It was one of those days. You know, when you feel like you need to go out there and do something new? It had gotten to the point where I felt what I was doing was getting monotonous. I had done couples, families, children, some catalog work… I felt like I needed to expand my portfolio a little. I thought to myself, What else did I want to photograph? Who else did I want to photograph?
At first I toyed with the idea of doing street—perfect, right, since I was in this incredible place (L.A.) and had all the time in the world to kill (I was on vacation). I dismissed that idea once I realized I didn’t exactly have the equipment for it, and plus I was never good at not bringing attention to myself—i.e., I had not learned the art of clicking away surreptitiously. And then I thought about doing “street style”—you know, a la Scott Schuman (of The Sartorialist) or something like that, where you go out there and take photos of stylish passersby. Then I reminded myself that (believe it or not) I was too timid to go up to complete strangers and ask them for a photo—plus I was too much of a control freak to ever settle for a “right here, right now” kind of thing; I mean, the idea of doing guerrilla fascinated me, yes, but my strength was in sittings, which meant that I liked to plan the backdrops/locations (and even the poses and movements) carefully and ahead of time.
It was after I made these deliberations that it occurred to me: Why not do personal style portraits? And do it out on the streets? Personal style street portraits! I could pick a subject, ask them to prepare 5 or 6 outfits for the occasion, take them out to the streets, and then photograph them, one outfit after another. Perfect since it combined, well, the street thing, which I’d always wanted to do, and, well, the style thing. And it was non-intrusive, too, in that I didn’t have to catch anyone off guard, or stop strangers on the street! Another thing was the lenses I had where they only lenses I needed, and, although the fact that we were going to hit the streets made it kind of guerrilla, it still allowed me to put my skills in sittings to good use (picking the spot/s, trying different angles and poses, etc.). The most awesome part, though, was that there was no need for me to style my subjects since the emphasis on personal style, so that aspect of the job was going to be saddled on them—well, maybe I could retain the liberty of editing (like, “Lose the cuff” or “Take the jacket off”), but that’s about it! Just like that, I was ready to get to work!
I presented the idea to some of my close friends, and one of them asked me, “How are you going to find subjects? And [on the business side of it], what market are you targeting?” Of course the first question was almost like a rhetorical one because they were well aware of the fact that, in my decade-long (albeit off-and-on) career as a stylist, I had fraternized with quite a number of stylish, clothes-loving people from almost all walks of life, both from inside the fashion circle and out. As for target clienetele…well, didn’t we have an ever-growing coterie of personal style bloggers in our midst? In my home base (Cebu) alone, safe to say that perhaps half of the young people I knew who worked in creatives had personal style blogs, and to cast a blind eye on them and their potential would be irresponsible—always I’d wanted to be able to do something instrumental for these young ones, and to help them promote their craft (after all, I had been in their position once upon and time, and I’d had all sorts of people to help me out, too, so it was only proper to pay it forward, right?). And just like that, I had some sort of business case!
As it turned out, finding someone to be my “guinea pig” (for lack of a better term) to help me kick this whole thing off didn’t prove to be an ordeal, either. I mean, at first I thought I was going to have to wait ‘til I flew back home to Cebu before I could jump-start this project—but then I remembered that there was this one person that I’d always looked up to sartorially who was now based in California!
Vince Baguio and I go way back. We used to run in the same circuit back in the late ‘90s/early 2000s—I knew him through his sister, my fellow stylist Meyen Baguio. At the time he did a stint as fashion show/casting director, before he proceeded to start his own modeling agency. He was also erstwhile editor, supplanting me after I left my magazine stint. I remember me and my friends were always jealous of the stuff that he wore—the perfectly distressed jean jackets, the vintage T-shirts, the offbeat accessories. I was all about what he slipped his feet into, though—he always had the nicest shoes! Luckily for us, he was also very fickle when it came to this department, and very generous, too, and so every now and then he would invite us over so we could raid his closet, grab some of the stuff he no longer wanted, and take them home with us! You should’ve seen my face when my wardrobe expanded exponentially in 2005 (or was it 2006)—that was when he left for L.A., and so I got to inherit about 20% of the stuff he left behind!
Flash forward to today, and there I was standing before the walk-in of his WeHo digs, my jaw on the floor. Not because it was overflowing or anything—in fact, we’re talking the complete opposite here, where there weren’t a thousand different things, but only a few hundred carefully edited pieces. His style had evolved since moving to a new city, although I wouldn’t call it L.A. style—no Ed Hardy or trucker hats, thank you very much! We’re talking Comme des Garçons here, YSL, Rick Owens—yes, a refreshing departure from hackneyed Tinseltown style. His palettes were more subdued now (blacks and whites, some neutrals), his silhouettes a lot cleaner and more clinical, his details less gaudy—in other words, it was an infinitely more sedate, no-nonsense closet that I was staring at now. It was kind of like looking at something your older brother had and thinking to yourself, I can’t wait to grow up so I can get me some of that, too! I mentioned my little project and gently asked him if he was willing to help me turn the ignition. Luckily, it didn’t take a lot of prodding for him to say yes.
Vince didn’t have personal style blog—as a matter of fact, his new job had absolutely nothing to do with fashion—but he was still a huge fan, and in his own little ways liked to promote how the art of dressing up should be approached. As I learned from our conversations, to “live and breathe fashion” is one thing—but to “live, breathe and actually go out there and buy the fashion” is another. The latter, of course, being the more logical approach, because that way you knew you were supporting the industry and the people who worked so hard to make us look, well, nice. Again, he didn’t have a blog to convey this message, but he and a few friends did like to post “Outfit of the Day” photos on their Facebooks, and that’s how he got convinced the resulting photos would still be useful to him somehow. Next thing I knew he was making a list of 6-7 of his favorite outfits! (“I don’t have clothes, I have outfits,” he would later jokingly declare.) Of course, I made it very clear that I didn’t want the whole thing to be all about the clothes, raising the subject of how I wanted my pictures to tell the story of place, too, and that’s when he went ahead and made another list, this time of streets spots in the city that he thought I’d find interesting. We were on a roll!
Needless to say, when the actual shoot came, it turned out to be one of the funnest I’d done in a long time. And one of the most educational, too! Not only did I pick up a couple of sage styling tips from Vince (yes, in between outfit changes he was dispensing style advice—e.g., what kind of accessories worked with this kind of silhouette, why the cut of your trousers matter when you’re trying to assert the shoes, etc.), I also learned the value of dry cleaning (and where in L.A. the best cleaners were located), the value of whipping your body into shape (clothes do look better when you’re in shape), and the value of function over form (read: if your shoes look immaculate all the time, that’s a surefire sign they’re uncomfortable, and they only imply a life that’s stylish but not necessarily well-lived). I also learned the value of taking the side streets and alleys versus the main roads and freeways (if you’re scouting for locations, that’s an unquestionable way to discover hidden gems), and the value of knowing your points (always start east, and then end west—that is, if you’re looking to go after the creamy flare of sunset later on). More importantly, I got to learn how to maneuver my way through these guerilla-type shoots—i.e., how to politely explain to passersby what we were doing, how to carefully time the sequences so as not to disrupt other people’s businesses, how to switch equipment at backbreaking speed while being extra careful that I don’t drop or lose them!
I must say, though, that the most important discovery I made that day was that I actually had the knack for churning out some pretty decent detail shots! In all my previous shoots, you see, this was something I would do very little of, because I’d always thought I couldn’t do it. My mentor (Malou Pages, of Shutterfairy Photography) would always say, “Take detail shots!” and I’d nod and take very few (or shake my head and take none at all)—“I don’t have the equipment for that kind of stuff,” I’d reason out (or, “My hands are too shaky!”). But that day with Vince I was left with no choice, because he decided to push our start time back two hours so he could pump some iron, and I didn’t want to sit around his apartment doing nothing. So what I did was yank my camera and tripod out, took pictures of the more interesting nooks and of the wall pieces that I liked (Gary Baseman prints, Filipinas Makabenta-San Jose oil), and in no time I found myself sprawled out on the floor taking pictures of the littlest details—from his shoes to his bags to his books to his Coachella bracelets! Next thing I knew was I was hooked! So for two or so hours that was all I did! It felt so cool! Like I was working for The Coveteur or something! (OK, I will admit that before I took my camera out it was my phone that I used—you know, for Instagram purposes—but it didn’t take long before I realized I could make a killing if I used the real deal, so there.) I then showed Vince my shots, to persuade him to allow me to post them. Just like that, the formula for this project of mine expanded: CLOTHES + STREET + STUFF! It only made sense, right? After all, style isn’t just about what you put on your back and/or the places that you go to—it’s also about what you surround yourself with!
Thank you, Vince, for helping me with this little project of mine. More importantly, thank you for sharing with me your new home! It will be hard for me to think of that amazing city without thinking of you!
Vince Baguio | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, and West Hollywood, CA, on May 25, 2012
I don’t know, but do you think the universe is trying to tell me something by throwing planes my way? Of course, when I say “throwing planes my way” I don’t mean that in the literal sense, but, well, almost. It all began with my first commercial/catalog assignment (for Shandar), which entailed photographing one of the models in a hangar. A couple of months later I would find myself in another airplane shed to do an Amelia Earhart-inspired set for a “vintage travel”-themed engagement session. And now here I was at the Van Nuys Airport for a family session!
If the name Mayce Arradaza rings a bell, that’s because she’s responsible for hair and makeup for most of the shoots I did in California. I wanted to do something in return for all the help she’d extended , so I offered one afternoon to photograph her and her family. Her partner Arvin is a pilot and a flight instructor, so it was a little difficult to pin him down. When he finally found the time in his busy schedule to come home to California, he had to be at the Van Nuys Airport to see an old friend and colleague, and so we decided to tag along and just do the session right there.
It was pretty sweltering in the San Fernando Valley that day (I think we were up to the mid-80s by the time we got to the airport) that I almost felt bad that I’d asked Mayce to be bundled up in scarves—the inspiration was Lauren Conrad’s airport looks, you see, which consisted of tunics, black leggings, brown boots, and scarves—but she never complained. I told her to just stand still and not move too much, that way it wouldn’t turn into a sweaty, sticky situation, but it was impossible not to move because their little girl Aira was so hyperactive that day, darting from one corner to another, and somebody had to chase her around somehow!
Of course, no one was about to chide Aira—in fact, we encouraged her to run around some more. All this frolic was like an answer to our prayers, you see, because the little girl was usually very shy and didn’t like her picture taken. In the days leading to this shoot we’d taken her out a couple of times (to Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Pier, and even San Diego!) for a few test shots, but she just wouldn’t smile for the camera! There were times she’d even hide! Luckily she was in a very playful mood that day at the airport, and she didn’t mind me taking pictures of her at all! She even brought her own camera—a Fisher-Price—so she could take her own pictures, too!
At first I had no idea where Aira’s change of mood was coming from—I thought it had something to do with the fact that we bribed her with Wetzels Pretzels (she’s crazy about their Cheddar Cheese dip). As the afternoon progressed, though, it became very clear she was just happy to be around her airplane. And, no, I am not talking about one of the model planes that we asked her to play with for some of the shots—those belong to her Dad. I am talking about the real deal red-and-white 1981 Cessna 152 that we used as backdrop for this shoot! Yes, that is her plane! Arvin bought it for and named it after her. Exactly how many little girls can claim that their dad bought them a plane? My guess is not a lot! Aira is a very, very lucky girl.
Which brings us back to my original question: What is it about planes and hangars and airports, and why do I gravitate towards them? Does it mean that, like Aira, I’m lucky, too? I hope it’s nothing ominous or anything. I mean, they’re keeping me busy, so that should be a good thing, right? Let’s hope so. I should consider myself lucky, right, to be able to shoot at a storied location? How many people can claim that they’ve shot at a place where some of the more important scenes from 1942’s Casablanca were shot? My guess is not a lot!
Speaking of luck, I got real lucky that day when, on the way home from the airport, Mayce and Arvin decided to make a quick stopover at the LACMA so I could take a few shots of them with Chris Burden’s Urban Light—the installation of restored antique street lamps from various Southern California municipalities, at the museum’s entrance on Wilshire—as backdrop. Didn’t exactly have strobist equipment on me in order to be able to take decent night shots, and plus the whole thing didn’t exactly fit the aviation theme, but who was I to say no to this place? Here was my chance to tick one off my dream locations list! You’d think shooting at a legendary airport would be enough for me, but, no, I just had to get me some Urban Light!
Yes, Urban Light is one of those L.A. landmarks that I never get tired of. I don’t know, but just look at that whole thing, and tell me if it isn’t the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. To me, though, it’s more than just beautiful. They say it’s easy to lose yourself in a city like L.A.—there’s even a song that goes, “Remember, Hollywood’s not America”—and I sure can attest to that. Luckily I have this place to run to whenever I need to regain composure and borrow some optimism. I look up at those lamps and I am rejuvenated. To me, they represent a future that’s bright. And, unlike airplanes, they may not signify dreams that are about to take flight, but they sure do remind me of those that are standing tall.
Arvin Nacario Eslit, Mayce Aparis Arradaza and their daughter Aira | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Van Nuys and Los Angeles, CA, on May 24, 2012
Nothing fascinates me more than a good old California love story. And I’m not just talking about those that we see on TV—you know, like, the love triangles that make shows like The Hills, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and Melrose Place go ‘round. I’m talking about those that we see on the big screen, too: the collection of intertwining love tales in 2010’s Valentine’s Day; Crazy/Beautiful from 2001 (starring Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez); the classic Pretty Woman from 1990 (starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere); and, of course, (500) Days of Summer from 2009 (starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel). And then there are the real life love stories that prove to be infinitely more irresistible than the ones in celluloid: for a time there I was obsessed about, for example, how Pamela Susan Courson became inextricably linked to the Jim Morrison legend, and so all I ever looked at online were these Websites dedicated to their tragic romance; I even got hooked on all that tabloid coverage around Lindsay Lohan’s relationship with Samantha Ronson; and very recently I’ve been doing some research on Harvey Henderson Wilcox and his wife Daeida Hartell, turn of the 20th century settlers who bought a ranch up the hills west of L.A.
Why do I find these love stories fascinating? Well, simply because they are stories of more than just the relationship between two people—there’s a third character that plays a pivotal role in these romances, and that’s California. The ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier where Spencer Pratt proposed to Heidi Montag. The Venice Canals where Ashton Kutcher’s and Jennifer Gardner’s characters kiss in Valentine’s Day. The pier (presumably Santa Monica’s again) where Dunst’s and Hernandez’s characters meet in Crazy/Beautiful. The Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Pretty Woman. Of course, I do not need to enumerate the architectural wonders of downtown L.A. used in (500) Days of Summer. Meanwhile, there’s the now-defunct Sunset Strip nightclub west of Whisky a Go Go where Morrison met Courson. How, post-breakup and post-rehab, Lohan rented an apartment in Venice right next to Ronson’s, which freaked the latter out. And that canyon land that Wilcox and Hartell purchased in the 1880s? Well, they named it “Hollywood,” and for some reason it stuck. I guess what I am trying to say is love stories on their own speak volumes—but when they’re set in places that tell their own tales, they make lots of noise.
Such was the inspiration behind this couples shoot that I did during my last week in L.A. this past May. After a series of family shoots, I was in dire need of a love shoot to break the, um, monotony (for lack of a better term)—so imagine the wave of excitement that washed over me when Rotchel Siglas asked me to come hang out with her and her boyfriend KrisJhon Villaceran for one whole day, and, well, to photograph them while I’m at it! Rotchel and Kris are such a cute couple. At the time of this shoot they’d only started seeing each other (a little over a month), but they had such great chemistry it was as if they’d been together for years. Always sweet-talking each other (even when the situation called for one to be, um, a little rough), always holding each other’s hands (even when one of them was busy, say, driving), always telling each other jokes, always singing to each other (they both loved music). And I was always walking into them curling up with each other on the couch watching TV! But that couch potato mode is on only when it’s American Idol season or when the weather isn’t too great, because 90% of the time they like to be out and about. Yes, what I loved about them was that they were always showing each other around their city—every time I checked Facebook there were always updates about her taking him here, him taking her there, them taking each other everywhere! What can you say? Apparently California is a great place to be in love because you never run out of places to see, new and old. Of course, I said yes to photographing them, but on one condition: I was picking the locations. Nervy and brash of me to impose, I know, but, hey, I was the tourist here, was I not? I mean, they have this place to themselves all year long! Luckily, they conceded, and I got to have it my way! They had a special request, though, to get a couple of shots with a couple of items that meant a lot to them—like Kris’s guitar, or this one teddy bear that he gave Rotchel. Who was I to say no to a teddy bear?
I was happy with my choice of locations—or, at least I was happy about the fact that I was successful at coming up with a lineup that juxtaposed the usual suspects with L.A. arcana:
- It was a given that I was gonna pick Venice Beach for the beach sets, not so much because I was all too familiar with the place, but because it made sense and was the practical choice—I mean, I couldn’t imagine “guitar-by-the-beach” shots in, say, swanky Santa Monica or Marina del Rey; and plus I demanded Kris wore a Baja California hoodie for one of these sets, and thanks to my friend Paul I knew you could get decent ones for less than $15 at one of the Venice Beach Boardwalk souvenir shops! (I had to be careful not to use the Boardwalk, though, or the Venice Public Art Walls, as I had already used these two spots in a previous shoot.)
- I couldn’t discount the fact that this couple lived a “healthy” lifestyle, too, and so I took them to Pan Pacific Park between Beverly and W 3rd so we could have a couple of shots of Kris sweating it out playing ball and Rotchel having a good jog. Just so you know, this was where Brody Jenner and friends liked to play ball, and, according to my brothers-in-law, where Manny Pacquiao loved to run in the early mornings (I think the Pac Man has digs in Park La Brea, which is right across the street).
- Rotchel loved to shop, so a shopping set was in order. Initially I toyed with the idea of recreating that one scene in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere’s character takes Julia Roberts’s character on a shopping spree down Rodeo Drive, but dismissed that once I realized Kris would look too old in a suit, and that that area was always flooded with tourists. I had to scratch Melrose off the list, too, because that was too artsy/hipster for their taste, and plus that area was too hot between noon and 3PM. So off we went to Robertson Blvd. where the ritzy boutiques were aplenty but the crowd not madding, the vibe not too cliquish, and where you had tree-lined sidewalks to shield you from the heartless California sun. (Had to make a conscious effort to sidestep the AllSaints Spitalfields, though, lest I wanted to hurt my finances!)
- Of course, for the breakfast/brunch set, I looked no further than Lulu’s Café down Beverly (between Formosa and N. Detroit). It was my best friend Julie who’d introduced me to this place some two or three years ago, and immediately I’d fallen in love with it. Apparently this was where the grownup cool kids liked to have brunch, not to mention the celebutantes like Kristin Cavallari and Lo Bosworth. But that wasn’t the only reason why I loved this place—their Chocolate Chip Banana Filled Pancakes and Breakfast Quesadilla are to die for! Right now, though, I wasn’t after a The Hills cast member sighting or a serving of offensively delish pancakes—my goal was to capture that mellow, carefree vibe that was so dead-on L.A. People from back home were always asking me, “What’s it like in L.A.?” and so I felt I needed some pictures to show them what it was really like, you know? Leisurely brunch at a sidewalk café with your Ray-Bans on, a good book, someone who makes you laugh, and all the time in the world to kill? I couldn’t think of anything more L.A. than that.
Needless to say, I had so much fun doing this session. They didn’t really tell me, but I think Rotchel and Kris had a pretty good time, too. I mean, most of the places we shot at they’d never really been to before—and that’s always fun, right, playing tourists in your own city? The irony of it all was that it was me, the tourist, who played tour guide!
My favorite location, though, wasn’t one that was on the original list, but rather one that was added at the eleventh hour. So after hair and makeup, as Kris was getting ready to plot the route to Lulu’s on the GPS, a lightbulb moment hit me, and I begged him to make a detour to that area of Rampart Village where the L.A. Jollibee was. Not ‘cause I was craving for some Peach-Mango Pies, but because in that very area where Jollibee sat, just before N New Hampshire crossed Beverly, there were these towering, very regal-looking palm trees that lined that street, and I felt like I just had to use them as backdrop. It was my brother-in-law Chester who’d pointed this spot out to me a couple of weeks back, and all I could think of the moment I’d laid my eyes on it was how beautiful California was—and how charmed my life was. Ever since then, every time we’d drive past that stretch, I’d look up, squint, smile dreamily, and play a Long Beach Shortbus song in my head: “A palm tree can grow up and reach the sky/ I never did stop and wonder why/ It seems they climb into outer space/ I guess it’s cause they’re living under California grace…”
And that, my dears, is how this unassuming little area down N New Hampshire and Beverly has shot up to the top of my list. How could it not, when it’s testament to the fact that the life I’ve always dreamed of is the life I’m already living? Now ask me if I regret getting California Love tattooed on my right arm.
By the way, to those who know this couple: Kris and Rotchel are not engaged, OK? At least not yet. Just wanted to do something, you see, to prove to the world that you don’t have to wait to be engaged (or married!) to have an excuse for a love shoot. To be young and in love like that—that’s reason enough to smile. To be young and in love like that, and be in an incredible place at the same time—well, that’s reason enough to smile for the cameras.
KrisJohn Villaceran and Rotchel Siglas | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 22, 2012 | Hair and makeup by Mayce Aparis Arradaza | Tomato cardigan, black tiered lace trimmed floral cami, printed tiered flounce dress, and leather jacket, Forever 21 | Denim jacket, H&M | Brown lace-up boots, Aldo | Sky blue cotton oxford shirt, Hollister | Denim-washed garment dye khaki pants in dark olive green, Gap | Grey cutoff shorts, Levi’s