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
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