unmistakable cooperation. She had a hand in every aspect of the shoot. She talked to the makeup artist about what shades/blending techniques worked best on her face, oiled her own legs, helped in picking/rearranging the sets and in looking for good lighting, folded and pinned extra fabric herself so the clothes would fit perfectly. Even talked to me about some of the best photographers she’d worked with, and dispensed some really helpful tips! In other words, no sitting around and merely waiting for instructions, and no diva-like behavior. She considered herself a part of the creative process, a part of the team, so she worked to contribute whatever she could, and in doing so made the job easier for everyone else, and reduced the shooting time by 40-50%! What I’d expected to run for six or so hours only took three!
She would leave for Calgary five days after the shoot. I don’t know when she’ll be back for a visit, but one thing is for sure: I’m already gearing up for an action-packed shoot (or, a series of them) for when she does! Finally I’ve caught on what a lot of people have been buzzing about for years: There’s just no getting enough of this girl!
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People have been asking me how we came up with the concept for the catalog cover—guy in bathtub filled with rose petals, shoe cradled between shoulder and chin like a violin, or like a vampire. I am tempted to say, oh, you know what, it just hit us like lightning right then and there, but the truth is that it took an awful lot of hard work and logistics—and a little dose of wicked inspiration. Mark and Meyen had wanted something striking and unpredictable—sensual, if you will, but without being overly so. I had to choose between five or so shoes to feature in the cover shot, and easily my favorite was that one pair Mark had named after Marjay—the Ramirez, which were taupe grey/Payne’s grey python skin-pattern leather peep-toe slingbacks with gunmetal glitter-encrusted heels. How to anchor snakeskin in a sensual context? My first impulse was to slap John Collier’s painting Lilith against the mood board—naked woman, hair down, serpent coiled around her body—but then I realized that would be going to far. Then I read about Lilith being the first rumored vampire, and that’s when it hit me. In no time I was watching Queen of the Damned from 2002, replaying my favorite scene—Akasha (played by Aaliyah) and Lestat (Stuart Townsend) making love in a tub filled with rose petals, with Deftone’s “Change (In the House of Flies)” playing in the background—over and over again. For years I’d been itching to recreate that scene, and finally here was a chance to do it! Poor Mark had to go to the night market to obtain dozens upon dozens of roses, and it took everyone a good thirty minutes to fill the tub with their petals. Of course, I didn’t ask for plastic vampire fangs; we were thinking more on the lines of the shoe as the vampire temptress. We almost witnessed an actual bite, though, when a little creepy-crawly that came with the petals surfaced for some air—good thing the model was quick to whisk it away. Marjay had to endure some 20 minutes of sitting at the edge of the tub, in the most awkward of positions, extending her legs to a point they threatened to cramp, all while trying hard not to slip. But I can’t say all our hard work didn’t pay off. I don’t normally blow my own horn because I’m terribly self-deprecating and you know it, but the pictures came out beautiful (even the unedited ones). I have never been prouder of me.
Marjay Ramirez for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City on March 28, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Hans Ferrer (to book Hans, click here) | Special thanks to Nestor Castillano | Black unishoulder bodycon cocktail dress and white Swarovski-encrusted bodycon cocktail dress, Ronald Enrico