Couple of photos from the super fun personal style portrait session that I did for my friend Monique Rosal a few weeks ago. This wasn’t my first time to photograph this girl. I’d shot her some two years ago, at a time when I had had very little experience, and thus had had very little technical know-how (i.e., white balance and ISO settings and all that other good stuff had baffled me), not to mention I’d had to share the job with a bunch of other photographers and so I couldn’t exercise full creative control when it came to the locations, etc. Guess it goes without saying that the resulting photos from that shoot had turned out really bad—well, maybe not that bad, but definitely something I couldn’t be proud of—and so I’d promised her I’d take her pictures again. Which brought us to this session right here. I think it’s important to be ready to extend your subjects the courtesy of reshooting, especially when you yourself are not happy with your shots—you might argue that you’d rather wait for them to tell you they’re not satisfied with your work, but the truth is not a lot of people are going find it easy to do that, so, essentially, you’re just gonna have to be honest with yourself. Trust me, it’ll only do you good—so long, of course, as you stay sensitive to your shooting schedule and other appointments. Monique here had had to wait almost two years for an opening in my schedule, but that was alright, because what mattered was we got around to doing it!
This whole thing came at a perfect time, too, because she was starting to be obsessed with Tumblr, and she wanted to be able to post original photos and to keep the “reblogging” to a minimum. (I might also convince her to go on Lookbook.nu—Monique, remind me to send you an invite, OK?) The idea was to photograph her in her own clothes, or in clothes that reflected her personality, because we didn’t want to make the same mistake we’d made the last time wherein we’d made her raid her friends’—and even her mom’s—closets. My first impulse was to ask her to wear surfer chick-inspired clothes and then drag her off to a beach setting, if only to satisfy my own Tumblr obsession (the Billabong Girls USA Tumblr site is one of the very few sites that I follow), but then I realized that dictating her would defeat the purpose of a personal style shoot. Besides, she confessed that, although she did like the beach, she really was more of a rocker chick. For days we’d been talking about Coachella, the music festival held every spring in Southern California, how it had been a mutual dream of ours to attend it one day (and how I had been foolish for being in L.A. last year and turning down invites to weekend two), and that was how we arrived at an idea: why not have her show up at the shoot in clothes that she could see herself wearing to the desert music fest if she were given the chance to make that scene one day? I’m looking at these photos now and laughing at the fact that this “DIY Coachella” thing has since been given a name—“Couchella,” which is basically the act of “sitting on your couch and dreaming you were at Coachella”—but we had so much fun that afternoon! And I loved the clothes she was able to round up for the session, especially the vintage babydoll dress in eggshell lace—very Free People-y! Delighted me to no end, too, that she chose to wear everything with her brand spanking new 1490 10-eye Doc Martens—I always love it when there’s a little grunge or ‘90s involved.
Speaking of grunge/’90s, the Smashing Pumpkins T-shirts that you see her wearing here are actually mine (yes, I collect Smashing Pumpkins T-shirts, and I consider them a prized collection—some of these shirts I got when I first saw the band live at the Louisville Palace for the third leg of their summer 2008 tour). It was kind of spur-of-the-moment, really—in the middle of our shoot I remembered that she loved the Pumpkins to death (last year she and a couple of friends literally braved a storm by flying to Manila to see Billy et al. at the Araneta Coliseum despite the torrential rains and floods), and so I was quick to snatch a couple of T-shirts from my closet so I could take photos of her in them. Of course, as you can see here, they look a hundred times better on her than they do on me, but that doesn’t mean I’m letting her keep them!
She wanted me to take a few photos of the new tattoo between her shoulder blades (of three cassette tapes with their media spewed out to form a G-clef, a not-so-subtle declaration of her love for music), and that’s how things took a turn for the, um, boudoir. I’d never done a boudoir session before in my life—perhaps the closest I’d gotten to doing one was when I’d photographed Womb frontwoman Chai Fonacier’s naked back during their album cover shoot (also to pinpoint a back tattoo)—but, hey, anything’s worth trying, right? Thank God the girl was ready with really cute undergarments! I had to be real careful with my approach, though, by thinking less FHM and more Agent Provocateur catalog—this way I was assured the photos were gonna come out sassy, not sleazy. Sure enough, they turned out really nice, but I can only post a few on here—I’m sorry, but I still have a little bit of a gentleman in me, and that little bit of a gentleman is saying that everything else should be for her eyes only.
Now I’m torn ‘cause I can’t decide which is sexier: leaving something for the imagination, or having a healthy enough self-image to have no problem baring a little for the camera. When I’d first taken Monique’s photos two years ago, she’d seemed a little tense, if not squeamish, and it would show in her face, and in the way she’d moved (or not moved, for that matter), and that was actually one of the reasons why the resulting photos from that shoot had left much to be desired. This time, however, it was as if it was a totally different girl standing in front of me: calmer, more composed, and thus more radiant—still aware of her flaws, but was mature enough to just laugh about them. I asked her what had changed, and she shared that she’d been taking yoga classes for months now. It’s amazing what a renewed commitment to fitness can do to you—not just physically to your body, but to how you feel about yourself, as well. And nothing is more beautiful to photograph than someone who is clearly comfortable in their own skin.
Monique Rosal | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City, Cebu, on March 24, 2013 | Hair and makeup by Alex Nicole Lorenzana | Special thanks to Christine L. Abragan
Here’s the family session that the folks at Shutterfairy Photography and I did early last month. Meet Eric and Annie Malimban, and their adorable son Eael. This young family had just transplanted themselves to Cebu from Manila just a little over a year ago. This shoot was actually a last-minute addition to our calendar—as early as October, Malou (my boss/mentor at Shutterfairy) and I had already closed our December calendars, agreeing to no longer accept bookings for that month since it had already been jam-packed with engagement sessions and weddings. When Annie mentioned, though, that having a family portrait session was kind of “a yearly thing” for them, and so she could not afford to move it to January since, well, that would be a completely different year altogether, and the thought of letting 2012 pass them by was crippling to them, we just had to say yes. Who were we to break the cycle of an inspired family tradition, right? That was just not our style.
I will admit it: I was pretty flustered the whole time I was working on this assignment, and that was because I knew I only had a a few days to plan and prepare for it! I’d used to think I was the kind of person who could work well under pressure, but apparently not! I had to apologize to Eric and Annie, explaining that I was so used to being given a month or two to prepare for a shoot, no matter how simple or complex. It offered very little comfort knowing that I was technically going to be a one-man show this time around—our resident set decorator had asked to sit this one out, since she’d already made arrangements to fly to Manila for a vacation! Fortunately Eric and Annie understood where I was coming from, and committed to help out with the props aspect of it.
As we were discussing possible concepts, Annie only had one request: by hook or by crook, we were to steer clear of anything that involved beaches, pools, or any body of water for that matter. And understandably so, because most of the pictures they’d had done in recent years had exhausted this theme to no end—they’d done the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa back in late 2011, and, if I’m not mistaken, even the Bellaroca Island Resort in Marinduque the year before that. Asked what she had in mind for this time, she mentioned that she kind of liked the “feel” of this one Guess ad she’d once come across, which involved “an old vehicle, a dirt road, and sunset.” She couldn’t remember where she’d seen this, though, and I could not for the life of me recall a Guess ad that had all the elements she cited—I was pretty much stumped at the ones starring Claudia Schiffer that incorporated a convertible and a Vespa-like scooter, or that one featuring Anna Nicole Smith as sexy chauffeur, but I was pretty sure these weren’t what Annie had in mind. Perhaps she was talking about a Guess Kids campaign? In which case I would be totally clueless! After two full days of hardcore research and I still couldn’t dig up the picture in her mental mood board, I showed her a photo of Jude Law, Sadie Frost and their children, shot by Steven Klein (for the July 2002 issue of American Vogue, if memory serves me right), which shows the family stranded on a dirt road on what looked like a fiendishly hot afternoon, and Law on his back pretend-fixing their beaten-up old yellow car. At the sight of this photo Annie’s face lit up. So this was the kind of “feel” she wanted for their photos: the grease monkey vibe!
I was about ready to phone people I knew who owned car repair shops in order to secure a location or borrow a beaten-up automobile when suddenly I was beset with a nagging feeling from inside of me telling me to rethink the whole thing: aside from the fact that we’d already used the car repair shop as backdrop before (and I knew Malou wasn’t a fan of “repeating themes”), I figured it was a little too “stiff” for a family session. I mean, sure, it worked for Jude Law and family, and that Steven Klein photo was beautiful, but that was for a fashion magazine—that kind of picture would definitely look odd hung on a family room wall! Also, I had to consider: Was the little boy going to have fun pretending to fix battered, rusty cars? Just like that I had to put the brakes on the whole thing, and decided to pitch a funner, literally more colorful concept: something that involved fingerpainting! I don’t know, I guess I was inspired by this one photo by Melbourne-based young photographer Nirrimi Hakanson of a little girl with paint all over her chubby cheeks and chest, which had been haunting me for months. At first Annie was a little apprehensive about the paint element (who wouldn’t be, especially if you think about the resulting mess?), but I explained: “Kids are difficult to photograph, especially if they know they’re getting nothing out of it. But if we make it fun for them, they’ll cooperate!” She still wasn’t convinced. But then her hubby turned to the little boy and asked, “What’s it gonna be, Eael? Fixing cars, or painting?” Without a moment’s hesitation, Eael replied, “Painting!” Just like that, the verdict was in. Love it when it’s a kid that gets to call the shots on these matters!
It’s easy to see why Eric and Annie pretty much allow their son to be the boss—such a standup guy, that little fellow! You won’t believe how hyperactive he was on the day of the shoot: the moment we arrived at our shooting location (the Celestial Gardens up the Banawa Hills), he couldn’t wait for the whole thing to start—and once we got it rolling, well, it began to look like he didn’t want it to ever end! Quite the role-player, too, I must say! Whatever expression or mood we asked him to take on, he was down for it, and executed it flawlessly. And did I mention extremely polite, and very keen on following instructions? As a matter of fact, the only instruction that he didn’t heed was the part where I asked him not to mix the paints—I seemed to know that if you mixed red, blue, yellow and green together it would come out really nasty, and true enough when he turned a deaf ear to my orders and proceeded to combine all four colors he ended up with grey goop all over!—but I knew better than to hold this against him, because what was important was that he was having a blast. What I loved most about him, though, was how he was incredibly articulate for his age. I can’t remember it all now, but I am pretty sure he used at least 20 or so big words that day. I’d asked Eric and Annie to pack with them some of the little boy’s favorite toys and books, and as he took each item out of the bag he would show it to me and tell me an interesting story about it—it was clear his favorite activity was show and tell! He made it very clear, though, that he was in no hurry to grow up when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he snapped, “Can I have a little brother first?” Too adorable, I know! Made me wish my little nephews were as gabby as he!
Annie and Eric, thank you so much for allowing us to share this colorful day with your family! Most of all, thank you for bringing such an amazing child into this world! I hope you guys rewarded him for doing such an incredible job at our shoot—a new toy, a new book, whatever! And when you run out of toys and books to give him, maybe you will consider giving him that little brother that he’s been asking for!
Eric and Laarnie “Annie” Malimban and their son Eael | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City on December 9, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Alex Nicole Lorenzana
Seriously, though: Exactly how small is the world getting? When my boss/mentor at Shutterfairy Photography Malou Pages told me we were going to be doing this couple’s engagement session, she didn’t mention much about the groom-to-be, only waxed poetic about the bride-to-be, saying that “you’re going to love her—she is very, very pretty!” So imagine my surprise when I went to sit down with the couple for our initial meeting and I found out that the groom-to-be was Gerald Serafin, who was not only the cousin of Rachelle Jean “RJ” Serafin-Bual, for whom we did a cowboy-themed engagement shoot back in 2010, but also brother to my good friend Ace, who was married to one of my closest friends Camille! From that moment I knew I had to do a good job with this assignment—Ace and Camille are like family to me, so I couldn’t afford to do a sucky job with this one! Of course, I also couldn’t discount the fact that Malou was right about Gerald’s fiancée Barbara being very pretty—I couldn’t stop staring at her face and thinking, I am going to have one hell of a field day styling/photographing this girl! She had the face of an angel. She reminded me of the model Kristine Petersen, who reigned supreme back in the day (1990s/early 2000s) as part of the original lineup (along with Malou Gica, Steevee Mahboob, and Elite Model Look- Philippines 1996 winner Charity Lagahid) of the inimitable Models Association of Cebu (MAC). That thought alone was enough to get me real excited.
Gerald is a businessman and an architecture enthusiast who runs a small but successful countertop and cabinetry business, but what most people don’t know is he is also a health and fitness buff who is obsessed with cycling. In his free time, usually on weekends, he likes to go on biking trips, and, mind you, we’re not talking the usual 5-6 miles up the hills of Busay—we’re talking hardcore here, like, some 70 miles down south of the island and back! Don’t ask me where he gets all that energy and drive, but he did get to talking about why he enjoyed exploring the southern parts more than any other area of Cebu: he loved the scenery, especially the old buildings/structures. Perhaps to feed his fascination of placemaking? He cited one favorite: Ruins of an unfinished coral-block cuartel or barrack stand dating back to the mid-1800s, which sat immediately in front of Oslob’s Church of the Immaculate Conception, facing the sea. He showed me a couple of photos of the place that he took using his camera phone during a recent biking trip, and my eyes widened at how majestic it looked—how come I’d never heard of this place before? The more he talked about it, the more it became palatable in my mind, and so I wasted no time in proposing: “We should do the shoot right here!” They liked the idea, but Barbara expressed that she was hoping we could do a couple of beach shots, too—having grown up in Bohol, this girl was, more than anything, a beach bum. I assured her this wasn’t going to be a problem, since weren’t there a string of beach towns—Argao, Dalaguete, Alcoy, etc.—on the way to Oslob from the city? The thought of turning the shoot into a road trip at the same time was enough to get me pumped. I’d used to not be a fan of road trips—those things had used to make me throw up, literally and figuratively, to put it rather bluntly—and I’d even told my boss at one point that, for engagement shoots, “I prefer not moving around too much, and just sticking to one location that has it all.” Eventually, though, I’d learned to re-embrace the idea of road tripping, thinking, I live in this incredible island—I just have to own that!
The styling part came really easy, too. I mean, when you look at someone with a face and a body like Barbara’s, what kind of clothes do you imagine on her? I was pretty much stumped at warm-weather clothes! And that wasn’t something I hoped to change! No other look made sense on her—I examined her ethereal hair, her amber eyes, her megawatt smile, and I saw a thousand summers written on them. You know the song “Sunny Road” by Emilíana Torrini? That was the song that played in my head the whole time I was talking to her. So, like reflex, I proceed to look to Free People’s May 2012 catalog (the one they shot in Miami; click here to view photos from that catalog) for inspiration, with a hint of Blake Lively’s carefree California girl character Ophelia “O” Sage from Oliver Stone’s thriller blockbuster Savages (July 2012)—kaftan tops, low-rise denim cutoffs, colorful maxi dresses, semi-sheer summer shirts, headscarves, bikinis, some crochet, and some tie-dye. The whole thing was equal parts boho, surfer chic, and Coachella! They were the kinds of clothes that would be in my closet had I been a girl living in L.A. or Laguna Beach! The sweetest thing was I didn’t have to do an awful lot of legwork in order to look for these items, because between Barbara’s and Camille’s closets we were able to put together at least 20 or so outfits! Yes, we spent one whole afternoon cooped up in Camille’s walk-in closet (Barbara had dragged in three bags full of her clothes—one of which contained about thirty pairs of bikinis!), going through racks upon racks and piles upon piles of their stuff, mixing and matching to our hearts’ content! So much fun! The only tough part was having to deliberate which of the twenty outfits were going to make it into the final lineup, but we got there eventually. Thank God for helping hands!
The weather was pretty crazy on the day of the shoot—I woke up at 4 in the morning, and it was raining like hell, and it stayed that way during our entire drive to Oslob! I was just about ready to slip into a mild depression (uncooperative atmospheric conditions = bane of my existence), but then Gerald and Barbara stepped in front of the cameras, all goofy and dorky, and just like the skies started to clear up, like magic! I love that they’re like a crazy bunch—they’re always trying to make each other laugh, and they love to pull crazy stunts on each other. Even my boss Malou, who’s photographed close to a hundred couples since started Shutterfairy, tells me that she’s never seen a relationship like theirs before: “It’s nice because it’s like they’re just two friends hanging out, having a good time.” You won’t believe it when I tell you the story of how Gerald proposed: Barbara was lazing around his bedroom while he took a shower, and moments later he would emerge from the bathroom in nothing but a towel, engagement ring in hand, saying, “I love you!” And that was it! No “Will you marry me?” or “Will you do me the honor of being my wife?” I’m not too sure whether or not Barbara uttered a distinct and deliberate “Yes!” It is assumed just she just took the ring with a big laugh, and that was her version of a “Yes!” If finding someone that makes you laugh is the recipe for a perfect marriage, then it well may be that Gerald and Barbara wrote that cookbook.
Did I mention that they have a lot of things in common, too? I think I only mentioned it was Gerald who loved cycling, but the truth is that’s actually something they liked to do together—he has a big room next to their living room that houses all their bikes and cycling gear/equipment, and I think half of them he bought for Barbara. They even have matching cycling jerseys (most of them in blue, maybe because that’s their favorite color). They also share a common love of dogs! If you were to ask them who the boss was in their relationship, they would probably tell you it’s their Labrador Retriever Princess, or their dachshund Macky. Princess even got to tag along with us on the day of the shoot—that added a really nice touch to the photos! I would’ve wanted for Macky to join in the fun, too, because he was such a dashing little fellow, but then he was grounded at the time ‘cause just a few days back he’d gotten into trouble by chasing an unsuspecting jogger and gnawing at the poor guy’s, um, balls! After hearing this horror story I decided perhaps if would be best if Macky just sat this one out. I mean, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to engage in any activity where there was a possibility of canines chewing on my body parts! No hard feelings, Macky!
Gerald and Barbara tied the knot last December 5. At first we’d worried it was going to be gloomy on their wedding day, and that they’d had to deal with a lingering vestige of the tropical storm Bopha that had hit the previous day. Quite miraculously, as in what had happened during their engagement shoot, when it was time for them to put on their show, the skies cleared and the sun came out! Trust the elements to align for you when you’ve got a sunny disposition, apparently! I couldn’t make it to the wedding, but I was just looking at the photos that Malou took that day and I couldn’t help but feel my heart balloon at how radiant Barbara looked—could she be the most beautiful bride in the world? Of course, when you look at those same photos, there’s no missing Gerald’s signature naughty grin, too—it’s either he may have been born with it, or that was his way of saying, “My bride is prettier than yours!” I wish them more charming old towns and beautiful beaches to bike through and explore, and more puppies to cuddle with. Most of all, I wish them more grey skies to turn bright and blue!
Gerald Serafin and Barbara Jean Duncan | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shuttefairy in Oslob and Alcoy, Cebu, on October 21, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy |Hair and makeup by Vanessa T. Gamus (to book Vanessa, click here) | Special thanks to Camille Blanco-Serafin and Marla Baguio
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?
* * * * * * * * *
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
Wasn’t it only a little over a year ago that designer Mark Tenchavez launched a shoe line under his Shandar brand? I mean, to me it feels like only yesterday that I photographed his muses (models Marjay Ramirez and Cielo Ramirez, pastry chef Gayle Urgello, and lawyer Christina Garcia-Frasco) for the catalog of his premiere collection—I still remember every minute of the fine frenzy that the stylist Meyen Baguio and I went through while working on that project. Yet when you look at Shandar Shoes’ resume (and the places that they’ve been to, figuratively speaking), it looks like they’ve been around since forever!
For one, they have managed to develop an impressive fan base, which includes local fashion mavens like designer/writer/philanthropist Tessa Prieto-Valdes (who flew in from Manila to host the shoe line’s grand launch middle of last year), and even lady political figures. No less staggering is how about 40% of Mark’s time is now spent doing commissioned works for local designers—if memory serves me right, I think it all started with doing a couple of platforms to accompany Arcy Gayatin’s 25th anniversary collection, and some for Project Runway Philippines season one first runner-up Philipp Tampus’s holiday 2011 collection, and then everyone else followed suit. The newest leaf added to his laurel? Creating multi-glitter lace-up wedge booties to accompany the electrifying pieces from Amato Haute Couture by Furne One during One’s homecoming gala held at the Rizal Memorial Library and Museum early last month! Mark has also become sort of like an official cobbler for local beauty pageants (only three weeks back I found myself in the studio of an Ormoc-based pageant organizer and there it was, a giant shelf full of Shandar “pageant heels”). But I think Shandar’s biggest achievement to date is penetrating the local bridal market: “It’s 10 to 15 brides per month, and that’s not counting the peak seasons!” he enthuses. (And I can attest to this, because my boss Malou Pages [of Shutterfairy Photography, where I have just been promoted, by the way, from apprentice to associate photographer/senior stylist] always shows me photos of the weddings she covers, and I guess it’s safe to deduce that about 80% of Shutterfairy’s clients over the past year have worn Shandar down the aisle.) Not bad for a shoe line that relies heavily on guerilla marketing and word-of-mouth—yes, save for the occasional magazine appearances (Preview, Metro Society, LOOK), their touchpoints are fairly uncomplicated.
I love how Mark’s design sense has evolved, too. Not to say, of course, that I didn’t find the pieces from his premiere collection beautiful (I wouldn’t have agreed to shoot that catalog if I didn’t like the shoes), but his more recent designs are more eye-catching, and more varied, too. You still get the ultra-feminine touches (pretty little bows, appliqué details, serpentine straps) that Mark is known for, but now you get to pair that with ingenious experimentation of textures, layering, and colors—as of late he’s been obsessed with giving unexpected twists to velveteen, playing with lace overlays, and toying with iridescents. “I am also starting to experiment with transparent material, like celluloid,” he shares. “I know people have seen a lot of heels made of transparent material, like Lucite, but that’s not the [route] that I’m taking—I’m thinking of using them for the shoe body and for the details, not the heels.”
Mark credits his growth to his day-to-day interactions with clients, and to his tendency to keep his eyes open to the littlest bits of inspiration. “Especially my bridal clientele,” he shares. “When you’re talking to a bride-to-be, the conversation becomes very intimate because it’s their wedding day we’re talking about here—the one day they’ve been waiting for all their lives! I get to learn about what women really want when I’m talking to these people. I’m lucky, too, that most of my brides-to-be happen to be very stylish ladies—I get a lot of inspiration by looking at what they’re wearing, what bag they’re carrying, etc.” The technical aspect of his job he gets to hone by building good relationships with his designer clients. It helps, too, that he hasn’t abandoned his first love, and that’s making jewelry (tiaras, necklaces, bracelets, rings)—as his skills in jewelry-making expand, so do his skills in infusing surprising details into his shoe creations.
I was lucky enough to be able to preview prototypes from what I think is going to be his spring/summer 2013 collection. We were having coffee one Sunday afternoon this past summer when out of the blue he laid them in front of me! Needless to say, I fell head over heels—quite literally, yes! I wasted no time asking if I could have the honor of photographing these babies—this time with sunny California as backdrop. It didn’t take a lot of convincing for him to say yes!
This shoot right here was kind of guerilla because I didn’t have a lot of time to plan it. Well, actually, I had quite some time—I was in L.A. for 6 or so weeks—but all that time was wasted going around the place looking for leg and foot models to sit for me. I was supposed to ask my sister because she did have some legs on her, plus the shoes were her size, but then she had just become a mother and all her time was devoted to taking care of the baby. A friend from Cerritos, who’d had some modeling experience, said she wanted to do it but just couldn’t find time off from work. And then there was someone from Lancaster who had all the time in the world, but then she was below 18, and I didn’t want to get into trouble with the parents. A friend had suggested browsing through the portfolios at ModelMayhem.com, but I just didn’t know my way around that Website (I think you have to be a registered user in order to send someone a message, no?). I was about to give up when someone suggested Elane Gica, a friend from back home, and this was literally at the eleventh hour, too—we did this whole thing on my second-to-the-last day in L.A.! I know! How crazy is that, right? Thank you, Elane, for letting me borrow your legs and your feet, and for helping me make this happen!
We never got to cover all the locations that I’d planned to shoot at (I’d wanted a couple of beach shots, and Santa Monica was on my list, but we were afraid we were going to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 10 W, so we had to call that off), but I was happy we got to do some of the ones that meant a lot to me, like the Griffith Observatory (ah, Rebel Without a Cause!), Urban Light at LACMA, and that palmed-line area of N New Hampshire just before it crosses Beverly (Wilshire Center). Of course, I had to make sure there was no missing the Hollywood Walk of Fame, too—that was, like, non-negotiable! These were Mark’s shoes that I was shooting—don’t you think they deserve a little star treatment? Elane asked why I picked Marvin Gaye’s Star (it’s in the east side of the 1500 block of Vine, in case you’re wondering). My answer was simple: “Look at these heels—if they could sing a song it would be Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing,’ don’t you think?” Am I a smart ass, or what?
* * * * * * * * *
I have to mention that Elane doing this was extra special to me, not only because she went out on a limb for this, and not only because she knew the L.A. side streets like the back of her hand, making it easy for us to jump from one location to the next, which ultimately saved us a lot of time (can you believe we only did this for under three hours—from 11AM to 145PM—and so we still had time to hit the UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival after we wrapped?), but because of the fact that she is first cousins with one of my best friends Malou Gica, and working with her that day brought me back to the times that I’d worked with Malou.
Insiders will remember Malou Gica as one of Cebu fashion’s pioneering models, or, better yet, as Elite Model Look-Cebu 1996 winner. She was one of the few people who really supported me when I was starting out as a stylist more than a decade ago, and we worked on a couple of shoots together until we became really good friends. Safe to say I wouldn’t be half of who I am today if not for her.
Malou passed away just two months ago, after a long battle with terminal illness. She was only 34. It was a very heartbreaking time for us, her friends, and especially her family, including Elane here, who, all her life, had looked up to Malou as a big sister. If you are reading this and you knew Malou, please do me a favor and say a little prayer for her journey, and for the healing of those she left behind.
Rest in peace, Malou. You will be missed.
Shandar Shoes Spring/Summer 2013 | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 27, 2012 | Model: Elane Lourdes Gica | Special thanks to Janice Larrazabal
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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