Wanna hear a funny/sad story? Alrighty then, here it goes: Where were you when the nearly 7-magnitude earthquake hit Cebu (and the neighboring island of Negros) some eight months back (I think it was on February 6)? Me, I was in bed, watching Pearl Harbor from 2001 for, like, the 50th time—it’s one of those movies that I never get tired of, and not so much because of the obvious sausage fest (Affleck! Hartnett! Matthew Davis! One-fourth of the Baldwin brothers!), but because of the, well, ‘40s fashion! Anyway, so, yes, I was in bed, Cheetos is hand, deeply engrossed in the movie, and by the time I got to the bombing scene that was when the earthquake struck! At first I thought the whole shaking was ‘cause my surround sound was pretty intense, and I actually exclaimed silently, Wow, I’m so glad I got these Edifiers!—it wasn’t until I checked my Twitter timeline a few minutes after the shaking stopped that I realized there had been an actual earthquake! And as everyone was praying for the resulting tsunami warning to turn out to be a false alarm, all I could think of was, God, no! I can’t die right now! Not when I haven’t had a 1940s-themed shoot yet! True story! I am not making this up, I swear! I know that by sharing this tidbit I risk being called a coldhearted little prick, but I can’t help it if that was what really went through my head at the time! OK, so maybe I need a little help in reprioritizing my life, but for now let it be put on record that, for a while there, I cared more about the prospect of a 1940s-themed photo shoot that I did my own safety!
As luck would have it, my prayers would be answered only less than two weeks later when the Manila-based events stylist Deo “Din-Din” Urquiaga flew into town to book us (by us, I mean the Shutterfairy team) for a wedding that he was working on. The legwork was going to commence with planning the engagement session. When he mentioned that he was given a free hand to think up/explore a variety of concepts for the couple’s consideration, I wasted no time in pitching the Pearl Harbor-inspired theme at him. Initially he’d had a different concept in mind—something to the effect of “film director and screen siren, bard and muse, songwriter and songstress”—but once I got him started with stills from movie he found it hard to disentangle himself from his iPad! This guy and I go way back, and over the years we have come to acknowledge and respect our differences in aesthetics—e.g., if it’s grunge and so it looks like a job for me, he gets out of the way; if it’s romantic/ladylike and so it’s right up his alley, I step aside. This right here was one of the very few times that the two of us saw eye-to-eye on a particular style—the 1940s look appealed to me in that, especially for men, bright colors took a backseat to make way for more subdued tones, thanks to “wartime restrictions” (and drab has kind of a grunge quality to it, no?), and it fascinated him in that, for women, the hemlines were longer (i.e., more becoming), the waistline was reemphasized, and hats and gloves were a big deal. Something gave me a sense that this was going to be a winning collaboration! Thank God that because the groom-to-be, Eric Omamalin, was one of his closest friends (I think they’ve known each other since their college days), and therefore trusted him enough, we didn’t have a hard time selling the concept to the couple.
Let’s get one thing straight, though: I am not about to take credit for the styling, because that aspect was all Din-Din. Preparation time coincided with my travel dates, you see (I had to leave for L.A./New York and be gone for almost two months), thus I had no choice but to relinquish that detail. Well, it was me who worked on the mood board—I think I must have spent three or four straight hours at the Cathay Pacific lounge at Chek Lap Kok immersing myself in the Michael Kaplan/Mitzi Haralson dynamic, browsing through American fashion ads from the war years (Clare Potter, Adele Simpson), and staring at Vogue covers from the latter years of the Edna Woolman Chase era—but it was Din-Din who took the collage and painstakingly translated it to actual clothes/accessories for Eric and his fiancée Godday Bastigue. These dresses that you see on Godday aren’t vintage, by the way; they’re Din-Din’s own designs, brought to life by whom he calls his “super secret seamstress” (I volunteered to scour topnotch vintage shops [The Way We Wore down La Brea, revamp down the L.A. Fashion District] and even the Hollywood Goodwill for authentic 1940s pieces, but he good-naturedly declined, saying there was nothing this “super secret seamstress” could not whip up for him). That’s the thing about Din-Din: he never reveals his sources, not even to me, and everything is “super secret”—there’s even this shop where he gets props/knick-knacks for his shoots/events that he calls his “super secret store.” Clearly all this coyness works well for him, and that’s alright with me, because he matches this with irrepressible creative drive and a healthy dose of chutzpah.
What’s not-so-secret, though, is his choice of makeup artist/hairstylist. If it’s an event/shoot styled by Din-Din, expect him to demand for Vanessa Gamus: “It’s Vanessa or no one else,” he’d always say. For years I’d been trying to decipher this preference, and on the day we did this shoot it finally occurred to me: what made Vanessa appealing to Din-Din was her uncanny ability to strike a perfect balance between what was in the inspiration boards and what actually worked best on the subject’s face. Trust me when I say not a lot of makeup artists have that kind of eye!
You guys are probably going to blow the whistle on me and say it looks like I’m over-relying on or overusing the airplane/hangar/airport backdrop, and that’s totally understandable—I mean, I myself questioned this a couple of months back when I wrote: “What is it about planes and hangars and airports, and why do I gravitate towards them?” That’s what it looks like on the surface, but if you take a closer look you will see that, while the backdrop might be the same, the theme varies from session to session: for the Shandar catalog that I shot at the Aviatour hangar the styling was modern jet-setter with a touch of Catch Me if You Can (styled by my friend Meyen Baguio); the “vintage travel”-themed engagement shoot that I did at the Busay Air hangar exactly a year ago was inspired by cultural behemoth Amelia Earhart; and for the family session that I did at the Van Nuys Airport this past spring I looked to Lauren Conrad’s “airport looks” for inspiration. I have no problems with reusing locations and backdrops, so long as the styling/theme does not make a repeat performance. Just two months ago I had to say no to a bride-to-be who said she wanted a set that simulates Cielo Ramirez’s photos from the Shandar catalog—I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s, like, come up with something that I haven’t done in the not-so-distant past, and let’s talk.
This was one of the first shoots under the Shutterfairy banner that I had to carry out on my own: my boss/mentor Malou Pages couldn’t join me for this session because she had to jet to Manila to attend her idol Nelwin Uy’s first ever wedding photography workshop (yes, she was one of the lucky few to land a coveted spot). Before she left I’d jokingly begged for her to skip the workshop and not leave me alone, but I knew this was no time for me to be selfish—she’d been waiting for two or so years for a chance to meet Mr. Uy and pick at his brain, and now that that day had finally come who was I to keep her from realizing that dream? At first it frightened me that I was going to be working solo—I mean, sure, I’d been doing some of this stuff on my own, for commissioned work outside the Shutterfairy brand, but this time I was flying solo under that banner, and I was afraid that with Malou not around there would be no one to pull me right back on track in case I strayed from that signature Shutterfairy stamp. Good thing Din-Din flew in from Manila on the day of the shoot to keep me in check—he and Malou had been friends for a long time now, which made him all too familiar with Malou’s style! And thank God that he brought his camera with him, too—I wasted no time in designating him as second shooter! Helped a great deal, too, that Godday had kind of an “old soul” air about her, and so not only did she make it look painless slipping into 1940s character, she also lent that ladylike, graceful vibe that is oh-so-Shutterfairy to each frame.
Eric and Godday tied the knot just this past Saturday, October 27, at the Alliance of Two Hearts Parish Church in Banawa, Cebu City, with a reception that followed at the Beverly View Pavilion in Bevely Hills, Lahug. Incidentally, that wedding day of theirs was another first for me—it was my first time to photograph a wedding (not counting my brother’s wedding two months ago). Although I’m pretty confident I did a decent job with the engagement photos, I’m not very sure if I feel the same way about the photos I took during the wedding. Good thing Malou was around for the event, otherwise I’d be screwed! It was such a beautiful affair, from the preparations at the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, to the church (loved that the priest they’d gotten to officiate the whole thing was someone they’d known since childhood—his homily was peppered with snippets of Eric and Godday’s love story, which made it very heartwarming), and down to the littlest details at the reception. Now, I’d been to the Beverly View Pavilion many times before, but I’d never seen it like that! The sleight of Din-Din’s hand is, indeed, never to be underestimated! The theme was not Pearl Harbor, of course, but he made use of some of these photos that we took during the engagement session, blowing them up to larger-than-life to resemble panel-format American movie posters, and there were floodlights everywhere, not to mention dozens of Speedlights to mimic the blinding flashes of paparazzi’s cameras. He topped this “movie premiere” ambiance with hundreds upon hundreds of luscious flower arrangements that, from afar, gave the illusion of one giant red carpet—majestic cockscombs in oxblood, with big, fat crimson roses, scarlet African daisies, and wine-tinged succulents and Magnolia seed pods. How’s that for plush? For a while there, I thought I was being transported to another place, in the other Beverly Hills (in California), like, say, the Greystone Mansion. Pair all that with Godday’s refined, ladylike bearing (Malou loved how Godday the bride behaved exactly like the Godday in these 1940s-themed engagement photos), and her Swan Princess-inspired bridal dress (by no less than Protacio Empaces Jr.), and you’ve got the makings of a true red carpet event. It was just too cinéma vérité for words.
Erickson Omamalin and Godday Bastigue | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon and Nino Deo “Din-Din” Urquiaga for Shutterfairy in Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, on June 10, 2012 | Styled by Din-Din Urquiaga | Hair and makeup by Vanessa T. Gamus | Sittings assistant: Amy Antony | Special thanks to the staff of Aviatour Air (visit http://www.flyaviatour.com/ to learn about their tour packages)
I don’t know, but do you think the universe is trying to tell me something by throwing planes my way? Of course, when I say “throwing planes my way” I don’t mean that in the literal sense, but, well, almost. It all began with my first commercial/catalog assignment (for Shandar), which entailed photographing one of the models in a hangar. A couple of months later I would find myself in another airplane shed to do an Amelia Earhart-inspired set for a “vintage travel”-themed engagement session. And now here I was at the Van Nuys Airport for a family session!
If the name Mayce Arradaza rings a bell, that’s because she’s responsible for hair and makeup for most of the shoots I did in California. I wanted to do something in return for all the help she’d extended , so I offered one afternoon to photograph her and her family. Her partner Arvin is a pilot and a flight instructor, so it was a little difficult to pin him down. When he finally found the time in his busy schedule to come home to California, he had to be at the Van Nuys Airport to see an old friend and colleague, and so we decided to tag along and just do the session right there.
It was pretty sweltering in the San Fernando Valley that day (I think we were up to the mid-80s by the time we got to the airport) that I almost felt bad that I’d asked Mayce to be bundled up in scarves—the inspiration was Lauren Conrad’s airport looks, you see, which consisted of tunics, black leggings, brown boots, and scarves—but she never complained. I told her to just stand still and not move too much, that way it wouldn’t turn into a sweaty, sticky situation, but it was impossible not to move because their little girl Aira was so hyperactive that day, darting from one corner to another, and somebody had to chase her around somehow!
Of course, no one was about to chide Aira—in fact, we encouraged her to run around some more. All this frolic was like an answer to our prayers, you see, because the little girl was usually very shy and didn’t like her picture taken. In the days leading to this shoot we’d taken her out a couple of times (to Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Pier, and even San Diego!) for a few test shots, but she just wouldn’t smile for the camera! There were times she’d even hide! Luckily she was in a very playful mood that day at the airport, and she didn’t mind me taking pictures of her at all! She even brought her own camera—a Fisher-Price—so she could take her own pictures, too!
At first I had no idea where Aira’s change of mood was coming from—I thought it had something to do with the fact that we bribed her with Wetzels Pretzels (she’s crazy about their Cheddar Cheese dip). As the afternoon progressed, though, it became very clear she was just happy to be around her airplane. And, no, I am not talking about one of the model planes that we asked her to play with for some of the shots—those belong to her Dad. I am talking about the real deal red-and-white 1981 Cessna 152 that we used as backdrop for this shoot! Yes, that is her plane! Arvin bought it for and named it after her. Exactly how many little girls can claim that their dad bought them a plane? My guess is not a lot! Aira is a very, very lucky girl.
Which brings us back to my original question: What is it about planes and hangars and airports, and why do I gravitate towards them? Does it mean that, like Aira, I’m lucky, too? I hope it’s nothing ominous or anything. I mean, they’re keeping me busy, so that should be a good thing, right? Let’s hope so. I should consider myself lucky, right, to be able to shoot at a storied location? How many people can claim that they’ve shot at a place where some of the more important scenes from 1942’s Casablanca were shot? My guess is not a lot!
Speaking of luck, I got real lucky that day when, on the way home from the airport, Mayce and Arvin decided to make a quick stopover at the LACMA so I could take a few shots of them with Chris Burden’s Urban Light—the installation of restored antique street lamps from various Southern California municipalities, at the museum’s entrance on Wilshire—as backdrop. Didn’t exactly have strobist equipment on me in order to be able to take decent night shots, and plus the whole thing didn’t exactly fit the aviation theme, but who was I to say no to this place? Here was my chance to tick one off my dream locations list! You’d think shooting at a legendary airport would be enough for me, but, no, I just had to get me some Urban Light!
Yes, Urban Light is one of those L.A. landmarks that I never get tired of. I don’t know, but just look at that whole thing, and tell me if it isn’t the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. To me, though, it’s more than just beautiful. They say it’s easy to lose yourself in a city like L.A.—there’s even a song that goes, “Remember, Hollywood’s not America”—and I sure can attest to that. Luckily I have this place to run to whenever I need to regain composure and borrow some optimism. I look up at those lamps and I am rejuvenated. To me, they represent a future that’s bright. And, unlike airplanes, they may not signify dreams that are about to take flight, but they sure do remind me of those that are standing tall.
Arvin Nacario Eslit, Mayce Aparis Arradaza and their daughter Aira | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Van Nuys and Los Angeles, CA, on May 24, 2012
Could she be the most beautiful girl in, well, this part of the world?
That was all that kept ringing in my head the whole time I was behind the camera shooting Cielo Ramirez, the final of four muses that local accessories design house Shandar had handpicked to grace the catalog of their shoe line’s premier collection.
I’d never met the girl before, only read about her in Kate Torralba’s (now-defunct) StyleBible.ph-hosted blog, when the ever-effervescent designer/musician had proceeded to declare Cielo one of her “girl crushes.” Now, if Kate were a man, it would’ve been a totally different story—it wouldn’t have sparked the slightest bit of interest in me, or, quite possibly, in anyone. Something about girls admiring other girls for their sheer beauty, though, that gives it an exquisite, almost numinous kind of allure. It’s a kind of allure that’s meant to be esoteric at first, and then it snowballs into something bigger as more and more people take heed in an attempt to demystify it. (And I’m not even making all this up: historically speaking, it was when the legendary Diana Vreeland fell in love with Penelope Tree at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball that catapulted Tree’s career, and it was when Corrine Day fixatedly took photos of a gangly 14- or 15-year-old Kate Moss that elevated the latter from, um, plain Croydoner to crown princess of modeldom.) So it should be no surprise, then, that when Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez had brought up Cielo’s name, I’d felt a certain kind of thrill, and that here I was now on the day of the shoot, all sorts of enthralled and entranced. I couldn’t stop pressing my shutter-release button. Could it be that I was developing a little “girl crush” of my own here?
I mean, come on, look at that face. Eyes the shape of Caroline Trentini’s, a dainty little nose, and supple button-shaped lips perch on a delicately angular face. It’s the kind of face that makes you want to question, well, your genes. The makeup artist Hans Ferrer was on cloud nine: he didn’t have to spend so much time working his magic on this canvas as it was already a masterpiece by itself. Even if you took photos of her with her back facing the camera you’d still know she was beautiful. It made me ask: How was it possible that I was only seeing this girl for the first time?
Well, turned out it was my fault ‘cause I’d pretty much been living under a rock up to that day. The stylist Meyen Baguio was quick to point out that this wasn’t, for example, the first time Cielo was endorsing a shoe line—her appearance in the runway at the launch of Jandrick “Jumbo” Climaco’s Fushu brand a couple of months back was what had charmed Meyen and pushed her to pass a viva voce recommendation to the Shandar team. I would also learn that this wasn’t going to be her first catalog appearance, as she’d appeared in a couple of them in the recent past, most notably for the What A Girl Wants (WAGW) Pre-Fall 2010 collection catalog (shot by the talented Raleene Cabrera and styled by the fabulous Kryz Uy). I thought, OK, the girl had been around, which was good—it would be a shame to put a face like this to waste!
I could go on and on about her face, but I must not overlook the body. I think the reason why Cielo is so appealing to other girls (like Kate and Meyen) is because, while her face is that of a girl, her body is very much of a woman. (I think it’s the exciting contrast that does it, no?) During the days leading to the shoot I’d pictured her to be stick-thin or something like that (not that I have a problem with that), so imagine my surprise when I finally met her in person and it turned out she wasn’t what I’d expected her to be. I mean, sure, she was tiny, and this made her fit perfectly into sample sizes, but with curves in all the right places, you know what I mean? Needless to say, Meyen and the rest of the team had so much fun taking turns in dressing her up, like she was a dress up doll! (This is me trying to debunk the myth that only the gawky, tendril-thin girls are fun to dress up—it’s a little bit of sinuous curves that actually bring more life to an outfit.)
What was most amazing, though, was her attitude towards the work at hand. She was so polite and soft-spoken, and never complained. It was sweltering the whole time we were shooting—midmorning sun, the apex of summer (I think it was about 92 degrees out at the time)—but she was such a trouper, never asked for a break, tried so hard not to squint, even graciously declined our offers to fan her. The board had only called for three outfits, but when we decided the last minute to squeeze in a fourth one (because it was just so much fun dressing her up!) she gladly indulged our whims. It was her first time to meet most of us in the team, but never for one minute did she choose to alienate herself, or ask for her friends to visit her on set. How very different this girl was from most of the girls her age these days that I’d worked with, who were scared to stand one minute under the sun, would complain about having to do one more change of clothes, wouldn’t let go of, say, their cell phones, or liked to be surrounded by handlers or hangers-on! Of the four muses Shandar had picked she was the youngest—the team had reeled her in to make the product appeal to a younger audience—but this certainly didn’t mean she was the least professional. What we’d expected to run for five or so hours only took three, thanks to her dedication and hard work.
After we’d wrapped up she’d talked to us a little about her life, how she liked to travel (in a few weeks she was going to be in L.A. to visit family), her boyfriend. I can’t recall if we ever talked about her future plans, although I do remember Hans sweet-talking her into joining a beauty pageant. “You could be the next Miss Cebu!” Hans exclaimed, to which Cielo just laughed gleefully. Who could tell if that laugh meant a yes or a no? Whatever her plans are, I just know that great things are bound to happen to this girl.
* * * * * * * * *
To think I almost said no to this session.
It was Meyen who’d come up with the idea of shooting at an airfield/hangar, and at first I’d had reservations about the whole thing, arguing that it had been done so many different times by so many different people. But she’d remained relentless, arguing back that she’d put together a really good mood board, and had already pulled some strings to secure the location. The long and short of it was that I let her have her way, in the interest of saving time, and was smacked by a complete reversal of opinion as she weaved her concept into life before my eyes.
For one, I was floored by the styling. This was the session I gave her pretty much the free hand and chose not to meddle with her business. Turned out she wasn’t kidding when she’d said she’d had a strong mood board. She’d wanted to portray Cielo as a jetsetter, perhaps taking a cue from the girl’s love of travel, and proceeded to assemble outfits that were ready to take flight, pun intended. I hadn’t seen the actual mood board, but it looked to me like she was aiming for a twisted kind of Catch Me if You Can—like, this was what Frank Abagnale Jr. would look like had he been a woman. Mostly flight attendant silhouettes, without being too uniform-y. Nonchalant luxury, that’s how I would define the look. I particularly loved the ‘60s Carnaby Street-style brocade crop jacket in cosmic latte and apricot, and how she paired such a dainty little thing with Mark’s rather wild animal-print peep-toe wedges. Also loved how she paired a black-and-white polka dot maillot with a tulip skirt and topped it all off with a sequin beret. Those were not the only brave combos she pulled off that day—I also remember gasping as she took out a TSENG by Noreen Tseng armlet and handed it to the model. What’s so shocking about this? Well, nothing, really, except a few pundits would say never use an item from another brand when shooting one brand’s catalog. But Meyen is never one to care about rules—“If it gives the outfit more flavor, why hold back?” Of course, it helps that she’s close personal friends with Noreen, and that the competition between Noreen’s brand and Mark’s has always been healthy. A word to startup stylists, though: This kind of thing is not for the faint of heart, so think long and hard before trying it at home.
This has always been Meyen’s strength—the ability to put together unexpected combinations. It should be noted, too, that when the two of us were only starting out more than a decade ago, as two thirds of a trinity of stylists that included Clarissa Ouano, Meyen was the first to make the bold move of mixing high and low, of ready-to-wear/street/retail pieces with designer. I’d always been the scaredy-cat, you see, watching my every move and afraid to step out of my comfort zone, so if it was me doing a shoot I’d stick with one retailer, one brand, or one designer. It was Meyen who first broke that convention, and her act of courage inspired me and Clarissa to follow suit.
What was most special about this one job right here, though, was that Meyen assembled these outfits not just with the sleight of her hand, but also with a little help from her 14-year-old niece Mickey. I talked about Mickey in a previous post—about how she’s an aspiring makeup artist and how she likes to tag along whenever we have shoots so she can talk to the makeup artists and observe them in action. Well, looks like she’s starting to take an interest in clothes, too! Kudos to Meyen for passing the torch, so to speak, this early! I intend to do the same, too, you know, when my nieces hit early teenagerhood—maybe hand down my old books and my Vogues, encourage them to always tote a camera, take them shopping. This is something I always talk about during dinner conversations, and more often than not I get flak from people who think starting kids early is “kind of cruel.” Well, it’s not like it’s child labor or anything. I simply joke, you know, that, “Hey, you won’t always have youth, but you’ll always have the clothes!” Seriously, though, it’s not even about the clothes. It’s teaching them the value of figuring out what you love most and looking for ways to do it for a living. Now, as for where to get the funds to send them to FIDM or Parsons, that’s a different story altogether.
Cielo Ramirez for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Lapu-Lapu City on April 17, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Hans Ferrer (to book Hans, click here) | Special thanks to Nestor Castillano, Claire Elardo, Maria Elena Gabaya and the Aviatour team | Wisteria/thistle/rose quartz unishoulder bodycon cocktail dress with puff sleeve and Swarovski and tonal flower adornments, Ronald Enrico