So, OK, my friends have been asking me what my favorite thing about this year was, and, gosh, and I don’t even know where to begin! Aside from the fact that the world didn’t end like they said it would last December 21, so many major stuff top my list, like finally meeting my baby niece in L.A., seeing a retrospective of my all-time favorite photographer Herb Ritts’s work at the Getty, and getting to meet and talk to my idol Lauren Conrad in the flesh on my birthday. Career-wise, though, I must say that the best part of 2012 was that I got to work with a lot of people from all over the place this year. And, well, not just me—that applies to the rest of the Shutterfairy Photography team, too! When I got back from California/New York, where I got to photograph a couple of people (mostly close friends and family, of course), suddenly we were barraged with assignments to photograph/style clients from the States, Singapore, New Zealand, Ireland, etc.! So crazy, I know! And to think our team is barely three years old! We must have done something right to deserve this huge boost to our reach!
The biggest bulk of our “extralocal” clients are from the Lion City, like Gwen and Edgar here. I’ve lost track of the exact figures, and to quote my boss/mentor Malou Pages, “I [can no longer] count how many Singapore-based couples [we have] photographed,” but suffice to say that it came to a point where it got us wondering: How did these people find out about us and our work? did these people know each other? did it start with one couple who were happy with our work, and then it all trickled down through their communities via viva voce? There might be no finding out now, but that’s OK. I’m just glad to know we have quite a fan base in a place where none of us (me or Malou) have even ever been to before in our lives!
It had used to baffle me why overseas-based couples to be married would opt to fly home to have their engagement photos taken here, when they could easily have them done in their new cities where the amount of gorgeous shooting locations are endless, and where I’m pretty sure there are no shortage of exceptionally talented portrait photographers and stylists. But working with Gwen and Edgar here made me realize this: these people wanted their engagement session to be a sort of homecoming at the same time, a nice little break from their busy working lives. In the case of this couple right here, it was to serve a third purpose: for Gwen to show Edgar her home. It’s just Gwen who’s from Cebu, you see, while Edgar is from Pampanga, and he’d already shown her around his hometown a couple of times in the past (the most recent being some six months before this shoot), and so now it was her turn to show him around hers. Which was why when Gwen said she wanted to do the shoot at a resort, I knew better than to oppose the idea. In most cases, you see, whenever our subjects bring up the faintest idea about shooting at a resort (most popular picks: the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa down Marigondon, Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa in Punta Engano, the newly opened Crimson Resort somewhere in the Maribago area), I would be quick to talk them out of it, just ‘cause everyone else was doing it, and I wasn’t a huge fan of crowds or onlookers. But who was I to say no to this couple, who made it very clear they wanted to treat this whole thing as a vacation at the same time? Their resort of choice was the Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort in Maribago. Relatively new and an irrefutable favorite among locals and tourists/vacationers alike, I just knew the crowds out there were going to be crazy and that it wasn’t going to be easy trying to look for decent, peaceful spots, but I took comfort in the fact that the clothes were going to be amazing.
Yes, that is one upside to shooting at a beach resort: the vacation theme calls for nothing else but resort style, and isn’t warm weather wear the easiest to put together? Ask every stylist you know, and they will tell you resortwear is, pun intended, a breeze—especially to those of us who are from these parts where we’ve got year-round sun-drenched climes! I mean, it was never something I had to closely study or do a lot of research on, just ’cause it was something that I saw everyday; and plus I got a good head start by virtue of my early experience at various Cebu-based magazines/publications, where, safe to say, about 70% of my styling work entailed resortwear and swimwear. For this assignment right here I had to keep it low-fuss and straightforward. At first I was tempted to look to various spring/summer catalogs from Free People for inspiration, but then there were too much Coachella-inspired elements and Bohemian references in there—Gwen here was nothing if not sweet and simple, and so I knew I had to keep the “overstyling” in check, lest I ended up stripping her of those qualities. Trendy, but a little more on the timeless side, that was the agreement. So what I did was I used the formula in the “Warm Weather Vacation” subsection of the “What to Wear Where” chapter of the Who What Wear book (ABRAMS, 2009): global prints (they “never go out of style,” according to the book, so I introduced Gwen to ikat), punchy brights, kaftans (“long enough to go over a bathing suit and brief enough to wear bloused up over a pair of shorts”), maxi dresses, denim cutoffs, statement necklaces, and hobo bags. (The nicest thing about all these outfits that we put together: Gwen will be able to use them after the shoot, like for, say, Sentosa weekends or something). Not to say we didn’t leave room for a little experimentation, though, because we did go for a little print-on-print/mixed prints action: I usually shy away from swimwear if it’s engagement shoots (except when the theme is surfing, then the Billabongs and Roxys becomes non-negotiable), but I politely asked Gwen if she could wear a bikini for the shots by the pool; this frightened her at first, but once I showed her the complete look—sheer beach wrap in traditional-color leopard print, over a fuchsia-and-black leopard print bikini—she went for it (albeit with a joke, “My very first daring role!”). Needless to say, that set we did by the pool was my favorite. Although coming in as a close second was the one that was never in the mood boards to begin with, and that’s the set we did in their hotel room where I had them wear nothing but bathrobes. I swear, pure accident: it was 2PM, and therefore too hot out for us to be able to take decent pictures, and as I walked into the room I realized I was digging the color scheme (eggshell and mint green!), so I decided to take pictures of them in there! I love happy accidents!
I guess I have to mention that, when all these e-mails from Singapore-based clients started to pour in, I initially declined them and proceeded to ask my boss to hire another stylist to do the job. My previous experience with long-distance styling, you see, had been extremely unpleasant, and in an effort to save face I expressed that, moving forward, I was only going to accept clients who lived in the same city as me—the job’s always easier when you can physically take their measurements, do house calls that give you the chance to take a peek inside their closets, or personal shop for them. It took the boss some time to find another stylist, though, so I had no choice but to take on some of the projects, and I remember choosing Gwen and Edgar here because during our initial correspondence they were very congenial—and thankfully they remained that way all throughout the planning phase! Just a couple of days ago we were in Boracay to photograph a Chicago-based couple’s beach wedding, and I met the inimitable and ever-effervescent wedding/events planner Amanda Tirol of Boracay Weddings, who told me that “about 80% of my clients are from out of the country,” and shared that the key to successful long-distance coordination was timely and effective correspondence. I couldn’t agree more. What I’d feared at the onset to be a rough ride turned out to be a smooth-sailing one, thanks to Gwen and Edgar’s timely feedback whenever I had questions. Helped, too, that they trusted my abilities, valued my input, and respected my boundaries, leaving what was to be done by me to, well, me! Now, if it looks like my faith in long-distance styling has been renewed, that’s thanks to this couple right here!
But what made this shoot truly memorable for me wasn’t all the prep, or the clothes, or the lengthy (but healthy) exchange of e-mails. Rather, it was the fact that, for a change, it was the groom-to-be that I connected with the most as we were shooting. Normally, you see, during engagement shoots, it’s the fiancée that I get to bond and exchange stories with—it’s always the woman that’s excited about things like this, right?—while the fiancé just sits on the sidelines, patiently waiting for the session to be over. Not saying that Gwen was detached that day, it’s just that she had a couple of close friends over for the occasion and she had to entertain them in between sets, and so it was Edgar who I got to chat with the whole time. It was kind of weird having to ask the guy about their love story, but Edgar was very eager to share, anyway. Unlike most of our Singapore-based couples, they didn’t meet in the workplace (in fact they work for two very different companies: she for United Overseas Bank, as systems analyst; he for the interior architectural design firm BuregaFarnell) , or through mutual friends—rather, it was their mutual love of volunteerism that brought them together. Yes, they shared a favorite cause, and that’s the Gawad Kalinga (GK), a movement dedicated to community- and home-building to help improve living standards among the deprived. One fateful day three years ago they attended the same GK Singapore fellowship meeting, and that’s where it all started—ever since then they would go on the same GK immersion/building activities/trips, and their relationship would eventually turn into a full-fledged romance. I’d heard about couples falling in love because they shared the same taste in music, or the same taste in food, etc., but this was the first time I met a twosome whose bond was cemented by their mutual love for reaching out. Something tells me this is one bond that will be very difficult to break.
Edgar Gonzales and Gwen Pinca | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Maribago, Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, on August 20, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup: Ramil Solis | Special thanks to the staff of Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort
No matter how much couples engaged to be married claim to have a lot of things in common, they almost always end up in different pages when it comes to planning their engagement photos. I’ve worked with a little under twenty couples over the last two years, and that should be a reliable enough statistic, right? More often than not the fiancé wants one thing, but the fiancée has another thing in mind, and sometimes this can end up in a pretty sticky situation (although thankfully not the kind that leads to drastic stuff, like, God forbid, the engagement being called off or something). Is this the part where I back away a little, allow them some space to settle the score amongst themselves, you ask? Why, no! What most of you might consider a sore spot, I happen to consider a sweet spot! This part right here is when I put my game face on and push the pedal down, so to speak! Taking two (or more) different ideas and then jamming them together into something that makes sense—well, don’t that look like a job for me? Not to blow my own horn or anything, but my track record has been pretty decent, too. Case in point: for this guy who had a fondness for old stuff, and his wife-to-be who loved travel, we came up with a “vintage travel” kind of theme. And for this girl who wanted acid colors and fitspo, and her groom-to-be who wanted big bikes and grunge music, I came up with a “’70s, ‘80s, ‘90s” theme! So, no, when your clients’ ideas clash, that is no time to take the backseat. It may look like it’s sort of a meddling thing, but, really, it’s more of a mediating thing, not to mention a stimulating thing—you get to reconcile other people’s creative differences, and at the same time give your own creative muscles a good old flex
Don’t get me wrong, though: While I make it sound as easy as 1-2-3, taking two (or more) very disparate concepts and getting them to tango is not an exercise for the faint-hearted. It entails an awful lot of research, and can even lead to sleepless nights—plus, be prepared to rework your mood boards up to ten, fifteen times! So while I appreciate it when opportunities like these present themselves, because to me nothing feels as good as a good creative challenge, they are really only ideal for when you have the luxury of time (and/or an extra pair of hands). When faced with a tight deadline (and you can’t find an extra set of hands), you’re pretty much left with no choice but to stick to just one concept (and a lot of times you’ll go for the easiest!) and hope it works out well for you and your clients.
When I met with Michael Nazareth and Charice Lasconia for the first time to talk about their engagement photo session, I was as nervous as could be: the shoot was set to take place in less than two weeks! I’d been so used to being given a month (or two!) to prepare for a shoot that the idea of that time frame being cut into half was just too stressful for me. Didn’t help stifle my nerves knowing that I only had one hour, tops, to discuss this with them and come up with a final plan—their flight back to Singapore was in a few short hours (yes, that’s where they’re based, and they were only in Cebu for two short days so they could meet up with various wedding vendors). I kept thinking worst-case scenario: What if Michael wanted one thing, and Charice wanted something else? And we only have a few days left to prepare? Never had I knocked on wood as many times as I did that day.
As it turned out, luck was on my side, and the minute Michael and Charice sat with me on the table was the very minute that my nerves were quashed. They wasted no time in telling me they already had a concept for the shoot in mind, so no need for me to think something up—and that it was something that the two of them had agreed on from the get-go, and so no two completely different sides to the story! Finally! A couple who were on the exact same page!
And not just any page, too, if I may add—another thing that made this couple extra special in my eyes was that they chose a page that was completely, utterly, and wonderfully them. “Surfing and longboarding,” that was the theme they picked—and not so much because they thought it would look cool, but because these were stuff that they actually loved to do together as a couple! Yes, ever since they’d started dating, no year would be complete without them going on a couple of surfing (and longboarding) trips, be it in another country or in some beach town nearby. And you’d think they’d dropped the whole thing after moving to Singapore, what with their very busy schedules (Charice works in project management, while Michael works as a software engineer), but, no, up to this very day they still make it a point to pack the boards and just flee every now and then (as of this writing they have just gotten back from a surfing trip to Bali). That’s the glue, apparently—some couples like to work as a pair, but these two love to play as a pair. They live for the rush of it.
I find it very admirable when couples make creative decisions in this manner. Always, always I encourage my couple clients to choose a theme that is based on the stuff that they actually love to do together, and on the things that cement their bond. Not that I don’t have respect for those who choose themes that are based on some sort of fantasy, or those who dare to be “decoratively different”—there will always be people who are going to want to paint a fairy tale, or those who are going to want to stand out, and that’s totally fine. Allow me to say this, though: When you look at your engagement photos 20 or so years from now, do you want to be reminded of who photographed you, who styled you, who did your makeup, who did your hair; or do you only want to be reminded of just the two of you being young and in love like that? If you’re a couple engaged to be married looking for photo ideas and you’re reading this, please ask yourself that question, and I hope it helps you arrive at sound creative decisions.
Needless to say, when the actual shoot came, I enjoyed every minute of it immensely. And to think I woke up that morning a bit under the weather (coughs and colds and all)—not a great start to any working day! So there’s a sort of placebo effect when everything about a job falls right into place without you having to work so hard. For one, there was no need for me to source and bring a lot of clothes/props, because Michael and Charice got that aspect all covered—they brought every single thing in the boatload of a list that I’d drafted, from the surfboards to the longboards, and down to the littlest details like, say, the bottles of sunblock! No need for me to tell them what to do, too—because the goal was to recreate their surfing/longboarding trips, they had no trouble playing the part in front of the cameras! They made the whole thing very painless for us, we ended up finishing the job in under five hours (we even had time to do a bonus set, in which I had them go punk glam—my idea, because I needed an excuse for Charice to wear a dress)! Breaks between sets were spent exchanging stories about our favorite beaches and summertime songs. It was such a carefree afternoon, the whole thing felt like a Beach Boys record (as it turned out, one of their theme songs was “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys, and they asked us if we could use this as backdrop to their engagement photo slideshow!) Don’t you wish all shoots were like this?
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I feel like I should tell you guys that this month is shaping up to be a real crazy time for me and the Shutterfairy team. We just got back from an assignment in Mindanao that spanned three cities (Cotabato, General Santos and Davao), and tomorrow we are set to leave for Leyte (Ormoc, Bato) for another engagement session. And God knows where we’re going next week, or the week after that! I’m starting to think it’s a November thing—this exact time last year also found us neck-deep in shoots (I think I had 7 at the time!). That being said, please forgive me if I am unable to update this blog over the next couple of weeks. But feel free to do some backreading! And if you have questions about our 2013 schedule, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Michael Franz Nazareth and Charice Lasconia | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Argao, Cebu, on July 17, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Pines Borden
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)
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
These two lovebirds are tying the knot real soon—and by real soon I mean in two days! We had the privilege of doing their engagement photos some three months back. At the time they were already beginning to count the days: “Three months to go!” the groom-to-be had exclaimed more than once. How exciting it must be for them now that it’s only a few hours ‘til they seal the deal!
We shot these photos at the Amun Ini Beach Resort and Spa in Anda, a tiny, peaceful coastal town in the northeastern tip of the island of Bohol, some 55 miles from Tagbilaran City via the Tagbilaran East Road, or 65 miles from Tubigon via the Central Nautical Highway (for some reason it was the Cebu-Tubigon ferry that we’d booked, so it was the latter route that we took). I’m not a big fan of road trips that take more than an hour, especially in this part of the world where it can get pretty bumpy, but this drive right here was worth it. Once we arrived at the resort, like magic, all my back and neck pains just melted away. Yes, that’s how beautiful the place is. I remember the first thing I said to resort owner Federico “Freddie” Carmona as I shook his hand the minute he greeted us by the pool: “People who say ‘it’s the journey, not the destination’ were obviously not coming to this place!” Built on a 4-hectare private cove facing the vast blue Bohol sea, and jutting out of lush, untouched vegetation (an ancient banyan tree greets you at the entrance, which, as it turns out, served as muse for when they were architecting the place), it was unlike anything I’d ever laid my eyes on before. I’m gonna stop with the words right here because the truth is no amount of waxing poetic is ever going to do the place justice (even these photos don’t do it justice), but if you ever plan to visit that part of Bohol, look no further and just book a night or two at Amun Ini—trust me, you won’t regret it!
It was Ernest who’d made arrangements to shoot at this place, not so much because of his family’s close ties to the Carmonas but because he’d wanted for it to be sort of like a vacation for him and his bride-to-be at the same time. Vanessa is a flight attendant at Emirates, and she only had a couple of days off to do this shoot, and so the fiancé had to make sure the whole thing was going to be half-disguised as R&R. We respected this, of course, and made conscious efforts to work fast so that they could have some time for, say, little massages in between sets. And for sumptuous dinners by the beach, to which we got to tag along! I swear, our team slipped into a coma after being subjected to a feast of local seafood (courtesy of the mayor of Anda)—I’d never had crustaceans that huge (and that many) in my life! (And that’s not even counting the lavish breakfasts whipped up by Freddie’s Manila-trained, San Francisco-honed culinary whiz of a daughter—her stylized banana fritters are to die for!) I’d like to think we were successful in not making the couple feel like this was all work. It certainly helped that our main photographer Malou was one of their closest friends from back in college—I think more than 80% of their time was spent talking about the good old days!
I loved these sets that we did at Amun Ini, especially the pool set and that one we did down the shore with the little banca (named Los Angeles!), but we were scheduled to do a couple of sets at the world-famous “man-made forest” down Bilar, too, and that was what I’d been really looking forward to. It was Vanessa who’d wanted to shoot at that location because she loved trees (and Malou was all for it because of a prospect of a Twilight feel—yes, my boss is a huge Twilight fan!). But, alas, luck wasn’t on our side: after driving two or so hours from Anda, we were greeted by torrential rain! It got me a little cranky, because an hour into our drive the weather was completely fine, but the moment we entered the Loay Road (Chocolate Hills territory) that was going to lead us to Bilar it suddenly turned gloomy and then it began to rain really hard. We all prayed for it to stop by the time we got to the forest, but it didn’t—well, perhaps it did for a bit, but everything was drenched now, and it was pretty foggy (we’re talking zero visibility). Ever the troupers, Malou and makeup artist Owen insisted that we soldiered on, despite the fact that we had no lighting equipment with us, or even tripods. I felt bad, not so much because of the prospect that the clothes I had prepared for Vanessa were going to go to waste (I’d assembled two outfits inspired by the “Taylor Swift as Rodarte muse” look especially for these sets!), but because it became very clear we never going to give Vanessa the gorgeous photos that she’d long been dreaming of. Even with out ISOs hiked up to the 1000 mark my photos still didn’t come out right! If only it was my decision to make I’d let everyone wait one more day, but then the couple had a few pre-wedding business to attend to in Cebu, so we had to leave that night. I’m posting some of the photos I took on here, anyways, never mind that they’re too dark or too blurry—I just want Vanessa to see that we did get a little something out of it.
That’s the thing about natural light shoots—when the weather turns sour and the elements don’t work out to your favor, you either pack up and walk away frustrated, or carry on and hope for the best. I’m glad that we took the latter route. The weather may not have gotten better no matter how hard we crossed our fingers, but we did the job anyways. I only hope that when people see these photos they won’t see photos that are crappy, but instead be reminded of the power of persistence.
I am praying for spotless sunshine on their wedding day this weekend, but then again even if my prayers end up unanswered I’m sure no amount of rain is ever going to stop them from walking down that aisle and tying that knot!
Thank you, Ernest and Vanessa, for giving us this opportunity to take your engagement pictures, and best wishes to you both!
Ernesto Herrera III and Vanessa V. Villareal | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Anda, Bohol, and Bilar, Bohol, on June 30 and July 1, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada | Vanessa styled by Angelo Kangleon | Sittings assistant: Jennifer Hortillosa | Special thanks to Freddie Carmona and the staff of Amun Ini Beach Resort and Spa (for reservations: email@example.com)
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much hyperflorals in one closet!” That’s what I exclaimed as I was rummaging through Michelle Gutierrez’s closet during my house call to style her and her fiancé Jerbie Domingo for their engagement photos. “Or this much Forever 21!” When I’d said during our initial meetings that I’d wanted hyperflorals, you see, she’d offered, “You might want to take a look at my closet; I think I might have a little.” Well, I don’t know what her definition of little is, but one whole closet of hyperflorals is not a little to me! And about 90% of them from Forever 21! (She would later admit that she’s a sucker for anything Forever 21—at the time of my house call the store hadn’t even set up shop in Cebu yet, and so most of her items she’d gotten during “shopping trips” to Manila and elsewhere.)
I love it when my clients allow me to do house calls—not a lot of them do, you see, and that’s a shame—because it makes my job easier by giving me a strong starting point. People tend to say things like, “But I don’t have a lot of stuff in my closet!” or “I don’t own anything you’re gonna be remotely interested in!” But I always say, “Who knows?” You may be tired of looking at your own clothes, but with a fresh pair of eyes by your side there’s a huge chance that you’re gonna unearth hidden gems—after all, I would say 90% of a stylist’s job is to make you look at something in a way you’ve never looked at it before. Some of the best styling jobs I’ve done (like for Rey Dauz and Sheryl Guzman’s “vintage travel”-themed engagement session, for example) turned out the way they did because my clients opened up their homes—and their closet doors—to me, and so they became collaborative efforts, you know? It’s like the “Bend and Snap” from Legally Blonde: “It works every time.” You just have to trust me on this one. (Don’t worry, you won’t be obligated to cook for me. LOL.)
Anyways, backpedaling to the story: It was a “springtime picnic” kind of feel that we wanted Michelle and Jerbie’s engagement photos to evoke. The idea for the theme came to us when my mentor Malou Pages-Solomon (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing) took me for a drizzy Sunday afternoon stroll up the Banawa Hills’ Tanchan-owned Celestial Gardens, and I fell absolutely in love with the place. I always talk about how I am not a big fan of vegetation in this part of the world, but this place right here was a different story altogether—it was like we weren’t in Cebu! There were parts where the foliage were manicured, and parts where they had this unstudied, unkempt appeal, and when you put them together it’s just bewitching. (There’s even a sweet little spot in there that overlooks Cebu City, it reminds me of the Getty’s Lower Terrace Sculpture Garden that overlooks Los Angeles! Just breathtaking!) What’s more, it was discreet in architecture and artifice—it was, like, 85% nature. And even in the rain and the fog it was beautiful—how much more so when the sun was shining? I wasted no time in telling Malou that I wanted to have a shoot in that very place, something with a picnic theme, and that was when she suggested, “Why don’t we do that for Michelle and Jerbie’s session next week?” Just like that, we got to work. Luckily for me, the couple welcomed the idea. There were minor hitches in trying to book the venue at first, especially after two of the custodians said that photoshoots were “not allowed” in the area, but we were able to pull some strings, and so we made it happen.
During our initial discussions around wardrobe, Michelle had expressed interest in flowy, diaphanous dresses in white or off-white, kind of like the wedding dress that Amanda Seyfried’s character wore in the Mamma Mia! film, but Malou was quick to discourage us from pursuing this look, pronouncing that using white dresses in engagement photos was a tired, old rule that she wanted to steer clear of. The idea for bright hyperflorals (and patterns) came to me when I thought about the place we were going to be shooting at and what it lacked, and it occurred to me the Celestial Gardens were all green and had very little flowering plants. Why not let Michelle be the flower to lend a burst of color to the place? I thought. People often ask me what hyperfloral is, and how that’s different from the regular floral, and I wish I could do a better job at explaining things like this (yes, contrary to popular belief, I am not about to write a doctorate paper on styling), but all I’ve really got to say is it’s kind of like chintz—varying floral patterns rather than just one, and in a melee rather than in an orderly sequence. Think Peter Copping for Nina Ricci Spring 2012 Ready-to-Wear—or, better yet, think the works of textile designer and artist Zina de Plagny, who was the central inspiration for that collection.
Of course, I didn’t want it to be all-floral, so I decided to throw something with an ethic print into the mix—more specifically, a cobalt blue/orange-red Navajo-print dress. I don’t know, but at the time I kind of had a feeling ethnic prints were going to be huge in the coming seasons (flash forward to today, and, voila, we see a lot of Aztec prints in, say, Topshop’s new collection), and plus I’d always been fascinated with them (I have Navajo-print bedroom curtains, and a couple of tank tops in Ikat-inspired prints). A friend of mine who observed as I was I was putting together these outfits for Michelle commented that she was “relieved” that I was able to restrain myself from injecting a little grunge into the picture—“For once you’re doing something really girly!” she exclaimed—but that only goes to show she wasn’t paying close attention, because if you take a closer look you will see that the dresses I picked were all in babydoll silhouettes, that I managed to throw some leather jackets into the mix, and that for one of the sets I had Michelle ditch the ballet flats in favor of 1460 8-eye Doc Martens! Trust me to always have a little bit of grunge sneak up on you, even if the situation doesn’t call for it!
It was my idea to put a TV set and a couch in the middle of the frangipani garden (I love frangipani, especially when they’re in clusters—their knotty, spindly branches have a way of slicing sunlight into gorgeous little rays that add a dramatic dimension to your frame). Just because the theme was picnic didn’t mean they had to be sprawled on the ground the whole time, you know? Besides, an outdoor couch potato set was in order, especially since I wanted some of these photos to reflect Jerbie’s personality—for what was Jerbie without his TV (he’s a self-confessed TV and film buff; he works for SM Cinemas)? I would’ve wanted a vintage TV set, though—like something from the ’50s jet age—and a bigger couch, but, well, sometimes you gotta work with what you have.
As gorgeous as the photos turned out, I’m afraid they kind of do not do justice to the day they were taken. It was such a charming day, despite the fact that it was sweltering (I had to pile sunblock on three times!) and that we were up to the neck in enormous props. The atmosphere was serene; the grass so soft we couldn’t resist lying on it like cats; and there were birds that wouldn’t stop chirping! And how about that creamy sunset? The day had a certain feeling to it; it was the kind of day fashioned for a romance novel. Add to that Michelle and Jerbie’s playful, childlike chemistry, and you have the makings of a photo session that you don’t want to ever end (our timetable had called for us to wrap by 4PM, but we kept shooting well until 6PM, anyway)! It was as if we were in a daydream! I love it when all the elements of a shoot come together to create one big perfect moment. It makes me sigh dreamily and think to myself, There’s work, and then there’s this.
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I am currently in Los Angeles, CA, on vacation, so please forgive me if I am unable to update this blog over the next couple of weeks. To those who’ve been sending me messages asking me to style their sessions, please check with Malou Pages (firstname.lastname@example.org) for available dates (I will be back in Cebu soon).
Jerbie Domingo and Michelle Gutierrez | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City on December 11, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view Malou’s set) | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada | White hyperfloral babydoll dress, cobalt blue/orange-red Navajo-print dress, and Palatinate blue hyperfloral baby doll dress, all from Forever 21 | Blue cardigan, Primark/Atmosphere UK | Chamoisee biker jacket and desert sand bomber jacket, all from Forever 21 | Red cardigan, Charles 1/2, Urban Outfitters | International orange lightweight summer shirt, American Apparel | Multi-colored striped zip-front sweater, Esprit
It was bound to happen. You see, if you’re a photographer based in Cebu, it’s inevitable that you’ll be doing a session at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa. I’d sworn I was never gonna let that happen to me, and not because I’d disliked the place—it in fact remains on top of my list of favorite places in this part of the world, despite the bevy of stagy pop-up resort hotels that having cropping up like mushrooms as of late, and I will forever be in love with the architecture (nothing is as bewitching as the view of colonial plantation-style cottages and villas through dewy palm fronds)—but simply because I’d wanted to avoid doing what everyone else was doing. What I’d failed to consider was that there was always going to be someone somewhere out there who couldn’t wait to come home to the Plantation Bay, and to share that part of their world with their newfound loves from another world.
Such was the case of Cherry, who came home from Dublin with her Irishman groom-to-be Niall O’Brien and their son Leo, and wasted no time in whisking them away to a nice little retreat at the resort. They didn’t have a lot of time before their wedding, and so they decided to invite the Shutterfairy team over so we could do their pre-wedding photos right there and then while they were on holiday.
I think it took us a good 30 minutes to convince Niall to say yes to being photographed. In our exchange of e-mails Cherry had warned me about this: “He’s not used to being photographed!” He would rather take a dip with his son or hit the in-house gym to pump some iron was what it was. Thankfully, after some gentle prodding and sweet-talking from his fiancée, he said yes (on the condition that he wasn’t gonna be wearing anything silly, and that no makeup brush was ever going to touch his face)!
In between sets Cherry would fill us in with stories about Ireland, to feed my imagination of charming, bucolic Irish countrysides and thatched roof stone cottages (with the hypnotic drone of uilleann pipes playing in the background). How wonderful must it be to have a shoot there (I’m thinking à la Stella Tennant’s family portraits by Mario Testino in the October 2005 issue of American Vogue (OK, those were shot in Tennant’s home in a Caledonic countryside, and not in Ireland, but you get the drift)! Of course, that was just my imagination running away with me, because Niall and Cherry here were not from the country; they lived in a modern, bustling area of Dublin. She was quick to confirm, though, that beer was kind of “a way of life” in Dublin, which was why, even when visiting the Philippines, she would allow Niall to go out with her friends or relatives for a few beers every now and then—well, a little more often than every now and then, really. Niall declared that he liked the taste of San Miguel Beer Pale Pilsen.
It was quite entertaining when Niall got into talking about the stuff he loved about the Philippines or about Cebu (it was this topic that actually helped him warm up to the cameras)—and, no, it didn’t stop at beer. Asked if he knew a few Cebuano phrases or expressions, he exclaimed earnestly, “I know some! My favorite is ‘Party, party!’” We laughed and told him that that wasn’t even Cebuano. He just turned red and said that, well, that was what most of his Cebuano drinking buddies said all the time. He also shared that he found it amusing how, every time he goes shopping at a local store and he pays for something at the counter, the cashier would say, “Ma’am, sir, I received five hundred pesos.” Sometimes he’d even buy something useless just to hear a cashier say “Ma’am, sir, I received five hundred pesos”—and he would actually get disappointed if he ended up with a cashier who wouldn’t utter the line!
No, he wasn’t allowed to have a beer during the shoot, but I did get them some tropical fruit juice. Old hat, I know, but it was something I needed to have in the picture to set the mood—I was thinking The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” where it goes, “Bodies in the sand/ Tropical drink melting in your hand…” Niall admitted that he couldn’t get enough of our beaches, and that he was so looking forward to doing Boracay for their honeymoon. Here I was daydreaming of the Irish countryside, and here they were willing to give anything to be able to live here!
I won’t take credit for the styling because we didn’t pick their clothes until the day of the shoot, and everything came from their own closets—or suitcases, as the case may be (I don’t take credit if I didn’t work on it from mood board development to sourcing to pre-shoot fittings and all that good stuff). But I was pretty happy with some of the dresses—the neckerchief dress in particular got me weak in the knees, ‘cause nothing spelled plantation chic quite like it did. And thanks to accessories designer Grace Querickiol-Nigel for letting me borrow bags upon bags of archival and new Gracie Q stuff! You never know when you need accessories to save your life!
It wasn’t so bad shooting at the Plantation Bay, after all. This I concluded after finding myself standing right by the deck of their singular Riverboat Suite (situated on the edge of their Children’s Lagoon, right across the Tahiti- or Syechelles-themed villas, if I am not mistaken) and I thought, Wow, this place just gets more and more beautiful as time goes by! I even fell head over heels with the white wooden railings that led to their gazebos. One thing’s for sure: This shoot has prompted me to reassess the rules I’ve made for myself—a place as beautiful as this doesn’t deserve to be punished just ‘cause I was unwilling to do what everybody else was doing! What was more magical was the feeling that washed over me as I treaded barefoot down Orion Beach and was brought back to those times some 10 or so years ago when I’d come here to style some of the more important shoots in my career (one of them a collaboration with the great Wig Tysmans)—it was like I’d come home.
Niall Francis and Cherry O’Brien (and their son Leo) | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Marigondon, Mactan, on January 8, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy (click here to view Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by Carditho Sarcol | Accessories, Gracie Q
The theme they chose was cowboy/ranch hand—Carl Bual, the groom-to-be, was a veterinary sales rep who’d grown up in Bukidnon surrounded by horses, and he wanted to relive that time in his life. And who was I to say no to an equine-related concept (those of you who’ve been following my blog will know I’ve become terribly obsessed with horses)? Aside from horses and stables and cowboy boots, I was also imagining throwing a big bad pickup truck into the mix. You see, I wanted a “gritty” feel, if you know what I mean. Something action-packed, and somewhat reckless, even. Especially after Carl made it very clear that “I don’t want anything cheesy—no hugging, no squeezing, no kissing.” This assertion took Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing), the main photographer, by surprise, and I think we almost choked on our macarons when Carl said this. By the look in Malou’s face, I could tell she was thinking, But what’s an engagement shoot without the hugging, the squeezing and the kissing? But, well, as the saying goes, “To each his own.” Besides, what else were you supposed to expect from a guy like Carl, what with his stocky frame, thundering baritone, and hands the size of a giant’s? (I swear, at one point I caught myself thinking, I better give this guy what he wants, lest I want to end up being sucker punched in the face!)
Conversely, the fiancée RJ Serafin (first cousin to my good friend Ace, Vice Mayor of Tabogon, Cebu—what a small world, right?) didn’t want the whole thing to be too mannish. For one, she didn’t want her outfits to be too western-inspired. Incredibly soft-spoken and ever the lady (she’s a preschool teacher, after all), she wanted a little girly touch, a little romance. I told her the cowboy boots were non-negotiable, and so were the cowboy hats, but promised I was gonna stay away from dirty jeans or anything plaid and/or gingham. At first I was tempted to slap a little Gigi Mortimer kicking back at her country cottage in Harrington, NY, against the mood board—i.e., romantic equestrian—but immediately I scratched that as soon as I realized that chunky sweaters and traditional knee-high riding boots would be too much for RJ’s slight frame (yes, she’s pint-sized, the polar opposite of Carl’s colossus). Thankfully, I was able to dig up a couple of floral dresses from The Fab Grab’s archives. I particularly fell in love with this ‘90s-style black floral prairie dress. It reminded me of what Cynthia Geary’s character Kellie wore some 35 minutes into the movie 8 Seconds, when she approached Luke Perry’s character as he was forking hay in a barn, and then she uttered the most beautiful lines: “Nothing you could say or do would make you less in my eyes. I love you. You don’t have to be perfect for me.” (It’s my favorite scene from that movie, especially since, after that, Perry’s character replied, “You may have to prove it. Right now, [when] I’m covered in horse shit,” and then they kissed, and Karla Bonoff’s “Standing Right Next to Me” started playing in the background, and then it was fade out, and fade in to the wedding scene.) For this reason alone I knew I just had to get this black dress into the picture, to add a little touch of 8 Seconds to my work! I didn’t want RJ’s wardrobe to be all dresses, though, so I took this one dress—the green floral one, which was a bit sheer—and asked her to wear it unbuttoned in the front, like as an open robe/maxi cardigan, over a little boy’s tank top and a pair of denim Daisy Dukes. I was taking a cue from the latest craze that had been sweeping the Lookbook.nu and Chictopia communities, which entailed, well, girls wearing their sheer maxi dresses (most of them from UNIF Clothing) unbuttoned in the front, as maxi cardigans. (Before this shoot I’d also adopted this style for one of the outfits that the model Fretzel Buenconsejo was going to wear for the Gracie Q catalog—click here and look for the series of photos where she’s frolicking with little children.) Add a Swarovski-encrusted seashell-colored stretch-jersey gala gown by Lotte Delima-Edwards to the mix, and we were on our way to being a far cry from the hackneyed cowgirl look that RJ wanted to avoid.
Funny thing happened on the day of the shoot. You know the macho Carl who’d said that hugging, squeezing and kissing in photos wasn’t his style? Well, that was still the same Carl who hopped into the van that was to take us to our location—he wouldn’t even laugh at the makeup artist’s jokes, he’d just chuckle and shake his head! When we arrived at our destination, though, as RJ was having her hair and makeup done, he was reckless enough to grab a bottle of Red Horse beer before seeking to get acquainted with, well, the actual horses that we were going to be using for the shoot. At first I was a little concerned about this, and about how RJ just sat there and encouraged this foolhardy behavior, but it would soon prove to work to our advantage: after a few bottles, Carl suddenly became so invigorated and cheerful—and he was suddenly OK with the idea of hugging and squeezing and kissing in front of the cameras! He’s gonna hate me for writing this down on here, but, hey, people are gonna see these photos, anyway, and are gonna wonder what happened to all the macho, so better put the whole backstory out there, right? I still got what I wanted, though, in the form of a badass pickup truck, which was “gritty” enough for me—I’m sorry, but there’s something about mud and dirt and off-road wheels (and mud and dirt on off-road wheels) that make me feel, um, alive (guess there’s still some macho in me, after all).
We were going to do this whole thing in Bukidnon—this would’ve been my first out-of-town shoot (well, save for the occasional sessions in Ormoc) and my first time to visit that part of the country (i.e., Mindanao). But we’d ran into some scheduling conflicts (November last year brought in an exceptional run of green lights—click here to read about our jampacked schedule that month), which had left us with no choice but to do it a little closer to home. Thank God Carl’s good friend Marlo Causin, a veterinarian, had a ranch (that also doubled as a fishing pond) that was only an hour and a half southwest of Cebu, in Barili. At first I was kind of in a funk about Bukidnon not happening, but when we arrived at the Causin property I immediately thanked the heavens that it didn’t—one, Marlo a champion host (I won’t enumerate all the stuff he made us eat that day); and two, I got to meet and photograph the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen in this part of the world!
Sabina, that’s how they named her. Probably because she looked like a sabino-white. I say “looked like” because she’s not a true sabino-white—if you look closely (e.g., at her muzzle), you will see her underlying skin is somewhat grayish. Of course, goes without saying that this did not make her less stunning. She was so towering and regal, she reminded me of the Andalusians I’d met at the Kentucky Horse Park in the summer of 2010. And unabashedly affectionate, too—she was always trying to plant a kiss on Carl’s cheek, like she wanted to steal the show from RJ and be the bride-to-be!—and was a darling in front of the cameras, like she’d grown up around show business! She was just a joy to photograph that I didn’t want the set that featured her to ever end! Malou kept saying, “OK, next outfit! Next set!” but a lot of times I had to pretend not not to hear her, ‘cause I just didn’t wanna let go of Sabina!
The Causins had two other horses in the property: Venus, Sabina’s daughter, and a strapping stallion named Bravo. We’d been told beforehand that we couldn’t borrow Venus for the sitting ‘cause she’d been in a foul mood lately, so she had to be kept at bay (and true enough, when I went to see her, she kind of threatened to buck!). We were supposed to use Bravo for one of the sets, but then just as his caretakers were readying him we noticed that he had a nasty cut in his right pastern, and so we had no choice but to let him sit this one out. Shame, because he was a beauty, too, what with his shiny chestnut coat and all! But I’ll be back for you one day, Bravo (I hope)!
I love it when the theme is country or cowboy. And not just for the obvious reason that it allows me to be around and/or photograph horses, but also because it’s the kind of theme where my subjects can have a crazy good time and be spontaneous, you know? Like, they’re kind of in character, but at the same time they can just be themselves. No contrived poses or positions, no fidgeting because the outfits make them uncomfortable, no trying hard to borrow, say, Kristine Hermosa’s smile (swear to God, I can’t wait to see the day I’ll hear the last of couples wanting to “copy” the Kristine-Oyo engagement photos!). I guess this is the exact same reason why I love the grunge theme, too. It’s, like, there’s a theme, but it’s not there, you know? It stylizes your subjects, but doesn’t disguise them.
On our drive back to the city after the shoot had wrapped, Carl and RJ were discussing song choice—i.e., what song to incorporate in the slideshow of their engagement photos (to be played during the wedding reception). Although between the two of them they shared a couple of love songs that meant a lot to them, this time they wanted something from the country genre, in keeping with the theme. I was quick to dispense advice on the matter, just ‘cause two of the most beautiful love songs I’d ever heard in my life happened to be from that genre: the aforementioned “Standing Right Next to Me” by Karla Bonoff, from 8 Seconds (perfect, in fact, because didn’t they play it in the movie’s wedding scene?), and “I Cross My Heart” by George Strait. They’d never heard of these songs before, and I didn’t have my iPod handy, so I recited to them a couple of lines from both. Needless to say, they loved them, and Carl was quick to declare that, of the two, he liked the George Strait more. I don’t know if they ended up using either, but I sure hope they did.
Carlos Bual and Rachelle Jean Serafin | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Barili, Cebu, on November 20, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo and Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view some of Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by JingJing F. Maching | Amaranth pink floral-print cotton-blend dress with cap sleeves, black floral-print button-front prairie dress, and hunter green floral-print button-front stretch-silk shirtdress (worn as maxi cardigan), all from The Fab Grab | White tank top, Forever 21 | Swarovski-encrusted seashell stretch-jersey gala gown, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Accessories, Gracie Q
There are those who let their so-called achievements, however insignificant, get to their heads. And then there are those who, no matter the high places their career has taken them, keep their feet firmly planted in the ground. Go ahead and count the model Fretzel Buenconsejo in the latter category. Modest to a fault—i.e., to a point of being self-deprecating—and never one to attract attention to herself, she would rather talk about her humble beginnings than, say, pull out her imposing portfolio, or joke about her flaws than brag about her good looks.
Such was what went down when she showed up for the casting call for the accessories design firm Gracie Q’s spring/summer 2012 catalog shoot. I kept nudging her so she would take her portfolio out of her tote and spread it out on the table, but she just sat there, beaming, and talking about her childhood. In my mind I was thinking, What is she so scared of? Why is she not sharing her book? Had I been in her place, the portfolio would’ve been slammed against the tabletop before I could even think of sitting down, the thickness of it enough to cause a thundering BOOM!, and so there would be no need for my mouth to do the talking. When I say she’s been to high places, you see, I really mean high places: After a 6-year stint in Cebu, she’d moved to Manila sometime in the mid-2000s, and that’s when she’d reached a really prolific peak, appearing in high-profile ad campaigns for the likes of Gatorade, McDonald’s, Paradise Mango Rum Liqueur, even Pampers. Perhaps her best-known appearance was for a campaign for instant coffee behemoth Nescafé—one of my favorite stories to tell was how, standing the in Buendia station one day a couple of years back, I’d broken into goosebumps when an MRT train with Fretzel’s face (holding up a cup of coffee) plastered on its side had pulled up in front of me. I had to pull this anecdote out of my pocket that evening of the casting call because Fretzel couldn’t bring herself to do it!
Well, as it turned out, my story proved to be near useless, because all the Gracie Q team had ears for were Fretzel’s stories about growing up in a small town (Dalaguete), and about the little-girl antics that gave her this one scar on her elbow and that one scar on her knee (other girls would go to great lengths to hide their imperfections, but this girl is proud of hers!), etc. Gracie Q proprietor/head designer Grace Querickiol-Nigel was completely blown away by her modesty and sense of humor, and wasted no time in declaring, “We have found our girl! I want her for my catalog!” (And Malou Pages [of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing], who’d been commissioned to photograph the whole thing, would later recount that something about Fretzel had given her “a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside,” and that “she’s the kind of person who could tell me stories all day long while I chase her around with my camera!”) Just like that, the search was over, and the team didn’t even bother looking at the other names the list.
For what it’s worth, I knew right from the start that they were going to pick Fretzel—I just didn’t know they would pick her for her “backstory,” and that the looks factor would only come secondary. When Grace told me at the onset of this project, you see, that the collection we were shooting was “inspired by all things Cebu,” I immediately thought, They’re gonna need a very Filipina-, very Cebuana-looking model, and so I wasted no time in contacting Fretzel (perfect timing, too, ‘cause she’d just moved back to Cebu to start a new business venture with her boyfriend Jeff). It wouldn’t be until later on in the production process that I would understand the message that Grace wanted to convey via this collection: “I want to bring out the island girl in the wearer. That’s pretty much the effect I want this collection to achieve. I want the Gracie Q woman to wear these pieces and—WHAM!—she is transported to another place in time, [that place being] our beautiful island of Cebu.”
The Cebu in her mind being the Cebu she grew up in—the virgin beaches, the windy hills, the colorful “jeepneys” (and not the tall buildings that you see now). Which was why Fretzel’s stories of her childhood in a small beach town struck a chord with Grace—Fretzel’s Cebu echoed a lot of Grace’s Cebu, the Cebu that the Gracie Q team wanted the world to see. The more I think about it, now the more it makes sense to me: Of course, it was only natural that they would pick a down-to-earth girl to represent a truly down-to-earth collection. It’s a match made in heaven!
Already wrote about this a couple of months back, but it’s worth mentioning again that, yes, Fretzel did me proud on the day of the shoot, too! And I’m not just talking about how she surprised me by bringing a copy of the book Filipina: A Tribute to the Filipino Woman (2004), which included a photograph of her by the great Wig Tysmans from a shoot that I’d styled more than a decade ago (yes, I can now safely say that at least one of my works have made it into a bona fide book!). She displayed utmost professionalism, arriving 30 minutes before everybody else, moving at a bullet-like pace, helping with the styling, dispensing invaluable shooting advice (like only a seasoned model could), and just being a lynch pin—all this while winning everyone over with her sunny personality, and allotting the right amount of goofiness to keep the mood light. What we thought was going to take two days to shoot only took one day (7 hours to be exact), thanks to her!
But enough about Fretzel. Let’s talk about Gracie Q. One of the reasons this project was special to me was ‘cause it gave me the chance to work with a fashion brand “with a conscience”—not only do they teach skills and provide opportunities to people who need them the most, they are also making noble efforts to be responsible stewards of environmental conservation, taking other manufacturing firms’ scrap materials and turning them into beautiful little trinkets. It’s an admirable feat, really, and truly one worth emulating. But don’t just take my word for it. Below I have included the note that Grace wrote to accompany the catalog. Read on and you will see why Gracie Q is something you as a Cebuano can truly be proud of.
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The Gracie Q journey began five years ago when an accessories designer friend instilled a passion for craftsmanship in me. She had asked for a help and I obliged, not knowing that one afternoon in her table would spark a fire inside of me. What an exhilarating feeling to find out I could come up with things of beauty with my own bare hands! I would soon run into the need for help myself, and, as I was commissioned by an outdoor furniture manufacturing firm to conduct skills transference classes to indigents (yes, I was a livelihood coach in a past life), that was when I discovered the joy of reaching out—i.e., of teaching people some skills, and of rewarding them in the end by giving them the opportunity to make their lives better with their newfound craft. Safe to say that that was how this microenterprise was born—by marrying my thirst for creating beautiful things with my desire to help my brothers in need.
Halfway through our ride, my team and I became conscious that we were missing a very essential ingredient, and that’s when we decided to embrace a commitment to environmental sustainability. Partnering with the aforementioned outdoor furniture manufacturer, we found ways to take their scrap and leftover materials to help reinforce their zero-waste/zero-landfill policies, put these very pieces in our own depots and drawing tables, and incorporate them into our own design methodologies and end products. No easy feat, but came with a sense of gratification like no other knowing that, in our own little way, we were contributing to efforts to protect the environment and to make this planet a better place for generations to come.
After five years, and having fulfilled three very important goals—to immerse our hands in the thrills of craftsmanship, to provide meaningful opportunities to those who need it most, and to be responsible to the environment—you’d think that Gracie Q is pretty much where we want it to be, and that we could not ask for more. Tempting as it is to stop and rest on our laurels, we felt we owed it to Gracie Q to give it some semblance of a brand—in other words, to go back and zero in on our creative direction, now that our social responsibility objectives had been carried out and set in stone. We wanted Gracie Q to be more than just an “exporter” (if you come to think of it, “exporter” was no longer a fitting term, anyway, as we were starting to make our products available locally, too)—we wanted to turn it into a bona fide brand.
And so here we are today, with a new creative team at the helm. We now have people who help us make valuable branding and image decisions, forecast trends, study the market, generate design concepts, and inject a little creative discipline into our operations. Whereas for the past five years our creative process took a rather haphazard route, relying mainly on whim and hasty bursts of inspiration, we now have instruments to funnel and filter all these to make sure the resulting messages/concepts are stylish without being inconsistent, and enduring without being stagnant.
The collection that you are seeing now via the catalog that is in your hands—and, if we may add, the catalog itself—is a product of this new creative process, a process that, although very painstaking and rigid, no doubt takes Gracie Q to new heights, which is no less than the plateau that it deserves. I will admit that at first there were reservations in my part, and the whole thing proved to be too overwhelming at times, but I knew it was all worth it when I saw that it only elaborated on rather than disguised the Gracie Q aesthetic. Think of it as a makeover of sorts. The same old Gracie Q, only this time with more discipline, more structure, and, consequently, more substance! People ask me, “But isn’t it like you’re starting over again?” Which was precisely the point. The walls have been built—the skills, the dedication to help others, the commitment to protect the planet—and so now it was time to go back to the foundation and strengthen it. It really is like coming full circle. A lot like coming home!
Speaking of coming home, that was exactly what we had in mind when we were designing this new collection. In the past, you see, we’d looked literally everywhere for inspiration—e.g., a certain collection would evoke a bit of Paris here, a little New York there, etc., as a result of me trying to encapsulate all my travel memories into one receptacle—and that’s probably why we’d never had a “structured” collection, ‘cause our references were too varied! This time, though, we decided to look at just one place—and we decided for it to be a tropical island paradise. Why? How? Well, it all started when we were thinking of a muse. What type of woman did we want to see these pieces on? Who did we want to design for? The quirky cool London woman who lived for Glastonbury, like, say, Kate Moss? The sophisticated yet mischievous Manhattanite editor who loved to hit the shooting ranges during her downtime, like Helen Lee Schifter? The preternaturally leggy Czech whose, as the song goes, “hair was Harlow gold,” like Karolina Kurkova? It was tremendously difficult having to pick just one woman when we wanted to do them all! And then it struck us: What did all these women have in common? We recalled a series of photographs of Ms. Moss kicking it at a beach in Phuket. Dug up images of the regal Ms. Schifter unwinding at St. Barth’s. Paparazzi shots of Ms. Kurkova in Ipanema. All of which led to the conclusion that, no matter what type of woman you were, and wherever in the world you were from, you were always going to be an island girl at heart. That’s how we came up with the idea of island-inspired pieces. And where better to look for inspiration than in our own backyard? Yes, to those of you who are not aware, Gracie Q was born and raised in an island paradise—that’s the island of Cebu to you.
Dubbed “Paradiso,” this collection boasts of hues inspired by our cool blue waters and, well, some of their creatures (the neon damselfish of Sumilon had a shade of blue that proved too irresistible), gradients that evoke breathtaking sunsets seen from a Lapu-Lapu beachfront, and textures that recall, say, afternoon hikes up the bucolic flower-growing hills of Busay. We have chandelier neckpieces that allude to Sinulog festival costumes, patterns borrowed from hand-painted native guitars, finishes that pay proper tribute the ever-vibrant “jeepneys” that roam our streets. But perhaps the most Cebuano of the bunch—our pièces de résistance, so to speak—are those pieces with accents inspired by the pusô, a native dish in which rice is cooked in a diamond-shaped packet made of woven coconut leaves. Really, when these little accents jingle-jangle around your wrists or against your collar, what other place on earth comes to mind? (What’s more, they are made from scraps of the material used to create hand-woven chairs—stylish and sustainable!)
Of course, there is one thing more Cebuano than even the pusô. 10 years ago I read a passage in a local magazine that said something to the effect of: “Few things are as redolent of that classic Cebu charm as…the Cebuana smile.” How very true! When I am in a different city or country and I see a Filipina woman smile in a way that makes my heart skip a beat, I immediately think, “This woman is Cebuana”—and almost always I am proven right! That was exactly what I had in mind when we were scouting for a face to represent this collection and grace this catalog. When the model Fretzel Buenconsejo stepped into our offices for the casting call, with a smile as warm as an island breeze, we knew right then and there she was exactly who we were looking for. Fretzel is the quintessential island girl—grew up riding bikes along the coastal roads of Dalaguete (a beachfront town some 50 miles southwest of Cebu City), a sucker for seafood and tropical fruit, and proud of her skin, which happens to be the color of brown sugar. She’s the kind of girl whose laughter tells stories of endless summers, whose laid-back, unassuming nature reminds you of sweet little siestas, and whose zest for life has that characteristic tang of a tropical fruit juice. In other words, she’s the kind of girl we hope every woman transforms into once they slip on a piece or two from this collection.
On behalf of the Gracie Q team, allow me welcome you to our island home. As one famous line from a movie goes, “Trust me, it’s paradise.” And we’re glad we have the chance to bring out the island girl in you and make you look the part.
Fretzel Buenconsejo for Gracie Q | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, on November 19, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo for Calography (click here to view some of Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by Joe Branzuela | Special thanks to Jeff Enecio and Vanity Salinana | Maya blue/grey unishoulder drape goddess dress, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Orange red/sienna/carrot striped top, Forever 21 | White jersey multi-way dress, EJ Relampagos | Persian green/lime floral-print silk chiffon kaftan with Indian silk trimming, Kate Torralba | Cyan/chartreuse zebra-print cotton/jersey blend keyhole-neck floor-length kaftan, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Black strapless corset minidress, EJ Relampagos | Strapped wooden wedge sandals, Shandar
How popular are Oyo Sotto and Kristine Hermosa’s engagement photos (by the great Nelwin Uy) to the just-got-engaged/to-be-hitched set these days? I swear, I must have had four or five couples come up to me and gush about them. And who can blame them, really? I myself (and I am not getting engaged or married ever) can’t stop thinking about, say, that scarlet flamenco-inspired bell-sleeved lace dress that Ms. Hermosa wore in one of the sets, or how ruggedly handsome Oyo looked (or, could it be the fact that some of the photos involved horses was what made me giddy like that?). Chito Delavin and Tuesday Cuizon were no exception. In fact, they took their fascination to a whole new level—whereas other couples would just mention it in passing, the Oyo and Kristine photos were all Chito and Tuesday could talk about. And then it happened: they declared that that was the kind of theme they wanted for their own engagement photos.
My first impulse was to talk them out of it, because I seemed to know that there was no way anyone could top those now-semi-iconic photos. “I’m not that good!” I laughed, before proceeding to explain that Oyo and Kristine’s photos didn’t really have a particular theme—i.e., it was an eclectic mix of themes that was put into play, what with the abovementioned scarlet flamenco-style dress paired with Oyo’s mismatched plaid ensemble, a touch of neo-boheme here and there, plus some elements of folk, urbanite, even cowboy. Thankfully, Tuesday said she didn’t want an exact copy of each and every outfit—she just wanted the “playful feel” of it all. “Like little kids playing dress-up.” I loved her take on it. Just like that, a sigh of relief.
Not to say my nerves were completely out the window. I had every reason to be nervous about this assignment. You are going to laugh at this, but I’ve got to come clean that the nonlinear theme and eclectic mix-and-matching are no strong suits of mine—what I’m good at is finding one formula per shoot, and sticking to it. Over the years, when the occasion called for something eclectic, I would be quick to turn and pass the ball to my fellow stylist Meyen Baguio, who (and I talked about this in a previous post) was more able in this department than I could ever be. Unfortunately, Meyen had moved to Manila shortly after our collaboration for the Shandar catalog some six months back, and she wasn’t coming home anytime soon! I wasn’t completely out of luck, though: Meyen’s 14-year-old niece Mickey was still in town and wasn’t going anywhere!
I talked about Mickey in a bunch of previous posts. She’s an aspiring makeup artist whose idols include the celebrated Romero Vergara, and who loves to drown herself in Kevyn Aucoin and Bobbi Brown books (while all the other kids her age are reading, say, Harry Potter). Very recently, styling lured her interest, too, which was only natural considering she rarely stumbles upon dull fashion sense, having been raised by a grandmother and a mom who loved clothes, and by Meyen who was practically making a living off of it. The little girl had in fact lent a hand during one sitting for the Shandar catalog, and so now that I was in another styling dilemma and her aunt wasn’t around I knew that my best bet would be to call her for some input.
Needless to say, that turned out to be the best decision I’d ever made for this particular project, and so was asking her to tag along on the day of the shoot. It was I who brought the clothes, yes, but it was Mickey who put this and that together, and who called the shots in the footwear, legwear and accessories departments. The resulting outfits? Well, perhaps not as over-the-top stylish as Oyo and Kristine’s, but they were nothing short of whimsical. I guess that right there is the advantage of having an extra pair of eyes that’s fresher and younger—had I been on my own that day I don’t think I would’ve been able to produce the same results, owing to the fact that I tend to overthink rules. Moral of the story: Who best to recreate a “kids playing dress-up” picture than, well, a kid herself? (Although I really should stop calling her a kid—she’s in her mid-teens now and seems to be growing an inch or two a month!)
We were going to shoot at a traveling carnival, at the suggestion of Paul Calo (of Calography), and that had gotten me real stoked. Can’t remember if it was ‘cause we weren’t able to pull some strings or ‘cause we just couldn’t find the damn place (ironically, in this part of the world, the traveling carnival is not an easy part of town to find), but that plan got axed, and so we settled for second best: a little fishing village somewhere in Cordova, some four miles southwest of Lapu-Lapu City, and we also managed to stop at an abandoned building along the way. Turned out to be alright, because these places were so full of texture, but to this day I can’t stop thinking about the carnival idea, you know? How perfect that would’ve been, right, for a “child’s play” theme? Well, there are always other shoots.
Speaking of “child’s play,” it helped a great deal that our subjects were quick to slip into character once it was time to face the cameras. Pretty awesome, because during our first meeting only two or three weeks back they’d come off as the quiet, serious types, and here they were now, hauling out some crazy, goofy, childish stuff. Well, at first Chito was still kind of shy, but that was alright because it was exactly the kind of shyness that made him smile like a bashful little schoolboy, you know? As for Tuesday, who’d claimed earlier that she wasn’t at all camera shy, that day she learned that, funnily enough, she was still capable of blushing like a schoolgirl—you should’ve seen the way she giggled every time Chito put his arms around her or leaned forward to kiss her! It was refreshing to see them all grown up one day, and then act like little kids falling in love for the first time the next. It made me happy when Tuesday declared that this shoot sort of gave them a chance to relive their younger days, a time that was special to them because, well, that was when they’d fallen in love (they’d been dating since high school!). I could attribute it to the clothes, or even those colorful balloons, but, really, it was their childlike chemistry that made the whole thing such an exhilarating picture to paint. It was like we were shooting a modern-day fairy tale! Apparently, Frank Sinatra was right when he sang, “It can happen to you/ If you’re young at heart…”
Chito Delavin and Tuesday Cuizon | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Lapu-Lapu City and Cordova, Cebu, on November 13, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand and Charisse Calo for Calography | Makeup by Owen Taboada | Hair by Nan Castillo | Styling assistant: Mikaela Baguio | Vanilla crochet and lace gala gown, Philipp Tampus | Eggshell lace shirt, amber cotton chintz skirt, hyperfloral babydoll dress with bishop-style sleeves, all from The Fab Grab | Vintage wash denim jacket, multicolor mesh scarf, stylist’s own | Strapped wooden wedge sandals, Shandar | Flannel shirt, American Eagle Outfitters | Digi houndstooth-print dress shirt, Uniqlo | Chocolate brown blazer, Maldita Men | Plaid shorts and Madras shorts, Old Navy | Solid black men’s silk tie, Springfield UP by Springfield | Red and white plimsolls, Springfield
Don’t you just love those New York Girls? I know I do. And I’m not just talking about those who have made me want to sing, “At the risk of sounding cheesy/ I think I fell for the girl on TV”—like the fictional but fabulous Carrie Bradshaw, for example, or the very real but too good to be true Olivia Palermo. I’m talking about the, um, regular girls, too: like the Lou Doillon look-alike who stood beside me at the Garment District Pret A Manger, and who ordered nothing but sparkling water for lunch; or, like the girls I bumped into at the Time Square Starbucks, cradling Caramel Macchiatos in one arm and a pile of fashion magazines in the other; or, like the middle-aged woman and her Chihuahua that I ran into near the Christopher St. station, who wore matching granny-style crocheted wool square ponchos; or, like the cool mom who grows her own vegetables in her Brooklyn backyard during the day, and at night squeezes her way through throngs of sweaty rock fans at Terminal 5 to watch Nine Inch Nails live in concert (I’m talking about my friend Anne); or, like the little girl who likes to refer to the Brooklyn Bridge as “the bridge from the princess movie” (Anne’s daughter Ellis, named after Ellis Island, and, yes, she is talking about the movie Enchanted). Yes, there is a certain kind of magic when you are looking at, talking to, or just simply being around a New York girl. It gives you a certain kind of thrill—something about the exuberance of their unrestrained actions, their whimsical wits. Inevitably, you find it extremely hard to keep your jaw from dropping.
One such jaw-dropping moment happened to me a couple of months back when we were photographing the New York-based Cebuana transplant Cherry de Dios and her groom-to-be Chris Beck. They’d just flown in from the Big Apple, decided to do a quick stopover in Cebu to see family—and to have their engagement photos taken—before proceeding to tie the knot in Ormoc City, Leyte. We were at some farm up the mountains in Carmen (some two hours northeast of Cebu City), and I was inside this quaint little cabin helping Cherry sort their outfits while watching her do her own makeup. She’d elected not to hire a makeup artist for the occasion: “For the actual wedding I’m going to have a makeup artist, of course,” she said (and she was talking about my friend Sheila On, who did the makeup for my very first solo shoot months back—what a small world!), “but for now I just want to look like me, you know? I don’t want to look like somebody else in these pictures.” At first I was skeptical about this decision of hers, but in no time she proved me wrong. And by no time, I mean, well, no time—she spent only 20 seconds penciling her brows, another 20 applying eyeliner, and then 10 seconds glossing her lips, and then another 10 combing her hair with her fingers! “You just gave new meaning to ‘in a New York minute!’” I exclaimed in awe. To which she just winked and said, “Exactly!” She knew what she wanted, she worked on it herself, and she worked on it fast. The very essence of a modern New York girl.
Asked why they’d chosen to have their engagement photos taken here when they could’ve done it in New York City (I was imagining Bow Bridge at Central Park, or those pretty little West Village sidewalks!), she said, “I thought about it, but it was Chris who said he wanted to do it here.” By here, she meant this very farm where we were at right now. Turned out the fiancé had fallen absolutely in love with the place when they’d first visited a little over a year back. And who could blame him? I looked around me and asked myself, what was not to love about this place? Towering pine trees, windswept shrubs, pretty little hiking trails—it was like we were in Baguio! Plus, stand on the porch of the main cabin and look east and you get a breathtaking view of Camotes Island (or, is it Leyte?). My favorite part would have to be how there were these charming little makeshift birdhouses atop each of the pine trees—and they weren’t there for decorative purposes; little birdies actually inhabited them! How was it possible that a place like this existed in this part of the country? Well, made possible in part by Cherry’s sister Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who took her predilection for all things countryside and bucolic to create the ultimate vacation home for when she and her family needed to shy away from the city life.
That was it! It was the perfect retreat from the frenetic pace of their big city lives! That was why Chris loved it here! I was watching him as he walked around the place, took deep breaths and blinked dreamily at every little thing he laid his eyes on. And it looked like that was all he wanted to do all day—soak up the beauty of the place—and it got to a point it was almost too embarrassing to ask him to stop what he was doing so we could start photographing them!
It would later turn out that this place wasn’t the only thing Chris loved about the Philippines. When it was time for lunch, served semi-al fresco style—i.e., at the porch—he was more excited than everyone else was about the food. It was an all-Filipino fare that Cherry’s sister had whipped up, and Chris attacked the table with much gusto. And when it came to conversations, both while in front of the cameras and in between sets, he displayed a heady kind of sensitivity towards breaking the language barrier, trying as best he could to speak in Cebuano. It almost embarrassed me when I told the team to “be sure to speak only English when he’s around, ‘cause he might get the wrong idea,” and Cherry was quick to disabuse me of such notion, saying that Chris was actually semi-fluent in Cebuano, and was passionate about learning the language more! And what a romantic way of reconciling their greatest difference, right? This was probably one of the reasons why Cherry knew Chris was the one.
As for what made Chris know Cherry was the one for him… Well, no one needed to ask, either. August can be a pretty sticky, sweaty proposition in this part of the world, especially when you’re running around outdoors—and, yes, even when it’s atop the mountains where the breeze is somewhat cool. This was why I was kind of hesitant at first about making her do the things we wanted her to do in front of the cameras. I mean, this was a New York girl we were talking about here—what was she going to think if we asked her to, say, remove her Calvin Klein strappy sandals, tread barefoot on prickly, rocky terrain, and chase the farm animals around? To our surprise, she obliged, and even managed to laugh about it. When we asked her to jump into the freshwater pool—you know, like, really jump, in order to make a huge splash—she winced at first, saying she’d never done anything like it before, but she rolled up her sleeves and went for it anyway. Such a cowgirl, I know! You should’ve seen the look in Chris’s eyes as he watched his wife-to-be do all these crazy antic—it was like he was getting more and more smitten every minute! Emerging from the pool, all flushed from her feat, she chuckled, to thundering applause from her family (her mother and her brothers and sisters, who’d decided to tag along for this session), “You see, these people are never going to let me live that down!” And then she jumped back into the water, proving that, to borrow a line from Ms. Bradshaw, “city girls and just country girls—with cuter outfits.”
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Apologies for the delay in posting these photos. No, I didn’t misplace them. I just had to wait ‘til the couple returned from their month-long (actually, I think it was more than a month) honeymoon in Italy before seeking their permission. I seem to know it’s kind of impolite to interrupt anyone who’s on a Roman holiday, for whatever reason.
This was my first session as apprentice at Shutterfairy Photography, by the way. I didn’t take a lot of photos—I think I only took a little over 400—because I was too busy observing my mentor Malou Pages (and “second shooter” Charisse Calo, of Calography) at work. Couple of things I learned that day:
- Organize and clean your equipment the day before a shoot—not in the car on the way to the job, and especially not at the eleventh hour when your subjects are already getting ready to step in front of you. I must’ve wasted about 20 minutes and was only able to take 10 or so shots during the first set because I was still busy dusting my camera and my lenses while Malou and Charisse started clicking away.
- Just because your subjects ask for breaks in between sets doesn’t mean you have to take a break, too. You have to be in the moment, all of the time! Look around you and take as many detail shots as possible—of a flower, a farm animal, or whatever else catches your eye.
- Always carry your mood board around with you. I had brought mine to this shoot, but left it inside my bag, which I left inside the cabin the whole time we were outside shooting. Clumsy, right? I mean, what’s the use of a mood board when it’s just gonna sit in the dark? Malou saved her boards in her iPad (she’s techie like that), which she carries around with her to every nook and cranny, so it’s easy for her to check back on them when she feels she is straying from her vision and she needs to be pulled back in track.
- Strike up casual conversations with your subjects while you are taking pictures of them. When photographing people you’ve just met, you see, there is a tendency for us to appear, um, serious, and to keep our mouths shut, in an effort, I guess, to look professional and all. As it turns out: Stiff photographer equals stiff subjects, and the whole thing comes out very unnatural! I loved that Malou asked Chris and Cherry all kinds of questions while she was clicking away, even exchanged jokes with them. I was quick to adapt this style, especially upon seeing the effect it had on the subjects—they became more relaxed, to a point they forgot they were in front of the cameras. Cherry and I exchanged stories about our favorite spots in the West Village (including the world-famous Magnolia Bakery), and in no time we became, like, kindred spirits. I hope these photos show that happening.
Christian Thomas Beck and Joan Grace “Cherry” de Dios | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Carmen, Cebu, on August 17, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo for Calography (click here to view Malou’s photos, and here for Charisse’s)
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.
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