Couple of photos from the super fun personal style portrait session that I did for my friend Monique Rosal a few weeks ago. This wasn’t my first time to photograph this girl. I’d shot her some two years ago, at a time when I had had very little experience, and thus had had very little technical know-how (i.e., white balance and ISO settings and all that other good stuff had baffled me), not to mention I’d had to share the job with a bunch of other photographers and so I couldn’t exercise full creative control when it came to the locations, etc. Guess it goes without saying that the resulting photos from that shoot had turned out really bad—well, maybe not that bad, but definitely something I couldn’t be proud of—and so I’d promised her I’d take her pictures again. Which brought us to this session right here. I think it’s important to be ready to extend your subjects the courtesy of reshooting, especially when you yourself are not happy with your shots—you might argue that you’d rather wait for them to tell you they’re not satisfied with your work, but the truth is not a lot of people are going find it easy to do that, so, essentially, you’re just gonna have to be honest with yourself. Trust me, it’ll only do you good—so long, of course, as you stay sensitive to your shooting schedule and other appointments. Monique here had had to wait almost two years for an opening in my schedule, but that was alright, because what mattered was we got around to doing it!
This whole thing came at a perfect time, too, because she was starting to be obsessed with Tumblr, and she wanted to be able to post original photos and to keep the “reblogging” to a minimum. (I might also convince her to go on Lookbook.nu—Monique, remind me to send you an invite, OK?) The idea was to photograph her in her own clothes, or in clothes that reflected her personality, because we didn’t want to make the same mistake we’d made the last time wherein we’d made her raid her friends’—and even her mom’s—closets. My first impulse was to ask her to wear surfer chick-inspired clothes and then drag her off to a beach setting, if only to satisfy my own Tumblr obsession (the Billabong Girls USA Tumblr site is one of the very few sites that I follow), but then I realized that dictating her would defeat the purpose of a personal style shoot. Besides, she confessed that, although she did like the beach, she really was more of a rocker chick. For days we’d been talking about Coachella, the music festival held every spring in Southern California, how it had been a mutual dream of ours to attend it one day (and how I had been foolish for being in L.A. last year and turning down invites to weekend two), and that was how we arrived at an idea: why not have her show up at the shoot in clothes that she could see herself wearing to the desert music fest if she were given the chance to make that scene one day? I’m looking at these photos now and laughing at the fact that this “DIY Coachella” thing has since been given a name—“Couchella,” which is basically the act of “sitting on your couch and dreaming you were at Coachella”—but we had so much fun that afternoon! And I loved the clothes she was able to round up for the session, especially the vintage babydoll dress in eggshell lace—very Free People-y! Delighted me to no end, too, that she chose to wear everything with her brand spanking new 1490 10-eye Doc Martens—I always love it when there’s a little grunge or ‘90s involved.
Speaking of grunge/’90s, the Smashing Pumpkins T-shirts that you see her wearing here are actually mine (yes, I collect Smashing Pumpkins T-shirts, and I consider them a prized collection—some of these shirts I got when I first saw the band live at the Louisville Palace for the third leg of their summer 2008 tour). It was kind of spur-of-the-moment, really—in the middle of our shoot I remembered that she loved the Pumpkins to death (last year she and a couple of friends literally braved a storm by flying to Manila to see Billy et al. at the Araneta Coliseum despite the torrential rains and floods), and so I was quick to snatch a couple of T-shirts from my closet so I could take photos of her in them. Of course, as you can see here, they look a hundred times better on her than they do on me, but that doesn’t mean I’m letting her keep them!
She wanted me to take a few photos of the new tattoo between her shoulder blades (of three cassette tapes with their media spewed out to form a G-clef, a not-so-subtle declaration of her love for music), and that’s how things took a turn for the, um, boudoir. I’d never done a boudoir session before in my life—perhaps the closest I’d gotten to doing one was when I’d photographed Womb frontwoman Chai Fonacier’s naked back during their album cover shoot (also to pinpoint a back tattoo)—but, hey, anything’s worth trying, right? Thank God the girl was ready with really cute undergarments! I had to be real careful with my approach, though, by thinking less FHM and more Agent Provocateur catalog—this way I was assured the photos were gonna come out sassy, not sleazy. Sure enough, they turned out really nice, but I can only post a few on here—I’m sorry, but I still have a little bit of a gentleman in me, and that little bit of a gentleman is saying that everything else should be for her eyes only.
Now I’m torn ‘cause I can’t decide which is sexier: leaving something for the imagination, or having a healthy enough self-image to have no problem baring a little for the camera. When I’d first taken Monique’s photos two years ago, she’d seemed a little tense, if not squeamish, and it would show in her face, and in the way she’d moved (or not moved, for that matter), and that was actually one of the reasons why the resulting photos from that shoot had left much to be desired. This time, however, it was as if it was a totally different girl standing in front of me: calmer, more composed, and thus more radiant—still aware of her flaws, but was mature enough to just laugh about them. I asked her what had changed, and she shared that she’d been taking yoga classes for months now. It’s amazing what a renewed commitment to fitness can do to you—not just physically to your body, but to how you feel about yourself, as well. And nothing is more beautiful to photograph than someone who is clearly comfortable in their own skin.
Monique Rosal | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City, Cebu, on March 24, 2013 | Hair and makeup by Alex Nicole Lorenzana | Special thanks to Christine L. Abragan
You’d think that after a certain period of being an apprentice you would, as a matter of course, move on to the next level, no questions asked. I’d begun my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy Photography in August 17, 2011, and so when August 17 of this year came I expected to receive an e-mail or letter from my boss/mentor Malou Pages declaring the end of my noviciate and telling me to get ready for the next chapter of my journey with her (like, as associate photographer, perhaps?). Alas, that e-mail or letter never came, and instead all I got from her that day was a comment on one of my posts on Instagram asking if I was ready to shoot her. Yes, her—I, the aspiring photographer, was going to shoot her, the established photographer, and that was going to serve as my “final exam” of sorts. “Are you being serious right now?” was my initial reaction, to which she made it very clear that, yes, she was being dead serious. Never one to recoil from a challenge, I, of course, said yes—but that isn’t to say the whole idea of it didn’t get my hands all clammy.
Most people will agree that photographers make for very challenging subjects—and even Malou herself has admitted this at one point or another, having been subjected to a similar situation in the past—because there will always be that tendency for them to espy (and call out) the things you’re doing badly, to dictate your creative process, and to measure your methods/output against their own style. Said differently, “photographing the photographer” (or, as Malou’s contemporary Josephine Sicad likes to put it, “shooting the shooter”) is not an activity for all tastes, and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. To me, it’s, like, ask me to shoot a band standing next to a fiercely burning fire and I’d gladly breeze through that without breaking out in a sweat, but ask me to take a picture of a photographer—and my boss at that!—and I might require a little towel to dab the beads in my forehead with. I mean, hello, I am fairly new to this craft, and even if some of my favorite anecdotes to draw inspiration from concern artists sitting for other artists (example: Irving Penn photographing Richard Avedon back in 1993), inspiration doesn’t always translate to howling courage.
Malou was quick to assure me she was going to be the opposite of everything that I’d had qualms about, promising to behave like the “ideal subject,” and to let me have my way with zero “backseat driving” from her. “Your equipment, your style of shooting, your style of editing,” she swore. But even with that concern out of the way, I still had another dilemma in my hands: How to approach this whole thing? My first impulse was to make it documentary-style—i.e., follow her around on a working day, and take photos of her as she took photos of actual clients. I scratched that, of course, once I realized that that would be like interfering with her business. I then considered approaching it like I would any other shoot—i.e., a styled session where I could dress her up and she could do some role-playing. But then I was afraid that that was going to make me focus more on the styling aspect and less on the photographing part, and that would be totally missing the point of this exercise, right?
Ultimately I decided to make it a personal style portrait session—her wearing pieces (up to 5 outfits) from her own closet, à la, well, personal style blogger, and tinkering with the stuff that she surrounds herself with. Perfect, right, since this would take styling out of the equation, and so I would have all the room in the world to mind my composition, white balance, aperture, and all that other good stuff!
I really like Malou’s style, although she would be the first to tell you that she doesn’t have any style to speak of, and that she’s “more of a tomboy” who would “rather go biking” than mind what she shoves into—or pulls out of—her closet. (When I came back from my summer vacation this year and I handed her a floral bodycon dress that I’d bought for her in California she gave me a funny look, like she would rather have received a Lance Armstrong book or something!) Funny how she doesn’t see that she can go on and on about having no stomach for shopping or clothing, but the way she puts herself together will always contradict her claim. On the day of the shoot I told her something to the effect of, “How could you say you have no style, when in fact you even have two?” There was the Malou that I saw everyday, whose deal was the warm-weather/California boho style—airy tunics or bright kaftans bloused up over vintage denim cut-offs, statement necklaces, and strappy flat sandals, plus the occasional straw sun hats, multicolor beach hobo bags, etc. And then now, after taking a peak in her closet and browsing through her picks for the shoot, it became evident that she had another side, one that had a thing for old, offbeat and fun pieces, like chunky grandmother cardigans, wool blend jackets in quirky floral patterns, bright colored skirts with applique detailing. After I deduced this she would admit that, yes, she did have a penchant for old stuff, and that she considered herself a kind of modern-vintage character born a couple of decades too late. So she was one of those who had developed her personal style subconsciously rather than studiously. Trust me when I say that’s the more interesting kind of personal style!
OK, I guess it’s time to brush the topic on clothes aside and back up a bit to how the actual exercise went. First of all, I appreciated that Malou kept her word that she was going to stay out of my hair and be really laissez-faire about the whole activity. This made me very happy because it allowed me to strike a balance between the techniques she had taught me over the past year and those I’d worked to develop on my own. It helped, too, that she turned out to be such a natural in front of the camera as she was behind it—I would later find out that she’d attended a couple of modeling workshops in her youth (it was the makeup artist Owen Taboada who disclosed this little tidbit, and I’m pretty sure Malou is going to hate me for putting this on record) and that she’d had some modeling experience (she was the original face for local accessories brand Gracie Q before Fretzel Buenconsejo came into the picture). I also loved how I finally got to see her home, and survey not just the stuff that she surrounded herself with but how she’d organized her workspace as well. This helped me a great deal because, as those close to me might know, I tend to be a first-class slob, and so seeing how Malou had arranged her tools, equipment, research material, and files forced me to reexamine my own system (or the lack of it), and made me realize that if you want to be serious about the business aspect of photography you’ve got to learn to de-clutter and get rid of the things you don’t need. (Some two weeks following this shoot I would find myself setting up a home office patterned after hers—with a little help from all that IKEA that I’d gotten from California, of course.)
But my absolute, absolute favorite part of this shoot was that I finally got to try my hand at shooting film. Yes, you read that right: I got to shoot film! In the days leading to this session, you see, Malou had asked me if there was anything more about this craft that I wanted to pursue, a “new thing” that I was dying to explore. I’d told her I could not think of anything except that “new old thing” called film—yes, I’d wanted to go back to basics, for the most part because I’d felt it was time to really tap into my father’s legacy. She’d proceeded to ask her film camera enthusiast friend Christian Enricuso to tag along with us, and that’s how I ended up with two cameras dangling from my neck that day: my DSLR, and a circa mid-‘80s Nikon FG-20 35mm (50mm f/1.4). I used a roll of Konica Centuria 400 film. I haven’t seen the outcome yet because that roll is still in Manila being developed as I am writing this, but I promise to post them on here if they turn out to be decent!
So now you understand how strongly I feel about this woman as my mentor. As much as she’s intent on instilling in me some of that signature Shutterfairy stamp, she is also keen on encouraging me to define my own style and carve my own path. I don’t say this enough, but everyday I thank my lucky stars for that one fateful day last year that she decided to take me under her wing (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but did you know that, before Malou came along, a lot of doors were slammed on my face?). I have learned so much from her, and grown so much under her tutelage. To say that I owe so much to her is an understatement. Right now, at this point in my career, I’m not exactly sure where I’m headed—but at least I know I’m going somewhere, and that’s thanks to her. If you ask me now if I’ve worked out some sort of long-term plan, I’d say no. But I can tell you that I’d love to stay with Malou (as associate or assistant or whatever you call it) for the next 2-3 years—that is, granting that I pass this test!
Maria Luisa “Malou” Pages | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City, Cebu, on September 23, 2012 | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada | Special thanks to Christian and Mela Enricuso
Couple of photos that I took of my sister’s best friend Theresa, who’d flown in from Amsterdam to visit us in California for 9 days. Yes, you read that right: 9 days. Apparently that’s all the vacation that some people need, and I salute them, because to the impractical and impossible little brats like myself if it’s not more than, say, 60 days it’s not considered a vacation at all!
Actually she wasn’t just there to visit us. She was on a mission, too—or, make that two. One was to get a box of those fiendishly delicious Avocado Egg Rolls from Cheesecake Factory for her boss (apparently they don’t have Cheesecake Factory in Amsterdam), and two was to eat at every single American diner-inspired restaurant that we stumbled upon. The latter proved to be a challenge, because although it wasn’t hard to find establishments in L.A. that served stuff similar to traditional diner cuisine and that had interiors that mimicked traditional diner décor (hello, Johnny Rockets), it was rather toilsome to look for one that had a vegetarian menu! Yes, Theresa here is a vegan—I don’t know when or how it all started, but it was somewhere between her move from London to Amsterdam. I admire people who have a certain discipline when it comes to what they put in their plate, but, damn, girl, must you make it hard for the rest of us, too? (Just kidding!)
Backpedaling to the 9-day issue: I only got to see her for 5 ½ days because I had to leave for New York, and so we never got to have the real deal photo shoot that we’d planned (the original plan had been to shoot at Malibu’s Paradise Cove, because she’d asked to be photographed at “the most beautiful beach in California”). I kept on asking her to extend her stay, but she said it wasn’t that simple because she was anticipating a busy time at work. Turned out that although the 9 days weren’t enough to afford us a decent photo shoot, they were enough to make her fall in love with America—and to convince her to consider moving to L.A.!
During her first few weeks back in Europe she wouldn’t stop messaging us about how California wouldn’t stop calling her name in her dreams. (I couldn’t blame her—I’d had the exact same nightmares, too, only a few years back, after my first visit to L.A.) I have no idea what happened between then and now, but today it looks like she’s a little undecided: she’s smitten about America, yes, but at the same time she can’t bear the thought of leaving her beloved Amsterdam behind. I’m thinking I should send her some photos that I took of Paradise Cove—you know, to remind her that we’ve got unfinished business, and to convince her that people who say “there is no place like home” have obviously never been to California! LOL. Seriously, though, my only wish is for her to stop overthinking—and for her to just follow her heart.
Theresa Marie Wakeley | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 3, 2012, and in San Diego, CA, on May 5, 2012
There’s a certain quality to driving—or, in my case, riding in cars with friends (‘cause I can’t drive to save my life)—around Southern California that you just don’t get anywhere else. Something about the regal, towering palm trees that line the streets, the ocean breeze that blows against your face (when you’re cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway), and, my absolute favorite, the creamy flares that result when the rays of that fabled California sunset hit your windshield in the sweetest possible angle. It could be the pedestrians in all their nonchalant, celluloid chic glory (Melrose tops my list in this department)—or, in the case of most of my girlfriends, the fellow motorists in the car to your left or to your right or right in front of you, especially those who are dead ringers for Brody Jenner (and you thought I was gonna say those with hilarious window chalks or cute bobbleheads)! And speaking of girlfriends, sometimes it’s just the people you’re in the car with. Whatever it is, there’s always something about it. Something that makes you want to cue a theme song, whether in your head or on your iPod/stereo.
Yes, a soundtrack is crucial when you’re driving—or riding—around the L.A. area. If you’re rolling down those streets and you’re not bobbing your head or tapping your steering wheel to something, it’s either your mind is in another place (let’s just hope that it’s on your money, but, even so, isn’t there a circa 1994 Snoop Doggy Dog jam for that?), you’re plain jaded (but, even so, isn’t there a circa 2000 Aerosmith song for that?), or something is just terribly, terribly wrong with you. Most people stick to just one song, putting the Repeat feature to good use. My brother-in-law Chester has Alice in Chains’s “Check My Brain” on a perpertual loop (which is why I like riding with him—been in love with this song since I had the privilege of hearing the band play it live during a Hollywood concert to promote their comeback album back in 2009); a friend from college, Winright, who works in L.A. as an occupational therapist and who is also an aspiring photographer, likes to move his car to, ironically, The Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved;” my friend Janice is all about One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” right now; another friend Elane, whom I’ve nicknamed the “Queen of the 101” because, well, she can maneuver through that freeway like she’s the boss of it, is all about Nicki Minaj’s “Starships.”
As for me, I belong to the category of those who switch songs every corner I turn (just one of the perks of being a perennial shotgun rider: you got both hands free, so you have the luxury of manning your iPod or the stereo the whole time). Of course, I have a principal L.A. song, and that’s Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”—I mean, what better song to help me pretend that I am Lauren Conrad than the theme of MTV’s The Hills, right?—but the minute I find out we are approaching a certain sweet spot or are about to get caught in a certain moment I am always quick to shuffle. For example: I have a song for whenever we’re approaching a palm-lined street or intersection (like that area of N New Hampshire just before it crosses Beverly), and that’s Long Beach Shortbus’s “California Grace” (“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 whenever we’re cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway en route to Malibu, it’s, well, “Malibu” by Hole—although I’m quick to shift to Britney Spears’s “Sometimes” as soon as I find out that we’re fast approaching Paradise Cove, ‘cause that’s where the video for that song was shot. Down Melrose it’s always “This Town” by The Go-Go’s, and sometimes it’s “Walking in L.A.” by Missing Persons. Down Beverly Hills it’s always “Rolling with My Homies” by Coolio (hello, Clueless?), and sometimes it’s, well, “Beverly Hills” by Weezer. Down Hollywood and I see the Roosevelt looming in the distance it’s, well, “Hollywood” by Collective Soul. Down the 101 it’s “California” by Phantom Planet. Whichever street we’re at, though, and it’s sunset, and I get those creamy flares in the windshield, it’s “California” by Atherton (“The lights they shine so bright/ They shine for you tonight/ So come on, baby/ Come home to California…”). I even have a song for when I didn’t feel like going out in the first place but somebody just had to drag me, and that’s “California” by Rufus Wainwright (“California/ California/ You’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed…”)! And the list—or, should I say playlist—goes on and on and on…
But my absolute, absolute favorite song to play when I’m rolling down those streets with my homies is that song that I play when the rolling is done aimlessly (i.e., random, unplanned, destination unknown) and the homies in question are my homegirls. Two thumbs up if you guessed it’s “Summer Girls” by LFO!
I know it’s not the most, um, intelligently written song in the world—many a radio blogger have even included it in their “Worst Songs Ever” list—and when you read the lyrics out loud they just don’t make sense at all, but that’s exactly what makes it amusing and what gives it its feel-good factor (I mean, come on, not every song has to go “speaking words of wisdom,” right?). Plus you gotta admit that it’s got some of the catchiest hooks you’ve ever heard in recent years! It’s the kind of song that doesn’t just make want to bob your head or tap your fingers on the wheel—it’s the kind of song that makes you want to throw your head back and your hands up! And for some reason it does make you feel like you’re “the girl from Abercrombie and Fitch!”
This shoot right here was one of those “Summer Girls” kind of afternoon. Eunice Beronio gave literal meaning to “it’s fly when girls stop by for the summer” when she flew in from Albuquerque to spend Memorial Day weekend in L.A. with her best friend Catherine “Cay” Mendoza. Cay is my best friend Cryse’s sister, and it was her who asked me to tag along for this reunion so I could take their photos. None of this was ever planned—except for some of their clothes, which I helped them pick out the minute before we dashed out of Cay’s Glendale apartment—which made it very exciting for me. For once I didn’t have to worry about logistics, like plotting the locations and the sequences and all that good stuff! “Let’s not treat this like a shoot,” Eunice told me as we hopped into Cay’s car. “Think of it as just plain hanging out! That’s it!” At first I was worried because, you know, not knowing where we were going meant my soundtrack was uncertain, but once Cay started the ignition and we started screaming and laughing our hearts out I knew right there and then that it was the perfect time to play a little LFO!
Loved that they took me to places that I’d never been to before, and I mean that quite literally. This was my first time to see Pasadena in broad daylight (up until then the only thing I knew about Pasadena was that it housed the Westminster Presbyterian Church where Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag got married), and the place just took my breath away. I especially found Old Town Pasadena very charming—the marriage of turn-of-the-century architecture and modern amenities took me to another place in time, and for a moment there I forgot that I was in California! I even fell in love with the back alleyways, so much so that I decided to shoot our first set there. There was so much more that we could do with the place, but we didn’t have very plenty of time, so after a round of shopping and some tapas off we bolted to find the 110 and then the 105 that were going to lead us to Hermosa Beach—because what is a “Summer Girls” kind of day without a trip to the beach, right? Now, I’d been to every single beach in this part of the world—from Malibu to Santa Monica to Venice Beach to Marina Del Rey to Manhattan Beach to Redondo Beach—but I’d managed to skip Hermosa Beach somehow, so them taking me here was just like an answered prayer. They couldn’t have picked a more perfect time, too—it was the weekend of the 40th annual Fiesta Hermosa! Downtown Hermosa was packed; good thing Cay knew someone who had an apartment in the area so we had no trouble looking for parking space. This wasn’t the first ever arts and crafts festival I had been to in my life, but this was definitely the largest, so the girls gave me some time to circle the fair to marvel at all the paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and photography. One particular booth caught my eye and made my heart stop, carrying colorful, whimsical photos of lifeguard stations from various beaches around SoCal (it’s unfortunate that I never got to get the photographer’s name!)—I was raring to buy a large-scale print, but had to stop myself upon realizing there was no way I could ever fit the thing into my transpacific luggage. They also had a couple of bands lined up for the afternoon, and by the time the girls and I reached the Pier Plaza it was this Tom Petty tribute band that took to the stage. Heartland rock did make a very good backdrop for this kind of affair, but I had to fight the urge to sing along to “Free Fallin’” because I had some unfinished “Summer Girls” business to attend to! I enjoyed the set that we did on the pier, but not as much as the ones we did under it. The girls just wouldn’t stop frolicking that I got carried away and got my precious shoes all wet in the process! We went overboard with all the carefree chaos that we ended up doing some pretty crazy, amoral stuff, although I regret to inform you that you won’t be seeing those photos on here—they’re definitely for our eyes only!
There was supposed to be three of them in these photos—one of their best friends, Camille Serafin, who’d just flown in from Cebu, was supposed to join us, but it was her first time in California, and her first time to be reunited with her mom and sister after almost a decade, and we seemed to know we just couldn’t steal her away from a moment like that. There’s definitely a next time, though! Well, at least that’s what Cay promised me! So hang in there, Camille!
Thank you, Eunice and Cay, for taking me on this nice little road trip! For the good times and letting it roll! Definitely one of the highlights of my summer! I know we were stuck inside the car 50% of the time, but, hey, that’s L.A., right? And, as I learned from you and from everyone else in California, it’s not the destination, and sometimes it’s not even the journey—it’s who you’re with that matters! Hope you love the photos! I believe in my heart I did a pretty decent job making you look like the girls “from Abercrombie and Fitch!” LOL. Seriously, though, it looks like these photos are going to me more useful to me than to you guys. It’s raining real hard in my part of the world as I’m writing this, and I’m stuck inside the house—good thing I have these photos of you girls to look at to remind me of carefree summertime rides!
Catherine Mendoza and Eunice Sarita Beronio | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Pasadena, CA, and Hermosa Beach, CA, on May 26, 2012
There is one thing I love more than California, and that’s my little niece Mikaela, who happens to be, well, made in California! To say that I’ve adored her since she was born is kind of an understatement—truth is, I’ve been head over heels with her even before she could pop out of her mommy’s belly! My sister and I were taking a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk one excruciatingly hot afternoon in the summer of 2010, and that was when she first announced to me that she was preggo. So there I was soaking up the scenery, thinking of Tom Kapinos’s Californication because this was the very place where many of my favorite scenes from that series had been shot, especially that one scene some 8 minutes into the second episode of the fourth season where Madeleine Martin’s character little Becca Moody plays her electric guitar at the Boardwalk for some cash—and here was my sister telling me she was expecting, and that it was probably going to be a girl! Suddenly my mind was running wild with thoughts of what this baby girl was going to turn out like. Was she going to be the quintessential California girl, à la Lauren Conrad—you know, a sucker for the beach, adored dogs, obsessed with shopping and makeup, and with a megawatt smile that looked like it had a thousand summers written on it? That would be nice, I thought. But then as I walked further down the Boardwalk, past the Schwarzenegger types pumping iron at the Muscle Beach Gym, past the turban-sporting electric guitarist on roller skates, past the ageing hipsters taking a nap under palm trees (or holding up placards that advertised “Shitty Advice for $1!”), I realized that deep inside I didn’t want a California sweetheart for a niece—I wanted one who was hardcore, someone who got mad guitar skills, just like Becca Moody! And so for months that was the stuff my daydreams were made of: my niece playing her electric guitar for passersby at the Boardwalk—and it would be a song with a killer guitar solo, too, like, say, “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, or “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam—and me sitting on the bench behind her with a proud, arrogant smile on my face. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
What I failed to consider was that babies don’t just turn into guitar-toting teenagers overnight—they actually have to go through a phase called, well, babyhood, where all they like to do is coo, crawl, and cuddle. (Hey, we’ve all had poor sense of time at one point or another, right? LOL!) Not to say that this disappointed me, of course. When I returned to L.A. this year and saw this little munchkin waiting for me at the airport, my heart melted all the same. I mean, come on, look at those chubby cheeks! And those big, round eyes! And those plump legs! She had just turned one, so her coos were a little loud now, and she was slowly transitioning from crawling to walking now—the cuddling part didn’t come until a little later (she would not come anywhere near me during the first couple of days), but when it did I found it very hard to stop!
I thought it was kind of cute how she didn’t have a lot of hair on her yet. At first I found this a little alarming, but then my mom told us that that had been us, too—”It wasn’t until you turned 2 or so that you began to grow a full head of hair.” It was just amusing and awkward at the same time how people would come up to Mikee (that’s how we call her) and say, “What an adorable little boy!” and so I had to explain, every single time, that “She’s actually a girl!” It didn’t help that, every time we tied a bow around her head or made her wear headbands with girly girl detail (rosettes, lace trimmings, etc.), she’d only put them on for a few minutes before taking them off and tearing them apart! Such a monster when it comes to those head adornments, I kid you not—she thinks of them as the enemy!
She’s also a monster when it comes to French fries, and by that I mean she devours them like there is no tomorrow. Some folks’ brows are going to raise, because you really aren’t supposed to expose babies to that kind of stuff, but can you help it if it’s the only thing that makes their eyes light up and their mouths water? I’m not sure how it started, but we were at the Hollywood In-N-Out one afternoon, and while the rest of us were busy surreptitiously taking photos of Derek Hough (of Dancing with the Stars) and Maria Menounos (of Extra, formerly of Access Hollywood), she remained oblivious to the celluloid-crazy world around her and carried on with her fries, leaving none for us! Yes, she is very, very territorial about them—she will gladly share everything else, like her Apple Jacks or her Pinkberry or her Wetzel’s Pretzels, but she will never share her fries, thank you very much!
But dislike of headbands and French fry hoarding aside, she really was just a sweet little thing. Funny that she turned out to be the California sweetheart that I had initially wanted to take a pass on, yet I was enjoying it immensely. For one, I love that she turned out to be a water baby, squealing with delight every time we brought her to the beach, or some pool, or even if it was just the bathtub—and she could rock the bikini like no other, too! She also had a soft spot for dogs, and this one time she stopped a middle-aged dog walker dead in his tracks on the corner of Hollywood and N Orange so she could make friends with his chichi Chihuahuas. She also loved it whenever we took her shopping—which was 80% of the time—and even if she wasn’t old enough yet to choose her own clothes (of course) she was always willing to try on every single thing we picked for her, and she enjoyed rummaging through our shopping bags, too. Another thing she loved rummaging through was her mom’s makeup kit—my sister would leave the whole thing unattended, and five minutes later there’s lipstick and eyeliner and compact powder all over the place! And then there’s her smile—I don’t really need to describe it because you can see it in these photos, but if I really must then I will need to borrow a line from that one Collective Soul song: it’s got that “sunshine bright-eyed California cotton candy taste!”
So I never got the Becca Moody that I’d hoped for, and instead I got a little Lauren Conrad, but that’s totally fine. The Becca Moody phase will manifest sooner or later. Happy to report that her musical inclination is starting to kick in already! Just a couple of weeks back my brother-in-law (her dad) expressed that he wanted to get her a present, but was torn between a puppy and a guitar—he’d seen how much she adored dogs (the Chihuahua encounter in Hollywood), but could not discount the fact that every time he picked up his guitar she would stare dreamily and even try her hand at strumming. This problem was solved a few days later when he got her a guitar in the shape of a hound dog (by B. Toys) from Target! And speaking of Target, I must not discredit the fact that, during my last few days in L.A. and we would find ourselves in a Target to shop for camera accessories, she would gravitate towards the musical instruments department, pick up some drum sticks, and just start banging away at every surface in sight (we even got into trouble at one of the Culver City Targets when the salesperson approached us and asked us to “please watch your baby because these are very expensive drum sticks”)! And when we took her to Griffith Park so she could play in the grass she was quick to pick up two dead twigs the size and shape of, well, drum sticks, and that was all she played with the whole time! And when we took her for a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk she was first to spot this miniature piano (that belonged to a piano-playing Malti-Poo called Coco), and rushing towards the thing was the first time she’s ever ran so fast in her life!
So now I don’t know: Is she going to grow up to be a guitarist, or a drummer, or a keyboardist? One thing is for sure: She is going to go places. And she is going to rock people’s worlds. I mean, she’s already got a head start—she’s already rocking mine!
Mikaela K. Arradaza | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on April 2012, and in San Diego, CA, and Van Nuys, CA, on May 2012
Not a planned shoot or anything—just me taking pictures of my fine homegirls Melanie and Michelle Ediza as they showed me around their new home, also known as New York City. So lucky that my travel dates coincided with the end of their spring term—with school out of their way (for a couple of days, at least), they had no excuse not to make time for me! “Come on, you’ve been to that place before—give those girls a break and show yourself around,” a common friend had quipped as I was booking my plane tickets. When will people understand that the point of going to a city like New York is to be with people who love the place as much as you do? I mean, it’s not called “the Big Apple” for nothing—small apple, knock yourself out and enjoy it on your own; but a big one is definitely meant for sharing. Besides, there was one part of the city that I never got to see during my first visit, and that’s Brooklyn—and these girls lived right by the Marcy Avenue station, which was just perfect! Funny thing, ’cause on the plane to JFK all that ever played in my head where those lines from that one Estelle song that goes: “Let’s go on the subway, take me to your hood/ I’ve never been to Brooklyn and I’d like to see what’s good…”
The hood in question being Williamsburg, and, boy, did I get to see what’s good! Fell in love with the quirky little storefronts down Bedford Ave., and the quaint little sidewalk and rooftop cafés that lent a deliciously eccentric touch to brunch hour. But, of course, none of these were as enthralling as the people that you bumped into on the streets—the guys looked like they were clones of a circa Midnite Vultures Beck, and like they were headed to some experimental rock jam session in some ultra-obscure basement; and the girls looked like they’d just stepped out of a Free People catalog! It was official: I had walked into hipster, grownup cool kid territory. And none of this bohemian coolness was contrived, too! If someone looked like an artist, there was a 99% chance he really was an artist. Yes, this was where paint-splattered jeans were authentic (it was in the early ‘90s that the area became publicly known as an “artists’ colony,” when about “an estimated 2,000” of them hightailed it here from Manhattan to eschew the hype and the perversely rising rents—as Brad Grooch wrote in the June 22, 1992 issue of New York, “Bohemia has always been 90 percent low-rent and 10 percent dream”). There was an obvious joke here that I tried so hard to restrain from making, and that was that, with their uptown girl style sense, Melanie and Michelle almost seemed like misfits in this part of town—I, however, had no trouble blending in, what with my acid wash denim vest with the insignia of the ‘70s horror punk band Misfits handpainted on the back (yes, the Misfits factor made me not a misfit!). Still, the girls couldn’t imagine settling anywhere else—why look further when they were digging the artsy, offbeat vibe (Melanie for one seemed to have gotten in touch with her muse, and she was getting her write stuff on now, not to mention she was also starting to get into painting), it was peaceful enough at night, and they were surrounded by good eats (one of their favorite places to take me for late dinner was this Dominican cuchifrito restaurant some 5 minutes away from their apartment that had something that tasted like our lechon kawali)? And even if it wasn’t their scene in terms of fashion, Michelle still knew where the cool consignment shops were, and she even took me to one where I got to buy boots that looked like they could’ve once belonged to Patti Smith (or Johnny Depp) for only $22!
Of course, we didn’t make it all about Brooklyn—70% of the time we spent taking Manhattan, too. I loved how there was a “division of labor” that took effect when it came to showing me around the island: Michelle was assigned to take me to the East Village, Gramercy, the Flatiron District, Korea Town, and Midtown, while Melanie took it upon herself to drag me to the Lower East Side, SoHo, Nolita, Bowery, Chelsea, the West Village, the Meatpacking District, Central Park, the Upper West Side, and the Upper East Side. So I’m writing this and making it sound like I was working them up pretty bad, but trust me when I say that they were very sprightly about the whole thing and approached their “tourist guide” duties with much gusto, and that it was me who nearly had a breakdown due to all that walking! I wouldn’t even wake up early—trust me to oversleep in the City that Never Sleeps—and they would tell me off for wasting time! Swear to God, there were times I felt like I was being punished, like when they’d insist I had to grab something to eat in every single neighborhood we stopped to see—normally I wouldn’t complain because, like them, I can eat everything in the world and gain only 1 pound, but it slows me down when I’m bloated, you see (of course I didn’t feel this way about when they introduced me the Halal guys down 53rd and 6th, and to Café Habana and Rice to Riches in Nolita—I would eat that stuff all day, everyday, if I had my way)! Still, I was grateful for their “iron hand” treatment—I mean, I’d probably end up seeing only 10% of the city if not for them!
Speaking of “iron hand,” did I mention that one Saturday evening found us at the Bowery Hotel’s Library Bar, with Zooey Deschanel just a maraschino cherry’s throw away from us? Yes, I legit foamed in the mouth, and was about to jump out of my seat to have my picture taken with the (500) Days of Summer and New Girl star, but Melanie shot me a glance that said, “Don’t even think about it,” so I had no choice but to sit my ass down and settle for my glass of Hemingway. But strictness aside, Melanie and I did get to enjoy a lot of lighthearted, LOL moments—like when we went to the Met together to check out the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Costume Institute (ongoing until August 19, so if you’re in New York right now do check it out while you still have the chance), only to find out that the style of dress that we loved was actually called “ugly chic!” Nothing was funnier, though, than when we were standing somewhere in Broadway and W 81st, and then I ducked because I thought I felt an earthquake, and then Melanie just cracked up and said, “That was the 1 train under your feet, my dear!” Thank God not a lot of people were around to witness my stupidity!
My most memorable Manhattan moments with them, though, were those that had to do with our favorite Sex and the City hotspots (yes, no need to spend $48 on the SATC tour package ‘cause these girls got me covered). Wasn’t it only a couple of years back when we’d all went to watch the Sex and the City movie and cry over it together? And now here we were, Michelle and I, inside the New York Public Library, standing on the very staircase where Carrie Bradshaw had dragged her fabulous Vivienne Westwood wedding dress in shame after finding out Mr. Big had decided to stand her up. “Don’t get too ‘Carrie-d’ away, love!” Michelle screamed laughingly, perhaps because she sensed that I was about to cry. Of course, the trophy went to Melanie when, after a sumptuous late lunch at Le Charlot (the “little Paris off Madison”—and, yes, their crab and avocado salad is to die for), she asked for us to pay a little visit to the Ladies’ Pavillion at the Hernshead over at Central Park West. I’m sure most of you have never heard of this place before, but it’s where Carrie and Miranda, approximately an hour and 56 minutes into the first movie, sat down with pretty little Granary bread sandwiches and juices from Pret A Manger (they’re yummy, by the way) to discuss the issue of forgiveness, of putting things behind them and letting the past be the past, with India.Arie’s cover of Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” playing in the background. This was my second time here, since I’d made it a point to see the place during my first New York trip some three years ago, but I guess this was Melanie’s first time despite having lived here for over a year now. I just thought it was cute how, right before we stepped into the foothpath that led to the Pavillion, she yanked her iPhone out so she could play “The Heart of the Matter”—nothing like good old-fashioned background music to set the mood, right? Now it’s impossible for me to think of that place—or to listen to that song—without thinking of her!
I love visiting friends from home in their new cities. It reacquaints you with the part of them that you miss the most, and acquaints you with the part of them that’s brand spanking new. Most people are gonna say that’s a pretty sticky situation to be stuck in—i.e., when you’re face-to-face with who a person used to be, and who they’ve become or are about to become. I say it’s the ideal situation, though, because then you get to enjoy the best of both worlds (not to mention it’s a great way to ensure you don’t get dropped from the equation as they make the transition). It’s kind of like being caught between two places. Like when you find yourself smack in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, for example—you look at Brooklyn, and then you look at Manhattan, and you can’t decide which view is more captivating, and so you just smile dreamily and soak both up. I loved the Melanie and Michelle in Cebu—the diligent, dreamy-eyed family-oriented sweethearts—but I also happen to love the Melanie and Michelle in New York—fearless, adventure-loving and independent young women, who were not afraid to laugh at themselves, and who were easily inspired. Again, it’s like when you’re made to choose between Brooklyn and Manhattan: you just don’t.
Melanie and Michelle Ediza | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in New York, NY, on May 8-16, 2012
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
Seems like only yesterday that they said goodbye. Sharon was first to leave, for California, to settle down. And then Kathleen, for Doha, as if predicting that Arabian Nights chic was going to be the next big thing (true enough, the Persian Gulf would prove to be an irresistible lure to the Sex and the City girls a few years later). And then Anne, to go to New York, to fulfill her rock ‘n’ roll dreams of seeing Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, among others, live (and at the exact same time that The City had to steal Whitney Port from The Hills). And then Aya and Katrina, for Singapore. And then Meyen, for Manila. Swear to God, it got to a point where I was pretty much convinced that everyone’s favorite thing to do was walking out of my life!
But, as it turns out, there is some beauty in goodbye. I mean, without it, what would happen to send-off parties? Not to mention, of course, the infinitely funner homecoming parties—you know, for when they come back, because they always come back. And those things, they could get pretty crazy. Distance and time have a way of making you grow wiser, get smarter—but apparently not wise and smart enough to make you forget that there was a time you once played it dumb and made some pretty foolish choices with the friends you grew up with! Those are what make the ecstatic high points of reunions—the ability to look back on the stupid things that you did together, and to just laugh about it, even toast to it!
I was lucky enough to have been part of such rowdiness just a couple of days back, when Sharon, Kathleen, Anne, Aya, Katrina and Meyen came back. Yes, by some weird twist of fate and wicked stroke of luck, all of them came back at the exact same time! Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined this would happen! Like, might as well ask the world to stop turning, or the sun to stop shining!
Well, no, I wasn’t about to ask for the sun to stop shining, especially since a boating trip was in order. Yes, that was all they’d asked for, and perhaps appropriately. You know, to prove that “you can take the girl away from the island, but you can’t take the island away from the girl.” Well, that, plus they’d wanted an excuse to scamper around in their new kaftans and bikinis and maillots (for these girls are nothing without their “cruise clothes” and swimwear; Meyen alone has a swimwear closet that could dress an entire island). So a private banca was commandeered, a huge lechón from Lapu-Lapu’s finest (not disclosing; they’re our best-kept secret) and buckets of freshly cooked crustaceans were reeled in, bottles cling-clanged as coolers were dragged, and off we sailed to what could possibly be the most riotous excursion of our adult lives!
As far as “girls gone wild” go, this bunch are pretty awe-inspiring. Don’t let the first couple of minutes fool you—they’re gonna come off as mellow and all, appear deep thought-thinking and pensive, even start talking about how their lives in their new cities have “changed” them. When they do this, they’re really just sleepy. Aya knew better, of course, and all she had to do was bring out the mixologist in her, whipping up some pretty lethal concoctions, and in no time everyone showed their true colors! I’m telling you, these girls, they make talking about the past real fun. My jaws threatened to lock when we remembered, for example, the ex-crush who’d thought he was too cool for school—until he’d fallen into a manhole! Or, the countless brawls with girls who dressed bad! And even our own embarrassing errors in fashion judgment! Listening to ourselves exchange stories of yesteryears was like listening to a really good mixtape—you know, when, to borrow a line from Butch Walker, “even all the bad songs ain’t so bad.” Whether or not these mistakes had helped shape our lives, I couldn’t tell—but they sure had a hand in shaping our laughs, and that’s all that mattered.
Of course, nearly as entertaining as listening to them talk was photographing them. These girls had been “camwhores” even before that term had been invented, so to not anticipate a photoshoot to be inserted into the agenda would be rather foolish. It was hard not to gasp or almost drop my camera as their silly, unchoreographed antics spread out before my eyes. Luckily for them, because I love them to bits and pieces (and how else are you supposed to?), I’m gonna pretend I never took those, um, unbecoming shots, and just post the more adorable ones on here. Not saving anything for blackmail purposes, either—I would never, ever, do that to these girls.
Funny thing, ‘cause just a couple of weeks ago one of my detractors wrote something about how lucky she was because she was “always surrounded by friends,” insinuating that I was a loser ‘cause I was almost always on my own these days. Well, now you know, my dear, that the only reason I’m not “surrounded by friends” 24/7 is because my real friends don’t live here anymore—they are citizens of the world! Yes, they may not be with me all the time, but at least on the days that they are they make sure they do something stylish with me. And at least they’re confident enough to whip out their bikinis when it’s time to hit the beach (which is not something you can say about your girlfriends, what with their penchant for wetsuits and men’s surf jams even when they’re just hitting the pool). Said differently: At least my friends don’t have anything to hide! We embrace each other’s imperfections, and even have the guts to laugh them off! So, by all means, keep on hating! I would understand.
In related news, my friends are also prettier than yours. I mean, look: Sharon looks like Jessica Alba, Katrina looks like Audrina Patridge, Meyen looks like Katie Holmes, and Anne is a dead ringer for Olivia Palermo. Of course, I do not think I need to tell you who I look like. Everybody knows I am Lauren Conrad. LMFAO.
Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Pandanon Island, Bohol, and the Cebu Strait on October 16, 2011
My own personal PJ Harvey. That’s what I’d used to call singer/songwriter Cattski Espina, back when I’d immersed myself in the local music radar as part of my duties as editor-in-chief of the now-defunct alternative culture e-zine Neoground.com (where I’d worked with Sonic Boom Philippines founder Alex “Phat Boy” Lim, Urbandub’s Gabby Alipe, and former NU107 anchorwomen Hazel Montederamos and Krissi Banzon, among others). And she remembered this—the woman has an astonishing recall of detail, testament that she is a compelling storyteller. No doubt she remembered, too, that I’d been an avid follower of her live appearances in shows like Intimate Acoustics (a series of sitting room only unplugged shows held at the then happening Padi’s Point, which ran popular throughout ’99) and its subsequent all-girls spin-off Siren Souls, the latter her eponymous band had top-billed along with the Kate Torralba-fronted Hard Candy, and the then female-fronted Cueshé (yes, Dhee Evangelista, now of Pandora). At the time, of course, the comparison between her and the divine Ms. Harvey had sprouted from—and ended at—the impassioned singing, the deeply sonorous vocals, the gender-bending songwriting. Certainly I had not meant for it to be a prediction of sorts. So you could imagine my surprise upon finding out firsthand that her musical career had somewhat ended up treading the same path as Ms. Harvey’s—i.e., her group had disbanded, and she was now on her own (the only difference was that the PJ Harvey trio had dissolved after two albums, while Cattski the band had managed to make it to three albums before breaking up).
Balmy early evening in late August, and I was having coffee—well, frappé, really—with Cattski. “The Cat Lady” (as I fondly call her these days, borrowing from the name of her weekly column from back when she was resident rock critic at the local daily SunStar) had just finished titling and tracklisting her forthcoming album, and with only four or five tracks left to fine-tune, it was now time to get down and dirty for the album cover. “Other [musicians] opt for artwork,” she would later declare, “but in my case, I like having my face in the CD sleeve. I mean, you gotta put a face to the name and to the music at some point, right?” Choosing a photographer to bring her vision into life had not been a daunting task—even prior to beginning work on this album, already she’d had Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon of Shutterfairy Photography on top of her list (she’d worked with Mai before, for a couple of promotional material, and she’d liked the outcome so much that she’d decided no other photographer would do for this new recording). Which was what had brought me here—having just jumpstarted my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy a couple of weeks back, I had been commissioned by Mai to style Cattski for this one very important shoot. And what a way to be reunited, right? I had not seen this woman in seven or so years! But breaking the ice didn’t prove to be tricky. All she had to do was tell me about how Cattski the band was no more, and that this upcoming album, although technically her fourth (fifth, if you count her tenth anniversary compilation, released early last year), was really the first from Cattski the solo artist. Of course, the news came to me as a shocker, not so much because I’d come here expecting to style a quartet, but because I’d become so used to thinking of Cattski as a group. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine Cattski as a non-group without losing a bit of composure. I mean, sure, this woman right here had always been that band’s focal point, but all I could think of was that amazing, formidable chemistry that the group had had, you know? But, oh well, as Cattski now put it, “Life happened” (exactly the reason she and I had lost touch for seven years in the first place). Guitarist Anne Muntuerto had had to leave for Washington, DC, to pursue a Master’s Degree in Nurse Anesthesia—definitely a relief to hear it had had nothing to do with “creative differences” or anything like that, and that the two of them remained really good friends, and that Anne was now turning out to be not only Cattski’s but Cebu music’s biggest ambassador/promoter overseas, sharing our goods with whatever musical circuit she was able to penetrate (including the big leagues such as singer/producer Brian Larsen, for whom she became touring guitarist). As for the rest of the band members, well, I decided it was no longer my business to ask about them. Especially when Cattski began to make it clear that there was nothing else she wanted to do at this point but to move forward.
Or move further back, as the case would be. “[The reason] why I’ve decided to call [this new album] Zero,” she revealed, “[is] because it’s like I’ve gone back to zero!” As of the time we spoke she was still undecided on whether to label it Zero, spelled out like that, or 0:00:00, like “how your [digital] music player [timer] looks like right before you [hit the] play [button].” But whatever she ends up going with, the premise remains the same: starting from nothing. I know it sounds frightening, but turns out it’s not so bad after all. When you come from nothing, “you have this kind of independence, this freedom to do whatever you feel like doing, and it becomes a [prolific] exploration,” she explained. “Back when I was still in a group, I had all this music in me, just waiting to explode, but then I would put it forward for the rest [of the band members] to hear—because that’s what being in a band is all about, you have to get the others’ opinion—but then they’d be, like, ‘That’s too Barbie’s Cradle!’ or ‘That’s not hardcore enough.’” She went on about how, in the eight or nine years of being in a group, there had always been this unspoken rule that “you have to stick with a formula when trying to come up with new material, and so you always have to [reference] all the things you’ve already done.” But now she no longer needed to do that. “Now I can start with nothing—with silence—and then go with whatever hits me from out of the blue!”
Silence being the operative word. She proceeded to tell the story of how, one day at twilight, couple of weeks before beginning work on new material, she’d found herself standing on the vast balcony of a local hotel perched atop the hills, and she’d just stood there, stunned by how the city sprawled before her had changed its face as dusk had settled—and by the silence and stillness that had come with it. A silence so piercing that it had laid itself out like a stark blank canvas, awakening the music and words from deep inside her that she’d thought she’d long forgotten, and causing them to detonate like firecrackers. Just like that, what could possibly be her peak artistic period had gotten a jumpstart. Out of nothing, Zero had been born.
Said differently: By taking a step back, she had moved on.
In no other picture was this logic clearer to me than in “Monsters,” one of the 11 new tracks to be included in Zero, and a strong contender for carrier single. In her deeply soulful contralto, Cattski croons: “I feel I’m braver now to face my demons/ I’ve finally learned to use my angels, too/ I think I’m finally ready to live my truth/ ‘Cause right now that I’m without you there’s just nothing to lose.” Odds and ends of emotions in her words and in her voice, kind of like that closet where you’d kept your skeletons for so long, and now that the bones had been cleaned out you were seeing for the very first time all the other stuff that had been there with them all along (I won’t take credit for that simile; that’s an extended version of an imagery that she uses in the song’s refrain). But one emotion you weren’t gonna find no matter how hard you tried was bitterness. It hadn’t been disguised—it just simply wasn’t there to begin with. Definitely a feat—well, to me, at least—because very few storytellers succeed in looking past the pain, in just walking away from it. This was a huge change for Cattski, who, when she’d broken into the scene a little over a decade back, had embraced the exquisite anguish of hanging on to an offhandedly ambivalent partner (“High and Low,” 2001), and who, some five years ago, had made a big deal about holding on to someone who clearly was no longer there (“Your Ghost,” 2006). And who, only a year ago, had been “too emotionally unstable—disturbed would be an accurate description,” for whatever reason. In fact, change was starting to look like a recurring theme in Zero. In “New,” another solid candidate for first single, she spits out, in brisk cadences: “This is not you/ I guess I like the old you/ But then you like the new.” At first my brows raised, ‘cause it sounded to me like she was contradicting herself here by lamenting a friend’s resolve to change. If I hadn’t known better, though, I would have stuck to that first impression; but after rereading the lyrics more than a dozen times I was now confident enough to declare that that one line was really a sort of reverse message for her fans—like, “I know you liked the old me, but I promise you you’re gonna like the new me even more.” I could say that I made that up. But it would be very remiss of me not to insinuate that Cattski here was clever like that.
And so here she was with her brand new take on life. And, as they say, a new outlook required a new, well, look, and that was exactly what I was here for. Always I’d been cautious about styling musicians (as public figures, you see, they are ultimately responsible for the way they are seen, and so they have to be the custodian of their own image), saying yes only to those who’d asked for a helping hand (like to Urbandub bassist Lalay Lim, for example, who’d asked for my help some four years back before stepping in front of photographer Charles Buencosejo’s camera for the CD jacket of and promotional posters for their fourth album Under Southern Lights). Cattski here had not exactly asked for help, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t open to others’ ideas. So many things that needed to be done in the studio, so she wasn’t exactly in a position to turn down anyone offering to relieve her of non-studio work. Just like that, I got to work.
Taking a cue from her stories of how the Zero creative process had begun—i.e., “from nothing”—I proceeded to assemble a mood board that was pared down and very basic. No convoluted palettes, for one: I was quick to throw in some black, just ‘cause the RGB triplet for black was (0, 0, 0), just two zeroes shy of her 0:00:00 idea. I had to make room for one more color, and was tempted to go for a primary like a red or a blue, but in the end I decided to go with white. Black and white. Or, as Cattski liked to put it, ebony and ivory, like the keys of a piano. That was it. You couldn’t get any more pared down than that. It was perfect ‘cause I’d just finished reading excerpts from Just Kids, punk rocker Patti Smith’s tender and captivating memoir of her charmed friendship with the black-and-white photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and for weeks I’d been looking for ways to translate some of that enigmatic Smith/Mapplethorpe chemistry into my own work. I wasted no time mentally updating my board with the cover photograph of Smith’s debut album Horses—the singer in a white men’s dress shirt, tight jeans, black suspenders, with a black men’s blazer nonchalantly flung over her left shoulder, and scruffy hair—which Mapplethorpe had taken using natural afternoon light “in a penthouse in Greenwich Village.” Like how I liked my burgers, though, with one patty never being enough, one reference to Patti wasn’t sufficient, so I went ahead and slapped another photo of hers against the board: An older Patti this time, circa 2010, no longer punk’s princess but very much its doyenne, shot by the fashion photographer Ruven Afanador for the February 2010 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine—reclining against a wooden table, in a black smoking jacket and a white dress shirt so supersized they allude Martin Margiela’s all-oversize collection from A/W 2000/2001, and what looked like sweatpants tucked into buckle-strapped biker boots. Cattski liked these references, just like I’d thought. It was a look that was meant for her—with her newfound air of insouciance, she could well be on her way to becoming my own personal Patti Smith (yes, no more PJ Harvey).
We brainstormed for a couple of more looks, and she proposed that, since we were doing black and white, she wanted to use this, well, black-and-white star-print sweater she’d bought from a recent trip to the Lion City, to which I said why the hell not. If we had to go with patterns, stars were the right way to go—huge for Fall (as evidenced in Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear), and had kind of a grunge subtext, to people like me who remembered the teeny weeny asterisk in Billy Corgan’s infamous ZERO shirts of yore. (I swear, the uncanny correlations just kept on coming: Here I was styling an artist for her album called Zero, and Corgan’s ZERO shirt just had to come to mind.) That being said, we decided to make room for just a little bit more of neo-grunge, and that’s how actress Zoë Kravitz got into the picture, more specifically her character in the TV series Californication, a reckless Venice Beach teen and frontwoman of an all-girl band who called themselves Queens of Dogtown, whose badass (albeit scripted) Whisky a Go Go performance of Alice in Chains’s “Would” (for the fifth episode of the fourth season) and whose penchant for boy’s tanks and exposed brassieres had gotten me falling head over heels—or, wool beanie over combat boots, if you will.
Speaking of combats, Cattski forgot to bring hers on the day of the shoot, so my own Bed Stü “Artillery Boots” had to make a special guest appearance in one of the sets (I swear to God, wherever my boots go they manage to steal the show). That wasn’t the only thing I was happy about. I was also glad that the black smoking jacket I got from local menswear genius Protacio didn’t turn out to be too oversize on her (and so the silhouette came out more Demeulemeester than Margiela), and that the star-spangled sweater didn’t come out too fancy (originally we’d intended to have her wear black leggings with the said sweater, but we ditched it so we could show off the tattoo in her leg). Androgyny was a very good look on this woman, I must say. Although I was happy that she wasn’t afraid to get in touch with her girly side, too, putting on every single chain and chandelier necklace I flung her way—even agreeing, after only a moment’s hesitation, to “lose the dress shirt and just stand there in your brassiere!” (Such a trouper, I know—never even complained about the lack of a dressing room, and that she had to undress and dress in front of all of us!) Ecstatic, too, that my friend Nikki Paden had agreed to assist me with the styling, because a helping hand was always a treat, and no one knew the black and white palette better than that girl. What I was most happy about, though, was the hair and makeup. I’d never met, much less worked, with the hairstylist and makeup artist (and erstwhile model) Justine Gloria before, and had not even had the chance to talk to her before this shoot, but then she got to work and it was like magic. At the outset, you see, I’d wanted, say, Cattski’s eye makeup to be a bit glam, and her hair in some pompadour à la Gwen Stefani—but Justine had envisioned something else, and it came out perfect. It was a look that was mature yet not at all contrived, edgy but not sinister, and had that elusive quality of being at turns disheveled and flawless (think circa mid-‘90s Chrissie Hynde and you’ll begin to come close). And it went really well with the clothes! I was in awe: Cattski like I’d never seen her before.
But more important than the new outlook, and infinitely more important than the new look, was the new sound. In front of the cameras now I asked her to move around, pretend like she was performing onstage, in front of hundreds (the mic stand had been my idea, after she’d refused to be photographed cradling a guitar ‘cause it had been done so many times over the last couple of years), and so she asked for music she could swing to, and luckily for me it was a demo version of the aforementioned new song “New” that her assistant chose to play. At first I couldn’t place the song as hers, thought it was a mid-‘90s Jill Sobule, what with its rhythmic uptempo, tragicomic wordplay, and sing-songy chorus, so imagine my surprise when her assistant told me this was actually the song “New” that Cattski had been telling me about! The intro starts with a faint kick drum beat that is very characteristic of house, and then slowly intermingles with some synth and mellow guitar plucking, before it crescendos into an a capella, and then a bang. (The transitions would follow this same pattern.) It’s the kind of song that’s hard to put in a box. She would admit later on that, yes, the underlying beat was a “generic house beat,” at 140 bpm, but then throw in all the other elements and it becomes something else altogether. A hundred different things, if you will, because, I swear, every time I am ready to dismiss it as pop rock, I hear a little bit of riot grrrl pop-punk here and there, and some elements of symphonic rock. “In the past, [whenever] people asked me what kind of music I made, without [skipping a beat] I would say, ‘Rock!’” she would later recount. “Now when I meet new people and they ask me the same question, I stammer and I can’t give a straight answer.” And there is no formula, too; no two songs are ever the same. The abovementioned “Monsters,” for example, is a languid, organic ballad set against an irresistible concoction of trip-hop, ambient, and dream pop—even a tinge of country pop! “Defying genres,” that’s how she calls the whole thing. So this is what happens when you “start from nothing” with every song (and when you micromanage every single step in the production process, if I may jokingly add—I don’t think I’ve ever met the brand of control freak that this woman has on!). Although this early on Cattski is in anticipation being critiqued by the pundits: “[They’re] most likely [going to] say…that [the album] has an identity crisis, for not having a consistent sound. But I’m no longer afraid of that. I trust myself enough [now]. My intuition [is] my ultimate guide. Everything will have to be on the premise of what sounds and feels right for me.” But I don’t think it’s ever going to get to that point—the pundits part, I mean. If anything, peers and fans alike are going to appreciate the bold step she’s taking, her kind of game-changing, and I predict this album is going to be her biggest contribution yet to Cebu music. Yes, by sidestepping a niche, Cattski has found her, well, niche—that is, as renaissance woman of Cebu music.
I am tempted to talk about all of the other songs, but that would be doing a great deal of disservice to the artist. My job is to build up excitement, not to do an album review, so I’m gonna have to stop right here. For right now, go ahead and take your time reveling at the woman that you see here—Cattski like you’ve never seen her before. Although I can’t exactly guarantee all this is ever going to prepare you for the Cattski you’ve never heard before.
* * * * * * * * *
Cattski Espina | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City on September 3, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view Mai’s photos, and here for Paul’s) | Hair and makeup by Justine Gloria | Stylist’s assistant: Nikki Paden | Sittings assistants: Manna Alcaraz and Gwen Reyes | Special thanks to: The PR and Communications Department of Marco Polo Plaza Cebu | Black men’s smoking jacket, Protacio | White men’s dress shirt, Memo | Solid black men’s silk tie, Springfield UP by Springfield | Black women’s leather biker jacket, Bershka | Black women’s skinny suit jacket, Divided by H&M | Chandelier necklace, Forever 21 | Chain necklace, Mango | Crucifix necklace, Divided by H&M
In my mood board (see below, clockwise from left): Stills of Zoë Kravitz as her Californication character Pearl, with her band Queens of Dogtown, performing a cover of Alice in Chains’s “Would” onstage at West Hollywood’s Whisky a Go Go (for the fifth episode of the show’s fourth season, originally aired February 6, 2011); still of a star-spangled sweater from Wildfox Couture, photographed by Pete Deevakul for TeenVogue.com; looks from Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear, on models Isabeli Fontana and Anna Selezneva, photographed by Yannis Vlamos for GoRunway.com; Patti Smith, photographed by Ruven Afanador for the February 2010 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine; the album cover of Patti Smith’s debut record Horses, photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, circa 1975.
Behind-the-Scenes Instagrams Top row, L-R: Makeup artist/hairstylist Justine Gloria giving quick touch-ups to Cattski between sets while Mai looks on; Cattski’s assistants Gwen and Manna were asked to document the shoot and keep her in check (“I could go crazy, you know,” Cattski rationalized); Cattski literally rolling on the floor laughing when she thought we were done, only to be snapped out of it when she remembered she’d asked for night shots. Middle row, L-R: Mai with Paul (of Calography) waiting for the shoot to commence; Cattski wouldn’t stop singing, even while being photographed; Cattski forgot to bring her boots, so she had to borrow my Bed Stü “Artillery Boots”(which meant I had to go barefoot half of the time); Mai fixing Cattski’s hair. Bottom row, L-R: My assistant for the day Nikki checking out my mood boards before getting to work (she loved the Robert Mapplethorpe shots of Patti Smith); Paul getting ready to take photos of Cattski with the grand piano (the singer sang a haunting rendition of The Cure’s 1989 hit “Lovesong” while Paul was setting up); no dressing room, so Cattski was forced to dress and undress in front of everyone (such a trouper!); Cattski getting ready for the evening set.