“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.”
So wrote the celebrated American travel writer and fictionist Paul Theroux in The Washington Post (date unknown), in an effort to debunk the myth that the act of traveling was a sophisticated one—having journeyed through Asia by train for four or so months, and having lived to tell of it in his Dickensian account The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia (1975), he was exactly in the position to dispense pragmatic advice on the matter, to put it on record that the act of traveling per se could sometimes turn out to be downright unpleasant, and that the whole thing was only delightful after the fact, when it was time to look back on it.
As a stylist, however, my worldview is somewhat limited to the business of image and image-making, and so I have a different way of interpreting that statement (which many now consider to be an adage)—I read it, and, to me, with apologies to Theroux, it means that travel was only chic back in the day. (Retrospect: Consideration of past times.) I mean, think Jackie Kennedy cruising down Lake Pichola in Udaipur, India (March of 1962) in an apricot silk zibeline dress with bow detail by Oleg Cassini, with white gloves and a three-tier pearl necklace; or, visiting the Parthenon in Athens (June of 1961) in a denim-blue linen sheath by Norman Norell, with a singular statement brooch on her left shoulder and, well, her signature pearl necklace. Who does that anymore? I look at all these modern celebrities’ travel/vacation photos, and, I don’t know, they’re just blah. I still cannot for the life of me figure out, say, that photo of Elton John at a beach in Nice, France, in which he’s wearing a swine-print T-shirt, hibiscus-print surf jams, and Adidas Superstars! Then again, maybe I’m just jaded. Or, perhaps I’m just partial to what elegance stood for in the past versus what it stands for now?
Not everyone, of course, is going to agree with me on that, and not all of those who do are going to want to demonstrate the idea with me—but I was lucky enough to have found two people who not only shared the same view as I did on the matter, but who were also willing to translate it into pictures!
When Sheryl Guzman and Rey Dauz told me that the overall theme they wanted for their engagement photo sitting was “vintage travel,” I was so psyched I almost fell off of my chair! I remember sending a text message to Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy, who was going to be the main photographer) that “You are going to love this!” I didn’t know what inspired the couple to come up with the concept, and didn’t even care to ask. Perhaps it was a compromise of sorts? Like, of Sheryl’s love of all things vintage and Rey’s love of travel, maybe? Who knew? All I knew was that it was unique, it didn’t make me want to roll my eyes and think, Paging Captain Obvious!, and it got me excited thinking that, again, I had been blessed with clients who were on the same page as I was!
If you’re still not convinced that the stars aligned nicely for me (and them!) that day of our first meeting, consider this: When Sheryl opened her mouth to tell me about how the fiancé had discovered a couple of spots in Bogo and Medellin (some 3 ½ hours north of Cebu City) where there were rail tracks and old locomotive parts scattered everywhere (albeit in various states of decrepitude, once part of an extensive private railway system that belonged to a local sugar milling company), I looked inside my duffel bag and saw that I happened to be toting my copy of the February 2010 issue of American Vogue, which contained a portfolio by Annie Leibovitz called “Brief Encounter,” starring Diddy and the model Natalia Vodianova as passengers on a train, inspired by Diddy’s latest album Last Train to Paris! I showed her the spread, and she, too, fell in love with the ingenious mix of elements of ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s fashion—from post-WWII peplum jackets and pencil skirts to Mad Men-style wool tweed coats/suits—all in moody, earthy colors. Without a minute’s delay, she asked me to tack the whole thing against our mood board.
Of course, that only covered the land travel part of it. We still had to work on a sea travel set, and an air travel set. Sea travel, easy as 1-2-3—I mean, wasn’t nautical sort of like my specialty, after having mastered it during my second solo shoot some 7 months back? When Sheryl said she wanted this particular set to be shot at a wharf, or, if possible, aboard a yacht, I convinced her to think Diana, Princess of Wales, on holiday with Dodi Fayed in the French/Italian Riviera aboard the Jonikal. Not exactly vintage, yes, but classic. She agreed, so immediately I mentally updated my board with that one photo of the Princess in un maillot de bain une pièce turquoise. For the air travel set, though, we were kind of torn: I wanted to reference Amelia Earhart, something I’d been wanting to do for a long time now, but she was kind of partial towards the PanAm stewardess look, or something that was inspired by it—“Kind of like one of the outfits [that the model Cielo Ramirez wore] in the Shandar Shoes catalog,” she cited. I told her it was me who’d photographed the Shandar catalog (and my friend Meyen Baguio who’d styled it), and I wasn’t really in the mood to reuse something that had been done very recently. She countered that Amelia Earhart wasn’t really someone she looked up to sartorially. We made a deal to include both in the mood board, and just deliberate on the days leading to the shoot.
On the topic of scheduling, we decided to break the whole thing into two sessions—I seemed to know it would be quite a stretch to leave for Bogo/Medellin for the train set, and then drive back to city for the two other sets. And because we wanted to make the three-hour ride up north on day one to be worth it, we decided to squeeze two bonus sets into the agenda: a garden tea set and an outdoor vanity table set. At first Sheryl and Rey couldn’t place how these fit into the travel theme, but I convinced them by saying, “Think of it as recreating a place that’s your own world,” repurposing a line from a Gwen Stefani song. They liked it, of course. (Haven’t you heard? As far as sales pitches go, mine are pretty legendary. Ha.)
Only slightly more enjoyable than putting the mood board together was getting to work in sourcing the items. Finally, here were clients who gave their one hundred percent when it came to this department, instead of, you know, sitting back and watching me do all the dirty work! I tell you, nothing whets my creative appetite more than clients who put enthusiasm and effort into the behind-the-scenes work. Sheryl was particularly diligent, and, when the going got a little tough, very tenacious. I gave her a list of 50 things to prepare or look for, she came back to me with a hundred things—swear to God, it was as if she’d been born with a to-do list in her hands! When I asked her to meet me two weeks before the shoot so she could show me the clothes she’d been able to dig up, imagine my surprise when I saw three huge suitcases! Such a cowgirl, too—some people flinch at the idea of going to the thrift stores/flea market, but when I asked Sheryl to come with me so we could shop for the items that weren’t already in her closet she was totally down for it!
I loved the looks we were able to put together for Sheryl. For the daytime train/railroad set we picked a ‘60s-style brown and ivory wool tweed crop jacket, over a beige sheath dress, some pearls, and a pair of ‘40s-style bistre fringe T-bar sandals (we’d considered gloves, but decided against it the last minute ‘cause we didn’t want the whole look to be too era-specific). For the nighttime train/railroad set, a barn red sheath dress and a slightly oversize camel trench coat, with nude pumps. For the boating/shipyard set, because we couldn’t find a turquoise maillot à la Princess Diana, we settled for this gorgeous halterneck romper—which looked like a ‘50s-style bathing suit from afar—in beige, copper and black brocade, something that Sheryl’s friend Sol Congmon had unearthed (in her mom’s closet, perhaps), plus a wide-brimmed straw hat and black spectator pumps (people are gonna argue that beige, copper and black make up an unlikely palette for a nautical-inspired look, but I’m going to disabuse you of that notion: think the Princess lounging in Barbuda in April of 1997 in a black sleeveless top and khaki cigarette pants, or, better yet, think Chanel’s cruise 2012 collection, in which beige and black were the predominant colors!). For the plane/hangar set, I was able to talk Sheryl into going for the Amelia Earhart-inspired look after all—it was a great excuse for her to infuse some pants and a pair of knee-high boots into her otherwise all-dress wardrobe, and plus I figured a kickass olive, hunter green and black L.A.M.B. by Gwen Stefani bomber jacket did not deserve to be punished just ‘cause a certain cultural behemoth wasn’t exactly on the list of heroines she looked up to (she would end up loving the resulting pictures, of course!). For the afternoon tea set, I had her wear a ‘70s-style chestnut tie-neck secretary dress that I’d snatched from The Fab Grab—at first I thought it was too, um, old-looking, but once Sheryl slipped it on it just lost its grandmotherly connotations. Finally, for the outdoor vanity set, I wanted something that looked regal and effortless at the same time—I was in love with the idea of an updated tea gown—and after fittings here and there Sheryl and I finally agreed to settle on this delectable cosmic latte draped silk tulle gala gown that was on display in the designer Protacio Empaces Jr.’s shop window—it was just too perfect for words!
As for the props, I’d thought we’d already had too much on our list, but, as it turned out, for a guy like Rey, too much was never enough—on our first day of shooting we had to commission a second pickup truck to help carry all our stuff! Unbeknownst to me, Rey had spent days digging through his parents’ old stuff for articles which he deemed still retained their cool quotient—vinyl records, an antique-looking typewriter, even dusty old paperbacks! Everything looked so carefully curated, it led me to believe it was him who put the “vintage” in “vintage travel,” after all, and it was Sheryl who put the “travel!” I particularly loved how the vintage cameras that he brought with him—circa mid-‘60s Yashicas—added a nice touch to the afternoon tea set, giving it a kind of “tourister” feel. Oh, and did I mention he also brought his Yamaha Vino on the second day, and so we had to make room for an extra set? At the sight of it my mind was flooded with scenes from The Talented Mr. Ripley, and images from this one spread in the September 2010 American Vogue called “My Generation” that featured Vodianova in ‘60s-style scooter girl looks and something that looked like a Vespa. Thank God Sheryl was ready with an extra dress in the shape of a ‘50s-style black-and-white polka-dot halterneck full-skirt number—it was just what a scooter set needed!
I loved that it was a big crew that I got to work with on this project—totally discredits the tired old rule that “the more people you’re working with, the less focused you become” (I wrote about this in a previous post). Aside from Malou and I, there was Paul Calo of Calography, and, boy, was I glad he was there because from him I got the much needed push for me to try my hand at strobing, something I’d thought I was never going to get around doing in my first year of taking pictures (I didn’t get a chance to take photos during the evening train/railroad set because I was saddled with the unglamorous task of holding up one of the Speedlights, but Paul made sure I didn’t miss the chance of taking a couple of shots during the plane/hangar set). We also had the videographer Marlowe Guinto with us, whose heavy-duty equipment were all over the place, but that was alright because I also got to learn a lot of things from him, like different angles I’d never thought were possible, panning, and the value of always moving around. And, of course, always a pleasure to work with the ever-effervescent makeup artist Ramil Solis—not only was he indulgent of my whims to change Sheryl’s hairstyle every two or so hours, he (and his assistants) also helped keep things light by making us laugh.
But the real joy to work with, of course, were our subjects. I kept telling Malou, “Don’t you wish all our couples were like them?” Not only were they game, inventive, and very involved in every aspect of the shoot, and not only did they have impeccable taste, they were also very patient, allowed us to take our sweet time, and were very attentive to our needs. Of course, it was a plus, too, that they both had killer good looks and that they knew how to make love to the camera (Sheryl was particularly good in this department, being an erstwhile model and all). And their chemistry? Amazing doesn’t even begin to cut it. We didn’t have to tell them, say, how to look at each other—they just clicked, and all we had to do was, well, click, click, click! Even off camera they were very sweet—every exchange of words was punctuated with “Sweetheart”—it was as if they’d only met yesterday.
I couldn’t make it to their wedding, but once I saw Malou’s photos and Marlowe’s video, I was, like, Wow. Rey looked dashing in a two-tone beige-and-black tuxedo suit by Edwin Ao, and Sheryl emerged as sort of a throwback to the era of the Grace Kelly bridal style, what with her satin chalice and Chantilly lace long-sleeved serpentina dress by, well, Protacio Empaces, Jr., and her hair sleeked back into a delicate chignon. Of course, in classic Rey fashion, he arrived at the chapel in a vintage-looking big bike, and after the ceremony whisked his bride away in a circa ‘70s Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet. As if all this eye candy wasn’t enough, the couple surprised themselves by exchanging vows that were equally sugary. “From the moment I first saw you,” Rey recited breathlessly, “I knew you were the one I wanted to share my life with… Because of you, I have learned to live, laugh and love again.” To which Sheryl replied, “The wait is finally over, as [God] has given me just what I’ve been looking for: A precious gift that never gets tired of giving; a man who puts God on top of everything; my high school crush who now defines my forever…”
Something gives me the feeling that this is not the end, but only the beginning of one very exciting journey for them, and that wherever life leads them—whether it be via train, boat, plane, or, well, scooter—it is always going to end in whispering words of forever…and then a new journey begins. After all, as a friend puts it, love, like travel, “is a vicious circle,” really. To borrow a line from the music writer Michael Shapiro’s review of The B-52s’ “Roam,” the quintessential paean to the art of “busting boundaries:” every “trip begins—and, in the best cases, ends—‘with a kiss.’”
Rey Dauz and Sheryl Guzman | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Bogo and Medellin, Cebu, on October 30, 2011, and in Liloan, Cebu, and Lapu-Lapu City, Mactan, on November 6, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view Malou’s photos, and here for Pauls’s) | Hair and makeup by Ramil Solis (to book Ramil, click here) | Hair and makeup assistant: Hyatt Ortega | Special thanks to Sol Congmon, Gayle Urgello and the staff of Busay Air | Cosmic latte draped silk tulle gala gown, Protacio Empaces, Jr. | ‘70s-style chestnut tie-front secretary dress, The Fab Grab | Olive, hunter green and black bomber jacket, L.A.M.B. by Gwen Stefani | Black cigarette pants, Protacio Empaces, Jr. | Two-tone bole and desert sand safari jacket, Edwin Ao | Bole felt pants, Edwin Ao | Antique wooden suitcases, Casa Mella
In my mood board (see below) Clockwise from top left: Diddy and Natalia Vodianova photographed by Annie Liebovitz for the February 2010 issue of American Vogue; Diana, Princess of Wales, lounging in Barbuda (April 1997), photo from the August 23, 1999, issue of PEOPLE; Diana and Dodi Fayed aboard the Jonikal, circa July/August 1997, photo from lisawallerrogers.wordpress.com; a look from the Chanel cruise 2012 runway on model Natasha Poly; Natalia Vodianova photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for the September 2011 issue of American Vogue; I was obsessed about nude-colored turn-of-the-century tea dresses for a while, like these ones by Jacques Doucet (silk and linen, circa 1907) and Liberty of London (silk, circa 1885), photos from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Website; looks from Hermès’s aviatrix-inspired fall 2009 ready-to-wear collection, on models Constance Jablonski and Raquel Zimmerman, photographed by Monica Feudi and Gianni Pucci; Angelika Kocheva photographed by Giuliano Bekor for an Amelia Earhart-inspired fashion spread in the October 2009 issue of Marie Claire Romania.
16-January-2012 | Categories: Couples | Tags: Airfield, Airplane, Apprenticeship, Bogo, Calography, Casa Mella, Cebu, Cebu Designers, Cebu Models, Couples, Edwin Ao, Engagements, Garden, Gayle Urgello, Hangar, Jackie Kennedy, Lapu-Lapu, Liloan, Love Stories, Malou Pages, Marlowe Guinto, Medellin, Mood Board, Natalia Vodianova, Nautical, Photography, Princess Diana, Protacio Empaces, Railroad, Ramil Solis, Road Trip, Set Decorating, Shandar, Shutterfairy, Strobist, Tea, Teacups, Teatime, The Fab Grab, Train, Travel, Vintage Cars, Vintage Suitcases, Vintage Travel, Volkswagen, Yacht | 9 Comments »
Only a few months into this whole blogging thing, and already I’ve been a delinquent. Yes, some of you might have noticed that I didn’t have a journal entry for last month (October). And I’d promised I was going to do it every month! Shame. I can assure you, though, that it wasn’t out of plain laziness. If anything, it was quite the opposite. It was a very busy month at the office, and so I had to give two hundred percent at work.
Yes, as few of you might know, I do have a 9 to 5. This whole photography and styling thing, I only do during weekends. It’s tough having two jobs. My friends ridicule me for always being busy: “Two jobs, but no social life? No thanks!” one of them quipped at one point. But I love being busy! It kind of gets boring—nay, nauseating—when I’m idle. And it’s not even about the money, too. Always I tell, say, my brother, you know, that money is good, but at the end of the day it’s good old-fashioned hard work that makes you to sleep like a baby at night.
I am in love with both jobs. A little too much, in fact, that I had no trouble saying goodbye to my social life in favor of them! But between the two I have to prioritize my 9 to 5—it is, after all, what puts food on the table, and it is what sends my brother to school everyday. So you have to forgive me if I become delinquent in updating this blog right here—it only means everything’s in full swing at my other job. I may be a show pony when it comes to photo shoots and all, but I’m a work horse when it comes to my 9 to 5.
* * * * * * * * *
Speaking of ponies and horses, I was lucky enough to be part of two shoots that involved a couple of them this month.
My mentors Malou Pages-Solomon (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing) and Paul and Charisse Calo (of Calography) were commissioned to do the engagement photos of Carl Bual and RJ Serafin (01-05), and they asked me to style the thing. Of course, I said yes! Especially after they mentioned horses.
The groom-to-be is a veterinary sales rep, and grew up in Bukidnon surrounded by horses, and so it was only natural that he would ask for an equine-related concept for their engagement shoot. The original plan was to do it in some ranch in his hometown of Bukidnon, but it couldn’t be done due to scheduling conflicts. And so we had to settle for something closer. Thankfully, Carl’s veterinarian friend Marlo Causin (02, 03), who also happens to be an equestrian, allowed us to shoot at his fishing pond in Barili (some hour and a half southwest of Cebu City) which also served as a ranch that housed three of his babies: Sabina (01, 02), named such because she looked like a sabino-white, her daughter Venus, and a strapping stallion named Bravo (03).
We could only use Sabina for the photos because Venus was kind of in a foul mood and thus had to be kept at bay, and Bravo had a nasty cut in his right pastern, but that was alright because Sabina by herself was already very, um, majestic. I made the couple wear shades of pink for their set with Sabina to make them stand out (01), only to realize later that the mare would end up being the star anyway no matter what I made them wear—what a beauty! So well-behaved, too, as if she knew she was being photographed.
I also loved how there was horse fencing along the road that lead to the Causin property (04, 05). I had to ask for a set to be done in that area, to make everything look authentic! Save for the palm trees, the whole scene took me back to my visits to Kentucky in the last couple of years. Nice to know there’s charming country roads in this part of the world!
Malou has not uploaded her photos from that session yet, but, here, you may view Paul and Charisse’s set by visiting the Calography Facebook page.
The second shoot that involved horses was something that I did solo. After more than a year of promising my cousin Amanda Liok that I was going to visit her in her new home in Palompon, Leyte, and photograph her and her daughter and, well, their horses, I finally got around to do it last Sunday, November 27 (06-10).
Up until that day, I’d never seen their horses in the flesh, although I’d memorized their names by heart. Always I’d been obsessed with horse names, and Amanda had given some of the prettiest to her, um, brood: Salsa (08), Moondance (10), Chili, Ginger, Ola, Baila and Sol (09). It was so nice to be finally able to put faces to these charming names!
It was Moondance that we used for the shoot because she was the most mild-mannered of them all that day. Amanda also favored her because she knew her strawberry roan would look gorgeous in pictures, and was she right—against the vegetation her chestnut coat looked dazzling.
For her daughter Mia’s photos Amanda chose to include the newest addition to their family: an adorable miniature horse named Iris (06). All these years she’d been wanting to get Mia a mini, and it had finally materialized! (Actually, the little girl got not just one but two minis—the other was named Barrack, although we couldn’t take pictures of him because he was in a funk that day).
Can you imagine how much fun this all was for me? For months I’d been praying to be able to photograph horses up close, and here I was actually doing it! Right now, of course, the photos are still in my hard drive, waiting to be retouched, but I’m hoping to find the time to put a preview up real soon! I’m telling you, it’s good stuff—made the two-hour bus ride from Ormoc to Palompon all worth it!
Out-of-town shoots are not uncommon these days. The beginning of this month (actually, the tail end of last month) saw us driving 3 ½ hours up north to Bogo/Medellin for Rey Dauz and Sheryl Guzman’s engagement session (11-13). By us, I mean the Shutterfairy team and the Calography team, plus the videographer Marlowe Guinto and his staff. I love it when it’s a big crew working on a project. Before that day, you see, I’d been made to believe that “the fewer people, the better, because that way you get to keep your focus,” but that day happened and I realized it was so much funner if you were part of a big group—to quote Alicia Silverstone’s Cher from Clueless, “But by the end of the day it was, like, the more the merrier!” Of course, there were a couple of minor setbacks, like Malou’s bright yellow camera bag stepping into your frame, or Marlowe’s heavy duty equipment, or Paul’s head (LOL), but those sorts of things only make the whole thing amusing, you know? And there’s nothing like the free-flowing exchange of ideas that takes place when you’re having fun—I mean, when the mood is too serious, everyone shuts their mouths, and so very little sharing happens. It was definitely a plus having a videographer around, ‘cause then I got to learn a lot of new things, like different angles that I’d never thought were possible, and panning, and the value of moving around.
Rey and Sheryl’s theme was “vintage travel.” Which was why we had to go all the way to Bogo/Medellin, because they had rail tracks and vintage locomotives (albeit in various states of disrepair) over there (once owned by an institution called Bogo-Medellin Milling Company). The inspiration was this one portfolio that Annie Leibovitz did for the February 2010 issue of American Vogue called “Brief Encounter,” starring Diddy and the model Natalia Vodianova, inspired by the rapper’s most recent album Last Train to Paris.
This session was special to me because this was the first time I tried my hand at set decorating—I was able to set up a vanity table diorama (13), among others, in the middle of a grassy field. It was also the first time I went all out in sourcing for props. It took me a good two weeks pulling strings for me to get my hands on vintage suitcases. I was beginning to run out of hope when I remembered to consider the novelty shop Casa Mella, and with one phone call they let me borrow these gorgeous wooden suitcases (11)!
This train/railroad set (12) was just the first of many that we had in our boards. We couldn’t fit everything into one session, so we would have a second session a week later to accommodate the rest of the sets—a boating/shipyard set, an airfield/hangar set (14), and a scooter set (15).
I didn’t take a lot of pictures during these sessions because I was busy with the clothes and the props, but, here, feel free to visit the Shutterfairy blogsite to view Malou’s photos from both sessions (click here for her photos from the first session, and here for photos from the second), or the Calography Facebook page for Paul’s set. (I haven’t seen Marlowe’s video yet, but I’ll be sure to share it with you guys as soon as he makes it available online).
Remember Mickey (17), my friend Meyen’s 14-year-old niece who likes to tag along during shoots ‘cause she’s an aspiring makeup artist and stylist (I mentioned her in a previous post a couple of months back)? Well, she’s back. This time to help me style a Lapu-Lapu-based couple’s (Chito and Tuesday Delavin, 18) engagement shoot, particularly in the legwear and footwear department (19)—she grew up in a household where leggings and stockings and shoes were aplenty, so her advice proved to be invaluable. In between sets she would also help scour the locations for great spots, and observe the makeup artist Owen Taboada and the hairstylist Nan Castillo as they did their magic (20).
Mickey wasn’t the only kid who was with us that day. Malou’s 10-year-old son Matthieu also tagged along (16), and his mom handed him an instant camera so he could try his hand at taking pictures. I think it’s a great idea to have young ones with you during shoots, even if it’s just every once in a while. It helps spark their creativity, encourages them to use the right side of their brain. You don’t necessarily have to force them to like what you’re doing and/or to follow your footsteps—Matthieu here, for example, is bent on becoming a pilot one day, and Malou has no plans of taking that dream away from him. Still, it doesn’t hurt to instill in them a little sense of creativity—I mean, one way or another, at some point in their lives, they’re going to be faced with a life-changing decision that involves visuals, or images, or aesthetics, and that’s when a little imagination will come in handy. Of course, infinitely more important is showing them the value of hard work, and of being passionate about your job, whether it entails creativity or not.
I myself am starting to take my youngest brother with me to shoots, and I plan to do the same to my nieces and my nephews as they get older. I feel like it’s my obligation to pass it on, you know? I mean, when I was a kid I would go with my grandfather as he taught music to other kids, and look at what that has done for me!
This month I had the pleasure of working with the entrepreneur/designer Grace Querickiol-Nigel (22) when I was commissioned to style a catalog shoot for her fashion accessories line Gracie Q. She is set to participate in a trade show in Europe some time next year, you see, and it turns out you can only bring so much to those kinds of things, so she decided to produce a catalog so she could take everything with her without having to take everything, if you get what I mean. Aside from that, she’d also been toying with the idea of redesigning the Gracie Q website, and so new photos would come in very handy. Malou was photographing, and it was her who’d recommended me to Grace, perhaps leveraging the catalog work that I’d done for Mark Tenchavez’s shoe line Shandar.
During our first meeting Grace made it very clear that she didn’t want the whole thing to look high fashion-y or cutting-edge or anything like that. She wanted something that was “modern but simple, and world-class but still very much Cebuano.” In the past, whenever she’d sold her pieces to buyers abroad, she’d found herself telling them the stories behind each piece, and not just about the design and the materials, but also about what had inspired her to create them. “And almost always it’s something that’s uniquely Cebuano, like the [hanging rice], for example,” she added. This was what she wanted her catalog to accomplish: “I want it to be able to tell stories—I want something that showcases not just the products, but the beauty of Cebuanos and the beauty of the island of Cebu, as well.” And, as if sensing that Malou and I needed a little help in wrapping our heads around the concept, she handed us a copy of Tour du Monde (21), German outdoor furniture brand DEDON’s bible-thick catalog showcasing their 2011 collections, featuring photographs (by Oliver Helbig and Rainer Hosch) of their stuff shot in different places around the globe—from Chang Mai to Shompole, Cape Town to Seychelles—and with different faces.
Products, people, places—turned out to be a very effective formula, and it resulted in a visual smorgasbord that told very compelling stories. Unquestionably more refreshing than the usual still life (i.e., just products). What I’d done for Shandar had almost achieved this, with Mark’s shoes worn by the women that had inspired him to create them—but the place element had taken a backseat, and most of the time only served as secondary character. This time, Malou and I made a mental note to make the place element ride shotgun with the rest of the ingredients. It got us real excited thinking up locations for the shoot. Not that Grace asked for an “around the world” sort of thing a la the DEDON catalog—she wanted to keep it local for now. Which, if you come to think of it, isn’t exactly a bad thing—sometimes it’s fun when you get to play tourist in your own hometown.
I love it when books, magazines, catalogs—or just about any form of publication—are handed to me by clients in an effort to communicate their vision. In my line of work, keeping a compendium of references is critical, but between my left and right hands I can only amass so much, so I appreciate it when others take the time out to contribute. Mood boards are funner to build when there are more than two hands working on them.
Another inspiring slab that fell on my lap courtesy of Grace was Coming Home (23), a limited edition coffee table book featuring the work that the legendary American fashion photographer/filmmaker Bruce Weber did for, well, a DEDON ad campaign last year. What an astonishingly exquisite collection of images! The premise was simple: Build a multi-storey tree house among the branches of a giant tree, fill it with beautiful DEDON masterpieces, some personal effects and furnishings (from the photographer’s own home), couples, dancing boys, dancing girls, even a garage rock band, and you have the makings of a perfect outdoor living fantasy. I’d been a huge follower of Weber’s work, and for more than 10 years images from his 1999 book The Chop Suey Club had haunted me. Now that I have discovered Coming Home I guess I am covered for the next 10 years!
Needless to say, Coming Home quickly became one of my inspirations for one of the two solo shoots I did this month (by solo shoot, I mean just me, not as assistant to Malou). Five days ago I packed my bags for Ormoc to photograph an interior decorator/retailer and her two daughters (24-28). Lots of fun because this client had a lot of tasteful little bric-a-brac lying around her house, it was like being lost in a quaint little home furnishings consignment shop! For once, I didn’t have to borrow from someone else’s house (or take anything from our own house—well, except for my Diana Vreeland book). Of course, I didn’t build a tree house—I mean, hey, I don’t have a staff the size of Bruce Weber’s (in fact, I was a one-man team that day: not only did I shoot, I styled and set decorated too)! But I was happy with the al fresco living room that I was able to rustle up (25, 26, 28)—carved hardwood settee, patchwork quilt for that touch of shabby chic, plump pillows in needlepoint and damask, a porcelain doll, couple of watercolor paintings, and an antique-looking chest to serve as coffee table! Rita Konig would approve! The whole thing was so charming and so inviting that I wanted to stop shooting and, you know, just sit there. I can’t wait to start editing the photos!
Of the seven shoots I worked on this past month (5 as assistant, 2 solo), I have to say the one we did for Gracie Q was the highlight of them all. Why, you ask? Well, because it reunited me with someone I’d grown up with in this field but had somehow lost touch with in recent years.
Yes, the model Fretzel Buenconsejo (29-38) and I go way back. It was I who’d cast her for her first ever shoot, back in 1999, and she remembered this: “It was a chocolate brown jersey dress by Oj Hofer that you made me wear,” she recounted. Since then she had become part of some of the more important shoots of my career, including that one assignment with the great Wig Tysmans for the now-defunct CeBu! Magazine that I keep on talking about on here (30, 31)—one of the photos from that session (30) even made it to the book Filipina: A Tribute to the Filipino Woman (published 2004)!
She would move to Manila sometime in the mid-2000s, and it was there that her modeling career would really take off—suddenly she was appearing in high-profile ad campaigns for Nescafé, Gatorade, McDonald’s, Paradise Mango Rum Liqueur, and Pampers, among others. I remember standing at the Buendia station and then getting goosebumps as the MRT train pulled up in front of me—there she was, larger than life, with a cup of coffee against her face, plastered on the side of the train. I’d always known she would make it big, but not this big, you know?
She has since moved back to Cebu, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. When the Gracie Q team said that they wanted “a very Filipina face” to grace their catalog, I knew I had to look no further. I arranged a sit down dinner for them to meet Fretzel, and they were floored. Grace and Malou said, almost in unison, that she was exactly what they’d been looking for.
She did me proud on the day of the shoot, too (29, 32)! She was work horse and show pony at the exact same time: arrived 30 minutes prior to call time, moved at a bullet-like pace, breezed through 15 or 16 outfits in less than 7 hours, helped with the styling, treaded barefoot on dirty pavements and rough terrain—all this while managing to tell jokes to keep the mood light. Grace and Malou fell absolutely in love with her professionalism, her attitude towards work, and her goofiness. So wonderful to see that, despite the places she’d been to in her career, she was still the same hard-working, down-to-earth girl I’d worked with more than a decade ago.
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Only a slightly bigger treat than being reunited with Fretzel was what came after the shoot wrapped: a thank you card from Grace (33). How very sporadic it is to get a thank you card these days! Well, of course, I get a lot of thank you e-mails, or thank you phone calls—but I must say nothing beats the feeling of receiving a thank you in stationery, and in long hand. This makes Grace a very rare creature in the industry these days. The very essence of a classy modern woman.
30-November-2011 | Categories: Journal, Personal | Tags: Accessories, Airfield, Apprenticeship, Barili, Behind-the-Scenes, Blogging, Bogo, Books, Bruce Weber, Calography, Catalog, Cebu, Cebu Designers, Cebu Models, Children, Commercial, Couples, DEDON, Engagements, Family, Fretzel Buenconsejo, Grace Querickiol, Gracie Q, Hangar, Horses, Instagram, Kentucky, Lapu-Lapu, Life, Malou Pages, Mark Tenchavez, Marlowe Guinto, Medellin, Mood Board, Mother and Daughter, Ormoc, Owen Taboada, Palompon, Personal, Photography, Railroad, Rita Konig, Road Trip, Set Decorating, Shandar, Shutterfairy, Train | 9 Comments »