It was an afternoon so full of texture, everything seemed to jump right at you, like the contents of a magical children’s pop-up book, or of a carefully curated scrapbook. The white powdery sand that managed to get in your shoes no matter how cautiously you treaded. Aged wooden staircases that led to the beach. The incredibly Byzantine grand sand castle etched with the words “All you need is love.” Towering, spindly golden bamboos that not only rustled in the breeze but also seemed to reached out to tickle you every time you walked past them. Chunky couches and daybeds upholstered in coarse linen cloth that made you want to sneak in a little siesta time whenever you could. Soft rose petals in different shades of blush strewn on the ground. A dainty looking cake embellished with seashells of all shapes and sizes—cockles, scallops, alphabet cones, boring turrets—both edible and real. A curtain of cascading crystal glass beads that gleamed lustrously in the glorious afternoon light. The delicate, billowing drapes of the bridesmaids’ rose-colored goddess-inspired dresses. The intricate beadwork and the diaphanous mini rosettes in the bride’s ivory silk satin organza fluted dress (by Alvina Valenta from Chicago’s Bella Bianca). The row of diamantes in the bride’s Badgley Mischka “Gisele” wedge sandals in rose satin (true story: this pair of shoes was the most photographed and most videographed item that day; we even panicked when, twenty or so mintes before the bride was scheduled to walk down the aisle, we couldn’t find them, only to realize that the video guys had left them somewhere near the pool!). So full of texture, you just wanted to reach out and touch everything. It was as if the couple had intended it that way so that you could feel the love rather than, well, just look at it.
Then again, even if you were to strip off all these textural elements, you would still end up with the same touchy-feely kind of affair: the whole thing was so intimate—only a little over 40 guests, if I am not mistaken—that it was impossible to turn your head and not spot people holding each other, or hugging each other tight. Pretty brilliant move on the couple’s part to have invited only a small number of people to this event—just their immediate families, a few extended family members, and some of their closest friends. Not a single person who was present ever felt left out as everyone got to play a part in and contribute to the celebration. Brought a huge smile to everyone’s faces when it was time to toast to the bride and groom and all four groomsmen—plus two other guys—took turns in sharing their heartfelt stories about how they’d been there from the start, how they’d helped pick out flowers for the couple’s first date, even how they’d conspired to get the two back together after a misunderstanding. Swear to God, two of the guys even cried while telling their stories, I even joked to one of the ushers: “What’s with all the bromance?” Really, though, it was nothing to joke about; if anything, it only made the affair more special by proving that not only was this a celebration of one love shared between two people, but also of the other relationships built around it.
So many other tender and, at times, poignant moments that blew us as spectators away. My boss/mentor Malou Pages, who was main photographer that day, confessed that she got a little weak in the knees when the groom cried as he watched his beautiful bride coming down the aisle. Women have a thing for that sort of stuff, I guess—you should’ve heard the collective sighs from the lady guests the moment they saw the man burst into tears. I will admit I was kind of moved by this, too. I mean, it was a moment: here was tall, dark, handsome, and brooding manly man who couldn’t fold a pocket square to save his life, showing vulnerability. But that was Malou’s favorite moment, and she beat me to it, so I had to wait for another one. Luckily it came later in the evening when it was time for the newlyweds’ parents to give their speeches, and the bride’s mother took to the mic sobbingly to tell the wedding party about how she’d been “estranged” from her daughter for close to a decade due to some differences, but that she was immensely happy all that had finally been put behind them and she could be a part of this most important day of her baby girl’s life. We love weddings for how they bring two people and two families together—how even sweeter they become when they heal old wounds!
I have a second favorite moment, though, and that’s when it was time for “You may now kiss the bride,” and suddenly the Boracay sky was awash with the hues of a thousand sunsets. They say “time and tide wait for no man,” but I’m pretty sure that, in that moment, when the sky changed its color, both time and tide stood still. I was one big goosebump right there. The last time I’d seen a sky this orange and this soothingly warm was some four years back, at one of my best friends’ wedding in another island paradise (Dakak). I don’t know what it is about orange skies that make me giddy. It’s the same way I feel about Alexi Murdoch’s song entitled, well, “Orange Sky” that goes: “And I had a dream/ I stood beneath an orange sky/ Here is what I know now… / In your love my salvation lies…” Perhaps it’s the silent promise they bring? You know, that, no matter what happens, at the end of the day you can forget about existentialism, because, like it or not, it will always boil down to warmth? Maybe so. I don’t know. All I know is they’re nothing short of magical, and that they make me thank God I’m alive.
Thank you, Richard and Norris, for having us out to share in your special day, and for trusting us to capture your most tender moments! (And thanks to your fam and your gang, as well, for their incredible hospitality!) It was one of the dreamiest weddings we had ever been to—definitely one for the books! No need to wish you guys the best, because we just know your marriage is going to be as bountiful as your texture-rich wedding, and as warm as the orange sky that witnessed your vows!
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I was gonna say this was my first ever wedding assignment, but that would be lying, because the truth is this was my third—I did get to take a couple of pictures at my brother James’s wedding last September, and then at another Shutterfairy couple’s wedding in October. I must say, though, that this right here was the first time I was really happy about my shots. Didn’t really get to take a lot of pictures of the bride, though, as you can see here, because I was assigned to the groom while Malou took care of the bride’s side of things—apparently that’s how things work—but I did get to hang around the bridal suite long enough for me to take a few decent shots.
I’d never imagined that I would be doing weddings, and in fact in the days leading to this assignment I’d tried to talk Malou out of taking me with her, saying she should find someone else to be her second shooter. Two reasons: (1) Not a big fan of crowds, and (2) Boracay wasn’t exactly my favorite place in the world (after something very terrible had happened to me there some three years back).
Eventually I’d had to just go, especially after realizing that (1) there was no way the airline was going to allow us to change the name on my ticket, and (2) I couldn’t afford to bail out on this couple the second time around. Yes, I’d been set to photograph Richard and Norris’s engagement session in Chicago last May, but that had had to be cancelled due to scheduling issues. I’m glad I didn’t miss them this time around!
And thank God it was a beach wedding with only a few guests—I would’ve cracked under pressure had it been, say, a city wedding with more than 300 people! And thank God they’d chosen a spot in a relativey remote part of the island (the Asya Premier Suites down Manoc-Manoc, in the southwester tip of the island)—I would’ve gone crazy had they opted to do it in the cramped Station 2 or something!
Now, if you ask me if I’ve changed my mind about doing weddings, my answer to that would be “I don’t know.” But go ahead and show me one that’s as beautiful and intimate as this one right here, and I just might say yes!
Finally, before I go, a word about destination wedding planner extraordinaire Amanda Tirol and her staff at Boracay Weddings: I have never before seen an events coordination team this on top of things, and this professional, all while being incredibly welcoming. More than that, I just loved how Amanda was oozing with impeccable taste, evident in her execution of the littlest details, and how her business savvy was topped with an obvious passion to share—she readily dispensed sage advice on how to effectively deal with long-distance clients, and taught me more in ten minutes than others could in years! The star of the show, though, was Sasha, Amanda’s little daughter (I think she’s only ten or 11 years old!), who was constantly running around the place, helping her mom make sure that the clients’ (and the vendors’) needs were met, and that the program ran smoothly without delays. My heart ballooned at the sight of this mother-and-daughter team dynamic. Not so different, really, from how I feel about the most intimate of affairs.
Richard Realeza and Norris Nanoz | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan, on December 20, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Illustrations by Borţa Gabriela Mihaela (visit her DeviantArt site here) | Wedding planner: Amanda Tirol for Boracay Weddings | Videographer: Jake Olaso | Floral styling by Vatel Manila | Bride’s wedding dress, Alvina Valenta, Bella Bianca | Groom’s suit, Indochino | Special thanks to the staff of Asya Premier Suites Boracay
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
There is one thing I love more than California, and that’s my little niece Mikaela, who happens to be, well, made in California! To say that I’ve adored her since she was born is kind of an understatement—truth is, I’ve been head over heels with her even before she could pop out of her mommy’s belly! My sister and I were taking a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk one excruciatingly hot afternoon in the summer of 2010, and that was when she first announced to me that she was preggo. So there I was soaking up the scenery, thinking of Tom Kapinos’s Californication because this was the very place where many of my favorite scenes from that series had been shot, especially that one scene some 8 minutes into the second episode of the fourth season where Madeleine Martin’s character little Becca Moody plays her electric guitar at the Boardwalk for some cash—and here was my sister telling me she was expecting, and that it was probably going to be a girl! Suddenly my mind was running wild with thoughts of what this baby girl was going to turn out like. Was she going to be the quintessential California girl, à la Lauren Conrad—you know, a sucker for the beach, adored dogs, obsessed with shopping and makeup, and with a megawatt smile that looked like it had a thousand summers written on it? That would be nice, I thought. But then as I walked further down the Boardwalk, past the Schwarzenegger types pumping iron at the Muscle Beach Gym, past the turban-sporting electric guitarist on roller skates, past the ageing hipsters taking a nap under palm trees (or holding up placards that advertised “Shitty Advice for $1!”), I realized that deep inside I didn’t want a California sweetheart for a niece—I wanted one who was hardcore, someone who got mad guitar skills, just like Becca Moody! And so for months that was the stuff my daydreams were made of: my niece playing her electric guitar for passersby at the Boardwalk—and it would be a song with a killer guitar solo, too, like, say, “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, or “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam—and me sitting on the bench behind her with a proud, arrogant smile on my face. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
What I failed to consider was that babies don’t just turn into guitar-toting teenagers overnight—they actually have to go through a phase called, well, babyhood, where all they like to do is coo, crawl, and cuddle. (Hey, we’ve all had poor sense of time at one point or another, right? LOL!) Not to say that this disappointed me, of course. When I returned to L.A. this year and saw this little munchkin waiting for me at the airport, my heart melted all the same. I mean, come on, look at those chubby cheeks! And those big, round eyes! And those plump legs! She had just turned one, so her coos were a little loud now, and she was slowly transitioning from crawling to walking now—the cuddling part didn’t come until a little later (she would not come anywhere near me during the first couple of days), but when it did I found it very hard to stop!
I thought it was kind of cute how she didn’t have a lot of hair on her yet. At first I found this a little alarming, but then my mom told us that that had been us, too—”It wasn’t until you turned 2 or so that you began to grow a full head of hair.” It was just amusing and awkward at the same time how people would come up to Mikee (that’s how we call her) and say, “What an adorable little boy!” and so I had to explain, every single time, that “She’s actually a girl!” It didn’t help that, every time we tied a bow around her head or made her wear headbands with girly girl detail (rosettes, lace trimmings, etc.), she’d only put them on for a few minutes before taking them off and tearing them apart! Such a monster when it comes to those head adornments, I kid you not—she thinks of them as the enemy!
She’s also a monster when it comes to French fries, and by that I mean she devours them like there is no tomorrow. Some folks’ brows are going to raise, because you really aren’t supposed to expose babies to that kind of stuff, but can you help it if it’s the only thing that makes their eyes light up and their mouths water? I’m not sure how it started, but we were at the Hollywood In-N-Out one afternoon, and while the rest of us were busy surreptitiously taking photos of Derek Hough (of Dancing with the Stars) and Maria Menounos (of Extra, formerly of Access Hollywood), she remained oblivious to the celluloid-crazy world around her and carried on with her fries, leaving none for us! Yes, she is very, very territorial about them—she will gladly share everything else, like her Apple Jacks or her Pinkberry or her Wetzel’s Pretzels, but she will never share her fries, thank you very much!
But dislike of headbands and French fry hoarding aside, she really was just a sweet little thing. Funny that she turned out to be the California sweetheart that I had initially wanted to take a pass on, yet I was enjoying it immensely. For one, I love that she turned out to be a water baby, squealing with delight every time we brought her to the beach, or some pool, or even if it was just the bathtub—and she could rock the bikini like no other, too! She also had a soft spot for dogs, and this one time she stopped a middle-aged dog walker dead in his tracks on the corner of Hollywood and N Orange so she could make friends with his chichi Chihuahuas. She also loved it whenever we took her shopping—which was 80% of the time—and even if she wasn’t old enough yet to choose her own clothes (of course) she was always willing to try on every single thing we picked for her, and she enjoyed rummaging through our shopping bags, too. Another thing she loved rummaging through was her mom’s makeup kit—my sister would leave the whole thing unattended, and five minutes later there’s lipstick and eyeliner and compact powder all over the place! And then there’s her smile—I don’t really need to describe it because you can see it in these photos, but if I really must then I will need to borrow a line from that one Collective Soul song: it’s got that “sunshine bright-eyed California cotton candy taste!”
So I never got the Becca Moody that I’d hoped for, and instead I got a little Lauren Conrad, but that’s totally fine. The Becca Moody phase will manifest sooner or later. Happy to report that her musical inclination is starting to kick in already! Just a couple of weeks back my brother-in-law (her dad) expressed that he wanted to get her a present, but was torn between a puppy and a guitar—he’d seen how much she adored dogs (the Chihuahua encounter in Hollywood), but could not discount the fact that every time he picked up his guitar she would stare dreamily and even try her hand at strumming. This problem was solved a few days later when he got her a guitar in the shape of a hound dog (by B. Toys) from Target! And speaking of Target, I must not discredit the fact that, during my last few days in L.A. and we would find ourselves in a Target to shop for camera accessories, she would gravitate towards the musical instruments department, pick up some drum sticks, and just start banging away at every surface in sight (we even got into trouble at one of the Culver City Targets when the salesperson approached us and asked us to “please watch your baby because these are very expensive drum sticks”)! And when we took her to Griffith Park so she could play in the grass she was quick to pick up two dead twigs the size and shape of, well, drum sticks, and that was all she played with the whole time! And when we took her for a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk she was first to spot this miniature piano (that belonged to a piano-playing Malti-Poo called Coco), and rushing towards the thing was the first time she’s ever ran so fast in her life!
So now I don’t know: Is she going to grow up to be a guitarist, or a drummer, or a keyboardist? One thing is for sure: She is going to go places. And she is going to rock people’s worlds. I mean, she’s already got a head start—she’s already rocking mine!
Mikaela K. Arradaza | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on April 2012, and in San Diego, CA, and Van Nuys, CA, on May 2012
I was at a vintage/junk shop in Williamsburg helping a friend look for various curios/bric-à-brac for her redecorating project when I got stuck in a corner with piles and piles of antique chests and was reminded of my mom. She would’ve loved it here, I thought as I ran my fingers through the more gorgeous ones (especially those with intricate carvings, brass trimmings and bone inlays)—my mom has always had a thing for old chests and trunks. I inched away from that recess to rejoin my friend, only to bump into a wall of floor-to-ceiling vintage vinyl—David Bowie’s Low from 1977, The Clash’s London Calling from 1979, Michael Jackson’s Thriller from 1982, The Smiths’ eponymous debut album from 1984 and Meat is Murder from 1985, etc.—and the whole thing reminded me of, well, my mom again, her love of music, and how I’d been surrounded by her (and her father’s) collection of vinyl growing up. Well before I could explore the entire shop it occurred to me that it was going to be Mother’s Day in just a few days—and I was nowhere near my mother! I certainly picked the wrongest of times to put an ocean between us. (And my sister, who’d recently become a mother, I’d left in L.A.!) I was starting to feel bad about my choice of travel dates when I realized that, hey, I wasn’t exactly going to be mother-less (or sister-less) on Mother’s Day—although my mom was some 7,000 miles away (and my sister some 2,000), I still had someone to celebrate with here in New York, and she was right under my nose!
Anne Alegrado is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and is my perennial hostess in New York. It was her that I’d stayed with during my first visit to the Big Apple in the fall of 2009. At the time she and her little family had lived in a modest-size 24th-floor apartment off 3rd on the Upper East Side, just a mere four blocks away from Central Park’s E 72nd entrance. So I’d crashed in their couch, and that was when I had grown fond of her children, and witnessed firsthand how much of an amazing mother she was. I think I wrote about this in a previous post—about how Anne liked to grow her own vegetables in her Brooklyn backyard during the day (yes, they have since hightailed it from the Upper East), and then squeeze her way through throngs of sweaty rock fans at, say, Terminal 5 to watch Nine Inch Nails live in concert, after tucking her babies in bed. I don’t know about you, but I personally find this trait praiseworthy. This was actually the subject of conversation between a common friend and I, one rainy evening when Anne dragged us to a Chairlift concert at the Webster Hall—Anne was swaying her head to “Bruises,” and we stared at her admirably, agreeing that it was cool what she was doing, enjoying her big city life to the fullest without sacrificing her quality of motherhood. This was what prompted me to consider: Who better to celebrate my first Mother’s Day in New York with than this super cool mom right here?
Come to think of it, Anne reminded me of my mom in some ways, too. One thing I loved about my mom was that we shared the same taste in music, and that was me and Anne, too—we both loved the same rock bands, and we shared a concert bucket list (from which we’d just scratched the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails off of). And, like my mom, she, too, loved decorating and home improvement—in Anne’s case, it all started when she’d moved to that first apartment of theirs in the Upper East (apparently a first NYC apartment is like a milestone of sorts, and so you have to do it up, and do it up good), and then mushroomed when the move to Brooklyn had afforded her more room (and that’s literally speaking) to get creative. Now she was telling me about how she had every intention of going all-out Rita Konig—scouring the city for the best antique/junk shops, and even looking at design school catalogs to find out where the best short courses on interior design were being offered.
And so I told her I was spending Mother’s Day with her and her family, and that I had a Mother’s Day present for her in the form of a family photo session. It was a long overdue thing, anyway—when they’d visited Cebu a couple of months back I’d promised to take pictures of her and her kids, but then we’d had trouble reconciling our schedules so that plan had never materialized. I was afraid she would say no, thinking her husband Jovi and the kids had had something planned already. Turned out they had already made plans, alright, “but it’s just a simple Mother’s Day lunch at home, so, by all means, join us!” She said “simple,” yes, but I knew I was in for a real treat—never a dull moment when it’s her family we’re talking about!
Loved, loved, loved their new neighborhood. Can’t recall if it was Prospect Park South, or Kensington—it may have even been Greenwood, due to its close proximity to the Green-Wood Cemetery—but it was right by the Church Ave. station, somewhere in the right atrium of the heart of Brooklyn. I especially loved how the tree-lined streets and brick terrace homes—and the peace and quiet—lent the place a kind of suburban feel, very refreshing for me because all I’d ever seen in the past week or so were skyscrapers, high-rises, tower blocks, and the fast-paced life. It was like being handed a bunch of homemade cookies after days of having nothing but, say, tiered cakes! This cookie’s soft and gooey center I found once I walked up to Anne’s charming American foursquare, and there they were, her and hubby and their two kids, flocked in the kitchen making spaghetti with meatballs, and Devil’s food cake cupcakes. For the first time in a long time, I felt right at home.
My original plan was to take them outdoors for the shoot—I was thinking the Williamsburg waterfront, that area where the Domino Sugar plant stood like a beacon, because I wanted a kind of industrial feel to underscore Anne’s indie rock-loving persona; I even thought of Coney Island, inspired by that one pivotal scene from 2003’s Uptown Girls starring Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning (and so the kids could have a good time while I was photographing them)—but as I showed myself around their house, admiring every little detail, I began to feel it would be very remiss of me not to show this side of Anne, the young mother who worked very hard to create a lovely home for her family. Just like that, we decided to stay put. Most people cringe at the thought of being photographed in a domestic setting, but thank God Anne wasn’t like most people. I don’t know why people think being photographed at home is unglamorous. I mean, it’s all a matter of imagination! For her first set Anne and I decided to add a Bree Van de Kamp touch to it—you know, with one hand on the dishwasher, the other cradling a glass of Chardonnay. Needless to say, the photos came out gorgeous!
I was so happy I finally got the chance to photograph their daughter Ellis. Even if I hadn’t brought a camera and we’d made this nothing more than a “couch and a movie” kind of afternoon, I’d still be happy just being around the little girl. Two and a half years ago I’d waxed poetic about how Ellis was the most profound thing to ever happen to my first New York trip when she’d acted as my little tour guide and taught me to look at things through a little girl’s eyes—her referring to the Brooklyn Bridge as “the bridge from the princess movie” (Enchanted), her teaching me how to “do some mathematics” in your head to keep your mind off all that walking, and her showing me it was OK to take a power nap on your subway train from point A to point B, all these I’d kept very close to my heart, because these were the only ways I could have ever appreciated the real New York. It made my heart balloon that she still remembered me, but it delighted me even more to see how much she’d grown in just a few years. Thanks to a The Beatles songbook that she’d gotten from her mom, she was learning how to sing now; and thanks to an acoustic guitar that she’d gotten from her dad, she was learning to strum, too! And as if all that wasn’t enough, the folks had to get her a journal, too, and so now she was also getting her write stuff on! She showed me some of the stuff she’d written, and I’d never been prouder of a child in my life! She even wrote a little something about me as I was taking pictures of her in her bedroom! What a sweetheart! Asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, without hesitation she shared that she wanted to be a musician. I hope she ends up becoming a writer, though. Or, come to think of it, it wouldn’t be impossible for her to end up becoming both—not only was she being raised in such a nurturing and devoted home environment, she was also living in this incredible city where it was virtually impossible to be uninspired!
As for little Lucas, well, I wasn’t too sure where it was coming from, but he said he wanted to be a ninja when he grew up. You know, at first he didn’t even want to be part of the shoot—he saw me yank my camera out and then he ran as far away from me as possible—but then his mom tried to cajole him into it by telling him that “Uncle Angel here is a real ninja from California, don’t you know that?” Of course, the little boy didn’t believe her, even sized me up to see if there really was a single martial arts bone in my body (funny that whenever I am at the Narita or Nagoya airports people would come up to me and start talking to me in Japanese, but that there is no fooling a little boy). Ultimately it was Ellis who won the coaxing game by handing him a cup of yogurt. Yes, nothing like a little dairy product to make him weak in the knees, but don’t get him wrong: he really was serious about the whole ninja business. At one point I went down to their basement to check if there was anything in there that was photographable, but had to hurry back up because I could feel the asbestos falling from the ceiling, thanks to Lucas who wouldn’t stop practicing his flying kick on the floor directly above me! Happy to report, though, that he allowed me to take a few shots of him, and that no photographic equipment—or bones—were harmed in the process.
I’d never thought I’d enjoy photographing children this much. I’d never even thought I’d be photographing children, ever! I’d sworn to myself that I would never do anything that involved kids, thinking it would be too much of a pain in the backside to get them to sit still or whatever. But then I’d met my mentor Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography), and she’d taught me how to “make a connection” with these little ones: “Just let them be,” she’d opined, “[because] if you ask them to pose or move [in a certain way] you won’t get to capture who they really are—it’s like you’re telling them to quit being children.” That was exactly the formula that I stuck to right here as I was photographing Ellis and Lucas. Ellis didn’t want to pretend like she was reading a certain book? Fine. Lucas didn’t want to put a shirt on? Fine! I just basically let them call the shots. And, you know what, it kind of worked! Because that way it became all about me trying to find that child-like wonder in order to level with them—not them trying to “grow up” to level with me! I hope these photos show that happening.
We were supposed to take the shoot outdoors after doing two sets indoors. Anne wanted to take me to the neighboring Green-Wood Cemetery because “the vibe there is so…ethereal.” Unfortunately, by the time we got there the property had already closed for the day. A common friend who tagged along with us for the afternoon quipped that she was kind of thankful the place was closed because “taking pictures in a cemetery is kind of creepy!” I wouldn’t have complained, though. I mean, to be able to shoot at a place where great people like the neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story) have been laid to rest? That would’ve been something, right? Oh, well, there is always a next time. I was actually thankful we didn’t get to do it at the time—gave us the chance to just melt in the couch and pop in Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. I got to have my “couch and a movie” kind of afternoon, after all!
Thank you, Anne (and hubby Jovi!), for once again opening up your home to me, and for giving me a family away from home! One day I will find a way to repay you for your incredible hospitality. Until that day comes, let’s just settle for me documenting your little ones’ milestones as they journey through the years!
Roxanne Roldan-Alegrado and her children Ellis and Lucas | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Brooklyn, NY, on May 13, 2012
I don’t know, but do you think the universe is trying to tell me something by throwing planes my way? Of course, when I say “throwing planes my way” I don’t mean that in the literal sense, but, well, almost. It all began with my first commercial/catalog assignment (for Shandar), which entailed photographing one of the models in a hangar. A couple of months later I would find myself in another airplane shed to do an Amelia Earhart-inspired set for a “vintage travel”-themed engagement session. And now here I was at the Van Nuys Airport for a family session!
If the name Mayce Arradaza rings a bell, that’s because she’s responsible for hair and makeup for most of the shoots I did in California. I wanted to do something in return for all the help she’d extended , so I offered one afternoon to photograph her and her family. Her partner Arvin is a pilot and a flight instructor, so it was a little difficult to pin him down. When he finally found the time in his busy schedule to come home to California, he had to be at the Van Nuys Airport to see an old friend and colleague, and so we decided to tag along and just do the session right there.
It was pretty sweltering in the San Fernando Valley that day (I think we were up to the mid-80s by the time we got to the airport) that I almost felt bad that I’d asked Mayce to be bundled up in scarves—the inspiration was Lauren Conrad’s airport looks, you see, which consisted of tunics, black leggings, brown boots, and scarves—but she never complained. I told her to just stand still and not move too much, that way it wouldn’t turn into a sweaty, sticky situation, but it was impossible not to move because their little girl Aira was so hyperactive that day, darting from one corner to another, and somebody had to chase her around somehow!
Of course, no one was about to chide Aira—in fact, we encouraged her to run around some more. All this frolic was like an answer to our prayers, you see, because the little girl was usually very shy and didn’t like her picture taken. In the days leading to this shoot we’d taken her out a couple of times (to Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Pier, and even San Diego!) for a few test shots, but she just wouldn’t smile for the camera! There were times she’d even hide! Luckily she was in a very playful mood that day at the airport, and she didn’t mind me taking pictures of her at all! She even brought her own camera—a Fisher-Price—so she could take her own pictures, too!
At first I had no idea where Aira’s change of mood was coming from—I thought it had something to do with the fact that we bribed her with Wetzels Pretzels (she’s crazy about their Cheddar Cheese dip). As the afternoon progressed, though, it became very clear she was just happy to be around her airplane. And, no, I am not talking about one of the model planes that we asked her to play with for some of the shots—those belong to her Dad. I am talking about the real deal red-and-white 1981 Cessna 152 that we used as backdrop for this shoot! Yes, that is her plane! Arvin bought it for and named it after her. Exactly how many little girls can claim that their dad bought them a plane? My guess is not a lot! Aira is a very, very lucky girl.
Which brings us back to my original question: What is it about planes and hangars and airports, and why do I gravitate towards them? Does it mean that, like Aira, I’m lucky, too? I hope it’s nothing ominous or anything. I mean, they’re keeping me busy, so that should be a good thing, right? Let’s hope so. I should consider myself lucky, right, to be able to shoot at a storied location? How many people can claim that they’ve shot at a place where some of the more important scenes from 1942’s Casablanca were shot? My guess is not a lot!
Speaking of luck, I got real lucky that day when, on the way home from the airport, Mayce and Arvin decided to make a quick stopover at the LACMA so I could take a few shots of them with Chris Burden’s Urban Light—the installation of restored antique street lamps from various Southern California municipalities, at the museum’s entrance on Wilshire—as backdrop. Didn’t exactly have strobist equipment on me in order to be able to take decent night shots, and plus the whole thing didn’t exactly fit the aviation theme, but who was I to say no to this place? Here was my chance to tick one off my dream locations list! You’d think shooting at a legendary airport would be enough for me, but, no, I just had to get me some Urban Light!
Yes, Urban Light is one of those L.A. landmarks that I never get tired of. I don’t know, but just look at that whole thing, and tell me if it isn’t the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. To me, though, it’s more than just beautiful. They say it’s easy to lose yourself in a city like L.A.—there’s even a song that goes, “Remember, Hollywood’s not America”—and I sure can attest to that. Luckily I have this place to run to whenever I need to regain composure and borrow some optimism. I look up at those lamps and I am rejuvenated. To me, they represent a future that’s bright. And, unlike airplanes, they may not signify dreams that are about to take flight, but they sure do remind me of those that are standing tall.
Arvin Nacario Eslit, Mayce Aparis Arradaza and their daughter Aira | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Van Nuys and Los Angeles, CA, on May 24, 2012
When I told my friends that I wanted to photograph “a bunch of California girls,” most of them were quick to roll their eyes and quip, “Oh, it’s obvious you want a The Hills-inspired shoot!” or “Let me guess: Lauren Conrad in your mood board?” While I will admit that I am crazy about Lauren Conrad and her gang (it’s no secret, after all, that one of the main reasons for this recent trip of mine to the City of Angels was to meet her in person—you know, as a birthday present to myself), allow me to lay my cards on the table and say that my California cultural references do not stop at The Hills or Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. I also happen to be obsessed with, say, the L.A.-born photographer Herb Ritts, and I am constantly studying his body of work and always looking for ways to incorporate that magical Ritts touch into my own aesthetic (another reason for this trip was so I could see the Herb Ritts: L.A. Style exhibition at the Getty—ongoing until August 26, by the way, so go now if you haven’t yet). Bret Easton Ellis and most of his works are also very California to me. And, of course, I grew up to Beverly Hills, 90210 and Baywatch, which means that Shannen Doherty will always be my number one bad girl crush (sorry, Kristin Cavallari) and that Pamela Anderson will always be my favorite plastic (sorry, Heidi Montag). And I happen to be a fan of the, um, “manlier” shows, too, like Entourage, for example. But as far as TV shows about California go, Tom Kapinos’s Californication will forever be on top of my list, and that’s thanks to Madeleine Martin’s character Becca Moody, and Natascha McElhone’s character Karen van der Beek. Becca is the main protagonist Hank Moody’s (David Duchovny) acerbic, goth rock-inclined teenage daughter, and Karen is Becca’s grownup cool kid mom. Becca and Karen are not the quintessential California girls—but they’re my kind of California girls. Disaffected, not peachy. Witty, not ditzy. Pallid, not sunkissed. And none of that cotton candy, celluloid chic, too—like, no Juicy Couture sweatpants or anything like that. Becca is dead-on grunge with her flannels and vintage concert Tees, and Karen’s style is kind of downtown-meets-boho-meets-Coachella. Yes, they are, as you would call it, the other side of tinseltown, home of the hardcore. And they—not Lauren Conrad and her pretty posse—were exactly the kind of girls I had in mind when I said I wanted to photograph “a bunch of California girls.”
My prayers were answered when Maia Ramirez hit me up and asked me to photograph her and her daughters Mallie and Maxine, after seeing the work that I’d done for her brother Luigi’s engagement last year. Her message ended with a warning of sorts: “I have to tell you, though, the Mallie, my eldest, is kind of ‘tomboyish’—we’re gonna have a hard time convincing her to wear anything girly!!!” To which I responded, “Perfect!” Because wasn’t that a very Becca Moody thing to do—not “wear anything girly?” It was like I’d died and gone to heaven! Finally here was my chance to have a shoot inspired by the main girls of Californication! I wasted no time in sending her a list of clothes to prepare—flannels, big black grunge boots, beanies, and fishnet wrist gloves for the little girls, and Karen van der Beek-inspired pieces for Maia. At first Maia was concerned about the grunge look on her youngest, Maxine—unlike Mallie, you see, Maxine was the girly girl type, the kind who preferred ballerina flats over boots, and Disney princesses over, say, Queens of Dogtown. A compromise had to be made, and so I allowed Maxine to pair her flannels with sequined shorts instead of jeans—I had to say no to the ballerina flats, though, and only allowed her to wear leather Chuck Taylor-esque lace-up boots (with floral applique detail, of course).
Initially Maia wanted the shoot to take place in their hometown of Clovis, CA, which was some 4 hours northwest of L.A. (some 15 minutes northeast of Fresno), but I had to turn that down because I couldn’t find anyone to drive me there. Also, I really couldn’t imagine doing this whole thing anywhere else but in Venice Beach. As some of you who’ve been there may know, Venice is one of the more colorful and vibrant areas of Southern California, one of those places that have managed to establish itself as a cultural phenomenon by being egalitarian, mind-bogglingly eclectic and compellingly odd—I’d fallen in love with the place the first time I’d visited some three years ago, and there was nothing I wanted more now than a chance to take its pulse through pictures. Besides, it’s also where most of my favorite scenes from Californication were shot, especially that one scene some 7 or 8 minutes into the second episode of the fourth season where Becca is playing her electric guitar at the boardwalk for some cash (to save up for a place of her own), while Karen and Pamela Adlon’s character Marcy Runkle looked on—it was exactly this scene that I wanted to recreate for this shoot. Thankfully, Maia said yes to driving all the way from Clovis; she owed the girls a visit to Disneyland, anyways, and so she asked for our gig to be scheduled on the Monday following their Sunday date with Mickey Mouse and friends.
Sometimes materializing your vision is never easy, and this one right here was no exception. In order to effectively recreate that one rockin’ scene of Becca’s at the boardwalk, we needed heavy duty props, such as an electric guitar, a hard case, maybe even some amps. Thank God my brother-in-law Chester is a guitarist and had all these stuff handy (I think I must’ve had over a dozen guitars and cases to choose from, but I ended up picking the Dean Vendetta guitar and the B.C. Rich “casket case,’’ of course, because they were just so badass-looking)! But while the sourcing wasn’t a problem, dragging all that stuff around definitely was pain in the backside—I think I almost broke my two arms trying to carry them from the beachfront parking lot to the spot we were shooting at and back (and I had my camera bag with me, too)! All worth the backbreaking trouble, though, because the pictures from that set came out real good! And not so much because of the props as in terms of how Mallie and Maxine handled them. I didn’t even need to teach Mallie how to cradle the guitar—she just snatched the darn thing from my hands and in no time declared she was ready for her closeup! Who says little girls don’t know a thing or two about rocking out? I hope she grows up to be a guitarist.
Yes, what started out as something I thought I needed to do in a hurry quickly turned into one of those shoots that I didn’t want to ever end. On the 10 en route to the beach, all I could think of was, I gotta do this fast! I gotta to this fast! (I even had a cup of coffee before leaving my sister’s house, and coffee is not my favorite thing in the world!) I was thinking of the little girls, you see, and how I didn’t want to work them up too much, especially considering the fact that, well, these were little girls, and that they’d spent more than 8 hours under the sun at Disneyland the previous day (no Mickey Mouse ears are ever large enough to shade you against the brutal California sun, and I learned that the hard way). Once we got to the beach, though, Mallie and Maxine were suddenly so rejuvenated, and they couldn’t wait to step in front of the camera! And once I started clicking, it was as if they didn’t want to step away from my frame ever! Maxine, in particular, was such a hogger (for lack of a better term)—I’d take pictures of her big sister solo, and just two or three clicks and she’d be screaming, “OK, enough, Mallie! My turn! My turn!” To which Mallie would just nod and politely give way! Can’t remember the countless times I told her, “Maxine, you gotta wait your turn!” and the countless times she retorted, “But it already is my turn!” Swear to God, for every three pictures of Mallie, Maxine would have 20! This didn’t seem to bother the elder sister, though, because she’s chill like that—at one point she even told me, “I don’t really like my picture being taken.” The only reason she had no issues about doing this session, apparently, was ‘cause it was in her lane in that it was kind of “non-girly,” and she even lived up to her offbeat, tomboy cred by demanding, “[If you have to] take photos of me, [they have to be of me] standing right next to these really cool trash cans!” It was like I’d found my own personal Becca Moody! How else was I supposed to love this girl but to bits and pieces?
At one point it made me wonder where these girls’ energy was coming from. Were they solar-powered, and were they getting it from the scorching sun? Was it the fact that we were in a very groovy, lively place? Was it the corndogs? Were they getting it from Harry Perry (no relation to Katy Perry, I’m sorry), the turban-sporting electric guitarist on roller skates? Did they have a peppy song playing in their heads the whole time—”Overdrive” by Katy Rose, perhaps, which goes something like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m independence/ Yeah, yeah, I’m borderline/ Yeah, yeah, I’m California/ My mind’s all screwed and upside down/ But my heart’s on overdrive”? Of course, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that they got it from their mama! Maia was so fierce in front of the camera that I had it all too easy. Considering the fact that she wasn’t really comfortable with our theme at first, she put on a very good show! Yes, she admitted that at the onset she was kind of skeptical about the whole Californication/grunge thing, but then she chimped after a few shots, and then gave me her stamp of approval, saying that she liked it ‘cause “it’s a departure from the usual family photos!” Nothing makes me happier than subjects who allow me the liberty to carry out my vision despite our creative differences, and who give me the chance to prove that I’ve got something. For that I had to reward Maia with a bonus set—a pared-down, no-fuss “denim-and-whites” set, still very much California, but sedate enough for her to use as Christmas cards or whatever she wants to use them for.
I think I am getting the hang of this—you know, photographing families and children. I mean, it all seems so distant now, that part when I was only starting out and I actually swore to myself that I was never going to do anything that involved kids because, well, I was deathly afraid I was never going to get them to stand still, much less get them to do whatever crazy stuff I wanted them to do. But after shoots like this one right here, I guess you can’t help but ask for more! Now the problem is whether or not I’ll be able to find little ones who are as crazy and outgoing as Mallie and Maxine. I’ve been trying to avoid this, but I think now is a really good time to borrow a line from The Beach Boys: Don’t you just “wish they all could be California girls?”
Maia Mangubat-Ramirez and her daughters Mary Louise and Maxine Antoine | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 21, 2012 | Hair and makeup by Mayce Aparis Arradaza | Graphic print Tee, Matthew Williamson for H&M | Yellow high-low hemline sheer top, Forever 21 | Acid wash skinny jeans, Fire Los Angeles, at Nordstrom | Girls’ flannel shirts, Abercrombie Kids | Girl’s skinny jeans, Gap | Black sequined shorts, Gap
There are those who let their so-called achievements, however insignificant, get to their heads. And then there are those who, no matter the high places their career has taken them, keep their feet firmly planted in the ground. Go ahead and count the model Fretzel Buenconsejo in the latter category. Modest to a fault—i.e., to a point of being self-deprecating—and never one to attract attention to herself, she would rather talk about her humble beginnings than, say, pull out her imposing portfolio, or joke about her flaws than brag about her good looks.
Such was what went down when she showed up for the casting call for the accessories design firm Gracie Q’s spring/summer 2012 catalog shoot. I kept nudging her so she would take her portfolio out of her tote and spread it out on the table, but she just sat there, beaming, and talking about her childhood. In my mind I was thinking, What is she so scared of? Why is she not sharing her book? Had I been in her place, the portfolio would’ve been slammed against the tabletop before I could even think of sitting down, the thickness of it enough to cause a thundering BOOM!, and so there would be no need for my mouth to do the talking. When I say she’s been to high places, you see, I really mean high places: After a 6-year stint in Cebu, she’d moved to Manila sometime in the mid-2000s, and that’s when she’d reached a really prolific peak, appearing in high-profile ad campaigns for the likes of Gatorade, McDonald’s, Paradise Mango Rum Liqueur, even Pampers. Perhaps her best-known appearance was for a campaign for instant coffee behemoth Nescafé—one of my favorite stories to tell was how, standing the in Buendia station one day a couple of years back, I’d broken into goosebumps when an MRT train with Fretzel’s face (holding up a cup of coffee) plastered on its side had pulled up in front of me. I had to pull this anecdote out of my pocket that evening of the casting call because Fretzel couldn’t bring herself to do it!
Well, as it turned out, my story proved to be near useless, because all the Gracie Q team had ears for were Fretzel’s stories about growing up in a small town (Dalaguete), and about the little-girl antics that gave her this one scar on her elbow and that one scar on her knee (other girls would go to great lengths to hide their imperfections, but this girl is proud of hers!), etc. Gracie Q proprietor/head designer Grace Querickiol-Nigel was completely blown away by her modesty and sense of humor, and wasted no time in declaring, “We have found our girl! I want her for my catalog!” (And Malou Pages [of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing], who’d been commissioned to photograph the whole thing, would later recount that something about Fretzel had given her “a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside,” and that “she’s the kind of person who could tell me stories all day long while I chase her around with my camera!”) Just like that, the search was over, and the team didn’t even bother looking at the other names the list.
For what it’s worth, I knew right from the start that they were going to pick Fretzel—I just didn’t know they would pick her for her “backstory,” and that the looks factor would only come secondary. When Grace told me at the onset of this project, you see, that the collection we were shooting was “inspired by all things Cebu,” I immediately thought, They’re gonna need a very Filipina-, very Cebuana-looking model, and so I wasted no time in contacting Fretzel (perfect timing, too, ‘cause she’d just moved back to Cebu to start a new business venture with her boyfriend Jeff). It wouldn’t be until later on in the production process that I would understand the message that Grace wanted to convey via this collection: “I want to bring out the island girl in the wearer. That’s pretty much the effect I want this collection to achieve. I want the Gracie Q woman to wear these pieces and—WHAM!—she is transported to another place in time, [that place being] our beautiful island of Cebu.”
The Cebu in her mind being the Cebu she grew up in—the virgin beaches, the windy hills, the colorful “jeepneys” (and not the tall buildings that you see now). Which was why Fretzel’s stories of her childhood in a small beach town struck a chord with Grace—Fretzel’s Cebu echoed a lot of Grace’s Cebu, the Cebu that the Gracie Q team wanted the world to see. The more I think about it, now the more it makes sense to me: Of course, it was only natural that they would pick a down-to-earth girl to represent a truly down-to-earth collection. It’s a match made in heaven!
Already wrote about this a couple of months back, but it’s worth mentioning again that, yes, Fretzel did me proud on the day of the shoot, too! And I’m not just talking about how she surprised me by bringing a copy of the book Filipina: A Tribute to the Filipino Woman (2004), which included a photograph of her by the great Wig Tysmans from a shoot that I’d styled more than a decade ago (yes, I can now safely say that at least one of my works have made it into a bona fide book!). She displayed utmost professionalism, arriving 30 minutes before everybody else, moving at a bullet-like pace, helping with the styling, dispensing invaluable shooting advice (like only a seasoned model could), and just being a lynch pin—all this while winning everyone over with her sunny personality, and allotting the right amount of goofiness to keep the mood light. What we thought was going to take two days to shoot only took one day (7 hours to be exact), thanks to her!
But enough about Fretzel. Let’s talk about Gracie Q. One of the reasons this project was special to me was ‘cause it gave me the chance to work with a fashion brand “with a conscience”—not only do they teach skills and provide opportunities to people who need them the most, they are also making noble efforts to be responsible stewards of environmental conservation, taking other manufacturing firms’ scrap materials and turning them into beautiful little trinkets. It’s an admirable feat, really, and truly one worth emulating. But don’t just take my word for it. Below I have included the note that Grace wrote to accompany the catalog. Read on and you will see why Gracie Q is something you as a Cebuano can truly be proud of.
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The Gracie Q journey began five years ago when an accessories designer friend instilled a passion for craftsmanship in me. She had asked for a help and I obliged, not knowing that one afternoon in her table would spark a fire inside of me. What an exhilarating feeling to find out I could come up with things of beauty with my own bare hands! I would soon run into the need for help myself, and, as I was commissioned by an outdoor furniture manufacturing firm to conduct skills transference classes to indigents (yes, I was a livelihood coach in a past life), that was when I discovered the joy of reaching out—i.e., of teaching people some skills, and of rewarding them in the end by giving them the opportunity to make their lives better with their newfound craft. Safe to say that that was how this microenterprise was born—by marrying my thirst for creating beautiful things with my desire to help my brothers in need.
Halfway through our ride, my team and I became conscious that we were missing a very essential ingredient, and that’s when we decided to embrace a commitment to environmental sustainability. Partnering with the aforementioned outdoor furniture manufacturer, we found ways to take their scrap and leftover materials to help reinforce their zero-waste/zero-landfill policies, put these very pieces in our own depots and drawing tables, and incorporate them into our own design methodologies and end products. No easy feat, but came with a sense of gratification like no other knowing that, in our own little way, we were contributing to efforts to protect the environment and to make this planet a better place for generations to come.
After five years, and having fulfilled three very important goals—to immerse our hands in the thrills of craftsmanship, to provide meaningful opportunities to those who need it most, and to be responsible to the environment—you’d think that Gracie Q is pretty much where we want it to be, and that we could not ask for more. Tempting as it is to stop and rest on our laurels, we felt we owed it to Gracie Q to give it some semblance of a brand—in other words, to go back and zero in on our creative direction, now that our social responsibility objectives had been carried out and set in stone. We wanted Gracie Q to be more than just an “exporter” (if you come to think of it, “exporter” was no longer a fitting term, anyway, as we were starting to make our products available locally, too)—we wanted to turn it into a bona fide brand.
And so here we are today, with a new creative team at the helm. We now have people who help us make valuable branding and image decisions, forecast trends, study the market, generate design concepts, and inject a little creative discipline into our operations. Whereas for the past five years our creative process took a rather haphazard route, relying mainly on whim and hasty bursts of inspiration, we now have instruments to funnel and filter all these to make sure the resulting messages/concepts are stylish without being inconsistent, and enduring without being stagnant.
The collection that you are seeing now via the catalog that is in your hands—and, if we may add, the catalog itself—is a product of this new creative process, a process that, although very painstaking and rigid, no doubt takes Gracie Q to new heights, which is no less than the plateau that it deserves. I will admit that at first there were reservations in my part, and the whole thing proved to be too overwhelming at times, but I knew it was all worth it when I saw that it only elaborated on rather than disguised the Gracie Q aesthetic. Think of it as a makeover of sorts. The same old Gracie Q, only this time with more discipline, more structure, and, consequently, more substance! People ask me, “But isn’t it like you’re starting over again?” Which was precisely the point. The walls have been built—the skills, the dedication to help others, the commitment to protect the planet—and so now it was time to go back to the foundation and strengthen it. It really is like coming full circle. A lot like coming home!
Speaking of coming home, that was exactly what we had in mind when we were designing this new collection. In the past, you see, we’d looked literally everywhere for inspiration—e.g., a certain collection would evoke a bit of Paris here, a little New York there, etc., as a result of me trying to encapsulate all my travel memories into one receptacle—and that’s probably why we’d never had a “structured” collection, ‘cause our references were too varied! This time, though, we decided to look at just one place—and we decided for it to be a tropical island paradise. Why? How? Well, it all started when we were thinking of a muse. What type of woman did we want to see these pieces on? Who did we want to design for? The quirky cool London woman who lived for Glastonbury, like, say, Kate Moss? The sophisticated yet mischievous Manhattanite editor who loved to hit the shooting ranges during her downtime, like Helen Lee Schifter? The preternaturally leggy Czech whose, as the song goes, “hair was Harlow gold,” like Karolina Kurkova? It was tremendously difficult having to pick just one woman when we wanted to do them all! And then it struck us: What did all these women have in common? We recalled a series of photographs of Ms. Moss kicking it at a beach in Phuket. Dug up images of the regal Ms. Schifter unwinding at St. Barth’s. Paparazzi shots of Ms. Kurkova in Ipanema. All of which led to the conclusion that, no matter what type of woman you were, and wherever in the world you were from, you were always going to be an island girl at heart. That’s how we came up with the idea of island-inspired pieces. And where better to look for inspiration than in our own backyard? Yes, to those of you who are not aware, Gracie Q was born and raised in an island paradise—that’s the island of Cebu to you.
Dubbed “Paradiso,” this collection boasts of hues inspired by our cool blue waters and, well, some of their creatures (the neon damselfish of Sumilon had a shade of blue that proved too irresistible), gradients that evoke breathtaking sunsets seen from a Lapu-Lapu beachfront, and textures that recall, say, afternoon hikes up the bucolic flower-growing hills of Busay. We have chandelier neckpieces that allude to Sinulog festival costumes, patterns borrowed from hand-painted native guitars, finishes that pay proper tribute the ever-vibrant “jeepneys” that roam our streets. But perhaps the most Cebuano of the bunch—our pièces de résistance, so to speak—are those pieces with accents inspired by the pusô, a native dish in which rice is cooked in a diamond-shaped packet made of woven coconut leaves. Really, when these little accents jingle-jangle around your wrists or against your collar, what other place on earth comes to mind? (What’s more, they are made from scraps of the material used to create hand-woven chairs—stylish and sustainable!)
Of course, there is one thing more Cebuano than even the pusô. 10 years ago I read a passage in a local magazine that said something to the effect of: “Few things are as redolent of that classic Cebu charm as…the Cebuana smile.” How very true! When I am in a different city or country and I see a Filipina woman smile in a way that makes my heart skip a beat, I immediately think, “This woman is Cebuana”—and almost always I am proven right! That was exactly what I had in mind when we were scouting for a face to represent this collection and grace this catalog. When the model Fretzel Buenconsejo stepped into our offices for the casting call, with a smile as warm as an island breeze, we knew right then and there she was exactly who we were looking for. Fretzel is the quintessential island girl—grew up riding bikes along the coastal roads of Dalaguete (a beachfront town some 50 miles southwest of Cebu City), a sucker for seafood and tropical fruit, and proud of her skin, which happens to be the color of brown sugar. She’s the kind of girl whose laughter tells stories of endless summers, whose laid-back, unassuming nature reminds you of sweet little siestas, and whose zest for life has that characteristic tang of a tropical fruit juice. In other words, she’s the kind of girl we hope every woman transforms into once they slip on a piece or two from this collection.
On behalf of the Gracie Q team, allow me welcome you to our island home. As one famous line from a movie goes, “Trust me, it’s paradise.” And we’re glad we have the chance to bring out the island girl in you and make you look the part.
Fretzel Buenconsejo for Gracie Q | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, on November 19, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo for Calography (click here to view some of Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by Joe Branzuela | Special thanks to Jeff Enecio and Vanity Salinana | Maya blue/grey unishoulder drape goddess dress, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Orange red/sienna/carrot striped top, Forever 21 | White jersey multi-way dress, EJ Relampagos | Persian green/lime floral-print silk chiffon kaftan with Indian silk trimming, Kate Torralba | Cyan/chartreuse zebra-print cotton/jersey blend keyhole-neck floor-length kaftan, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Black strapless corset minidress, EJ Relampagos | Strapped wooden wedge sandals, Shandar
How popular are Oyo Sotto and Kristine Hermosa’s engagement photos (by the great Nelwin Uy) to the just-got-engaged/to-be-hitched set these days? I swear, I must have had four or five couples come up to me and gush about them. And who can blame them, really? I myself (and I am not getting engaged or married ever) can’t stop thinking about, say, that scarlet flamenco-inspired bell-sleeved lace dress that Ms. Hermosa wore in one of the sets, or how ruggedly handsome Oyo looked (or, could it be the fact that some of the photos involved horses was what made me giddy like that?). Chito Delavin and Tuesday Cuizon were no exception. In fact, they took their fascination to a whole new level—whereas other couples would just mention it in passing, the Oyo and Kristine photos were all Chito and Tuesday could talk about. And then it happened: they declared that that was the kind of theme they wanted for their own engagement photos.
My first impulse was to talk them out of it, because I seemed to know that there was no way anyone could top those now-semi-iconic photos. “I’m not that good!” I laughed, before proceeding to explain that Oyo and Kristine’s photos didn’t really have a particular theme—i.e., it was an eclectic mix of themes that was put into play, what with the abovementioned scarlet flamenco-style dress paired with Oyo’s mismatched plaid ensemble, a touch of neo-boheme here and there, plus some elements of folk, urbanite, even cowboy. Thankfully, Tuesday said she didn’t want an exact copy of each and every outfit—she just wanted the “playful feel” of it all. “Like little kids playing dress-up.” I loved her take on it. Just like that, a sigh of relief.
Not to say my nerves were completely out the window. I had every reason to be nervous about this assignment. You are going to laugh at this, but I’ve got to come clean that the nonlinear theme and eclectic mix-and-matching are no strong suits of mine—what I’m good at is finding one formula per shoot, and sticking to it. Over the years, when the occasion called for something eclectic, I would be quick to turn and pass the ball to my fellow stylist Meyen Baguio, who (and I talked about this in a previous post) was more able in this department than I could ever be. Unfortunately, Meyen had moved to Manila shortly after our collaboration for the Shandar catalog some six months back, and she wasn’t coming home anytime soon! I wasn’t completely out of luck, though: Meyen’s 14-year-old niece Mickey was still in town and wasn’t going anywhere!
I talked about Mickey in a bunch of previous posts. She’s an aspiring makeup artist whose idols include the celebrated Romero Vergara, and who loves to drown herself in Kevyn Aucoin and Bobbi Brown books (while all the other kids her age are reading, say, Harry Potter). Very recently, styling lured her interest, too, which was only natural considering she rarely stumbles upon dull fashion sense, having been raised by a grandmother and a mom who loved clothes, and by Meyen who was practically making a living off of it. The little girl had in fact lent a hand during one sitting for the Shandar catalog, and so now that I was in another styling dilemma and her aunt wasn’t around I knew that my best bet would be to call her for some input.
Needless to say, that turned out to be the best decision I’d ever made for this particular project, and so was asking her to tag along on the day of the shoot. It was I who brought the clothes, yes, but it was Mickey who put this and that together, and who called the shots in the footwear, legwear and accessories departments. The resulting outfits? Well, perhaps not as over-the-top stylish as Oyo and Kristine’s, but they were nothing short of whimsical. I guess that right there is the advantage of having an extra pair of eyes that’s fresher and younger—had I been on my own that day I don’t think I would’ve been able to produce the same results, owing to the fact that I tend to overthink rules. Moral of the story: Who best to recreate a “kids playing dress-up” picture than, well, a kid herself? (Although I really should stop calling her a kid—she’s in her mid-teens now and seems to be growing an inch or two a month!)
We were going to shoot at a traveling carnival, at the suggestion of Paul Calo (of Calography), and that had gotten me real stoked. Can’t remember if it was ‘cause we weren’t able to pull some strings or ‘cause we just couldn’t find the damn place (ironically, in this part of the world, the traveling carnival is not an easy part of town to find), but that plan got axed, and so we settled for second best: a little fishing village somewhere in Cordova, some four miles southwest of Lapu-Lapu City, and we also managed to stop at an abandoned building along the way. Turned out to be alright, because these places were so full of texture, but to this day I can’t stop thinking about the carnival idea, you know? How perfect that would’ve been, right, for a “child’s play” theme? Well, there are always other shoots.
Speaking of “child’s play,” it helped a great deal that our subjects were quick to slip into character once it was time to face the cameras. Pretty awesome, because during our first meeting only two or three weeks back they’d come off as the quiet, serious types, and here they were now, hauling out some crazy, goofy, childish stuff. Well, at first Chito was still kind of shy, but that was alright because it was exactly the kind of shyness that made him smile like a bashful little schoolboy, you know? As for Tuesday, who’d claimed earlier that she wasn’t at all camera shy, that day she learned that, funnily enough, she was still capable of blushing like a schoolgirl—you should’ve seen the way she giggled every time Chito put his arms around her or leaned forward to kiss her! It was refreshing to see them all grown up one day, and then act like little kids falling in love for the first time the next. It made me happy when Tuesday declared that this shoot sort of gave them a chance to relive their younger days, a time that was special to them because, well, that was when they’d fallen in love (they’d been dating since high school!). I could attribute it to the clothes, or even those colorful balloons, but, really, it was their childlike chemistry that made the whole thing such an exhilarating picture to paint. It was like we were shooting a modern-day fairy tale! Apparently, Frank Sinatra was right when he sang, “It can happen to you/ If you’re young at heart…”
Chito Delavin and Tuesday Cuizon | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Lapu-Lapu City and Cordova, Cebu, on November 13, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand and Charisse Calo for Calography | Makeup by Owen Taboada | Hair by Nan Castillo | Styling assistant: Mikaela Baguio | Vanilla crochet and lace gala gown, Philipp Tampus | Eggshell lace shirt, amber cotton chintz skirt, hyperfloral babydoll dress with bishop-style sleeves, all from The Fab Grab | Vintage wash denim jacket, multicolor mesh scarf, stylist’s own | Strapped wooden wedge sandals, Shandar | Flannel shirt, American Eagle Outfitters | Digi houndstooth-print dress shirt, Uniqlo | Chocolate brown blazer, Maldita Men | Plaid shorts and Madras shorts, Old Navy | Solid black men’s silk tie, Springfield UP by Springfield | Red and white plimsolls, Springfield
“If you could photograph only one thing in the world, what would it be?” A friend of mine once asked me this question almost out of the blue. She was half-expecting me to scream “Chris Burden’s Urban Light outside the LACMA!” or go all out and pick a really outrageous subject like, say, the divine Kate Moss, and so what rolled out of my tongue took her by surprise: “A horse.” And I wasn’t kidding, too—in fact, this was the most honest answer I’d ever given anyone. To which she intoned incredulously, “Why a horse?” I just laughed and said, you know, “Well, why the hell not?”
Said this a gazillion times before, and I’ll say it again now: To me, there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing a horse throw its head up, arch its back, and whip its tail. Pure, unadulterated magic. Hundreds of other animals out there, I know, but, to me, none of them possess and harmonize two opposing qualities as effectively and effortlessly as a horse does—i.e., not everything that’s fluid can be strapping at the same time, and not everything that’s strapping can be fluid—which is almost always what makes something such a thrill to watch (the reason why we are so fascinated with ballerinas, or why we can’t stop watching those Herb Ritts music videos, no?) and, well, to photograph.
I’d been fascinated with horses since time immemorial (the first ever book I’d finished in one sitting was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty; I’d held on to my My Little Pony blanket well until I was halfway through high school; and for a time there I’d actually considered getting that silhouette of a stallion in the lower right corner of the album cover of the Deftones’ White Pony tattooed on my wrist), but this epiphany—the joy in taking pictures of them—didn’t occur to me until a year and a half ago, when I visited the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, on a mission to take pictures of the place for my cousin Amanda Liok, who loved horses to death and had dreamt of visiting that very place one day, and I ended up spending four or so hours just clicking away at every singe horse I bumped into, living or statued. Andalusians, American Minis, Palominos, even Frieisians! Majestic equine bronze statues (Herbert Haseltine’s rendition of the legendary Man o’ War, couple of Gwen Reardons)! I even got to witness and shoot some show jumping! It was such an exhilarating experience—needless to say, I didn’t want it to ever end. Flash forward to a year later, back home in Cebu, I was starting to lament the lack of opportunities to watch or photograph these fine creatures in this part of the world when, slowly but surely, they found a way to creep up on to—or, should I say “gallop into”—my frame. For a shoot in Busay last July, I was surprised when the stylist was able to commission a pretty little riding mare named Athena to join in the sitting. And then the following month, during my first ever gig as apprentice to Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography), which took us up the mountains of Carmen, my mentor had to shoot me reproving glances upon realizing I was spending more time taking pictures of this stallion named Ferrari than of our clients. And then came November, which found us driving two hours down south to Barili to do a cowboy-themed engagement session—and what’s a cowboy-themed sitting without a couple of horses, right?
Three shoots that involved horses, none of them planned or foreseen, all of them a coincidence. Glad they came along and found me, because they only gave me the chance to prepare for my biggest shoot that was to involve horses. Which brings us to this shoot right here.
For more than a year I’d been promising my cousin Amanda that I was going to find time in my frenzied schedule to visit her in her new hometown of Palompon, Leyte (some two hours west of Ormoc City), and photograph her and her daughter Mia, and, well, their horses. I hadn’t seen her in ages, and during that time our only form of interaction had been our exchange of e-mails whenever I’d found myself in Kentucky—“It’s you that’s supposed to be here,” I would write. “You are going to love this place to bits!” To me, Amanda was many things, but a lover of horses above all—naturally, no one else had come to mind whenever I’d found myself in the “horse capital of the world.” She would respond to my e-mails saying that, yes, it had been her and her husband’s dream to visit Lexington one day, and then she would send me photos of the horses in her own backyard. What beauties! She had taken her childhood fancies and whims, and then put them together to put up her own little band of horses. When I told her at one point that “it turns out naming your horses is almost like an art”—this after I’d met horse owners/equestrians at the Horse Park who’d baptized their beloved beasts with some of the most enchanting names I’d ever heard (my personal favorites: Alcatraz, Countess, and Moonshine, the latter probably after the liquor since this was the American South, after all)—she’d shared that, yes, she’d taken the naming game pretty seriously herself, and had given the most charming monikers to those in her brood. Finding out that she’d named one of her babies Moondance? Enough to make me want to meet the beauty and the rest of the family in the flesh, and that was how the idea for this shoot had been born.
So aside from Moondance there were Salsa, Chili, Ginger, Ola, Baila, and Sol. When Amanda asked me which one I wanted to include in the shoot, I picked Moondance, and she validated my choice by saying that the mare’s strawberry roan made it very photogenic—true enough, against the vast vegetation in their backyard, her chestnut coat looked so dazzling that I found it hard to stop taking pictures of her! She was the most mild-mannered of them all, too, and had a Zen aura about her. You know what they say about never approaching a horse “from the behind?” Well, I approached her a couple of times from the rear, and Moondance didn’t seem to mind. (She was the complete and utter opposite of the subject of Curley Fletcher’s poem-turned-ballad called, well, “The Strawberry Roan,” which talks of a wild bucking horse: “An’ fer throwin’ good riders he’s had lots uh luck/ An’ he sez that this pony has never been rode/ That the boys that gits on him is bound to git throwed.”) Did I mention she was very affectionate towards her master, too? Every chance she got she would stick her muzzle against Amanda’s cheeks! I thought that was just cute. I wanted to include Salsa in some of the frames, because I was in love with her smoky black coating, but the caretaker told me that that mare had to rest (apparently, horses have to take a break, too)—I did get a chance to take a few shots of her while she was taking an afternoon stroll, though, and that was enough for now (I’ll be back for you, Salsa!).
For Mia’s set, we decided to include the latest addition to their ever-growing family: a 4-year-old Miniature named Iris. Pretty awesome, because only a year ago, when I’d showed Amanda my photos of the American Minis I’d spotted at the Horse Park, she’d said that it had been her dream to get Mia a Mini, and now here we were face-to-face with a dream come true! Actually, the little girl didn’t get just one but two Minis! The other one, Barrack, we couldn’t ask to join in the photos because he was in a foul mood that day and thus had to be kept at bay. That was alright, because Iris by herself was gorgeous enough. I would’ve wanted for Mia to mount Iris for a couple of frames, but Iris was pregnant (another Mini on the way!), so we just forgot about it.
Horses weren’t the only, um, quadrupeds that made special guest appearances that day. Mia’s blue Australian Cattle Dog named, well, Blue also joined in the fun. Such a mischievous little creature, that fella—he was all over the place, darting from left to right, jumping up and down, always wanting to play catch—but when it was time for him to face the camera he was surprisingly tame and well-behaved! Suffice to say that that doggie stole the show—it was as if he was thinking, I am not going to let a bunch of horses upstage me!
It’s uncanny how much Mia looks like her mom. I was staring at the little girl’s face, and it took me back to years ago when Amanda and I were little kids, and we’d lock ourselves up in her bedroom to play with her Barbies (actually, she would take me to her bedroom so I could play with her Barbies, and then she’d rush back out to play with the boys). It got me feeling somewhat, um, melancholic thinking that Amanda finally had a “mini her,” while here I was without a “mini me!” When I asked Mia what she wanted to be when she grew up, she just shook her head, pressed a thumb against her nose (she loves to do that, so cute!), and said she didn’t know yet. One thing’s for sure, though: she’s gonna take after her mother’s love of horses. When Amanda showed me a photo album of their recent trip to Down Under, noting that some of the more beautiful photos had been taken by Mia, I said, “I hope she grows up to be a photographer!” Of course, wishful thinking in my part that, since I didn’t have a “mini me” of my own, Mia would take after a part of me, too. Wouldn’t that be nice, though?
I was happy that I got to exercise a teensy-weensy bit of styling during this session. You see, I’d had reservations at first, knowing that Amanda and I, although we’d practically grown up together, had completely opposing views when it came to clothes (didn’t I mention me playing with her Barbies and her running off to play with the boys?)—i.e., she was the T-shirt-and-jeans kind of girl, while I favored, well, everything impractical. I was also aware of the fact that she was making a conscious effort to raise her daughter in a certain way—i.e., she didn’t want Mia to grow up appearance-conscious—and I wanted to respect that more than anything. But thank God she trusted me enough to let me have my way that day, and she agreed to wear some of the items that I’d brought along with me. I was in for a pleasant surprise, though, when, upon inspecting their closet to look for other items we could use, I spotted these exquisite little pairs of two-tone top-stitched cowboy boots (Amanda’s in aquamarine and coffee, and Mia’s in cameo pink and camel)—turned out that, although function was their utmost priority, they knew a thing or two about injecting a little form and fancy into their wardrobe, after all.
OK, OK. I know you’ve been thinking it while looking at all these photos, so let’s just get it out of the way, shall we? These are some seriously good-looking cowgirls right here. Amanda is going to laugh at this little commentary, though, even call it absurd, because she’s down-to-earth like that. But the fact that they didn’t need makeup to look this good in photos (our makeup artist friend Sheila On, my go-to girl whenever I have shoots in Leyte, wasn’t available that day) is only testimony to how naturally beautiful they are. But make no mistake, behind those pretty faces are some, well, pretty tough interiors. Like the horse that marries good looks and might, these girls possess those two qualities not easily contained in one person. Amanda, for example, is not one you would want to mess with. One can imagine her bringing home trophies from practical shooting competitions in South Africa, or hunting kangaroos in the Australian Outback—all of which, and more, as it happens, she’s actually already done. She’s the kind of girl that, growing up, I’ve been wanting to be, but, well, just can’t. But while I’m terribly unlucky that I can’t be her, I’m still lucky in that not only is she my first cousin, she’s also my oldest best friend.
Amanda Kangleon-Liok and her daughter Amilia (and their mares Moondance, Iris and Salsa, and their dog Blue) | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Palompon, Leyte, on November 27, 2011 | Special thanks to Marnelli Uyguangco | Hyperfloral jersey babydoll dress, Topshop | Vintage wash denim jacket, stylist’s own | Chambray folk skirt, The Fab Grab
Never jump to conclusions. That’s one of the more important things I learned this past month. When my first two sittings (back in August) as apprentice at Shutterfairy Photography had turned out to be engagement sessions, you see, I’d thought, Oh, this is all we’re going to be doing, couples and stuff. (Not that I’d thought that was going to be a bad thing.) So imagine my surprise when Shutterfairy’s Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon sent me a Tweet saying she was going to be photographing the singer/songwriter Cattski Espina (01, 03) for the album cover of her forthcoming release, and that she wanted me to do the styling! I was literally jumping up and down! This was massive for me, in part because it was an opportunity to think outside the engagements/couples box, but for the most part because it was a chance to rekindle old ties. Yes, Cattski and I, although that may sound to some like an unlikely combination, we go waaay back. (Don’t you just love how it’s a small world, after all? Mai is best friends with former Y101 anchorwoman Imma Fermin-Ongteco, who is best friends with Cattski; and both Imma and Cattski are best friends with one of my best friends Deo Urquiaga, who was responsible for hooking me up with this apprenticeship gig with Mai. Did I just use “best friends” four times in one sentence?)
It’s true for me, so I just assume it’s true for everyone: It’s nice to be reunited with someone you haven’t been in touch with for a long, long time. When Cattksi and I sat down for a pre-shoot meeting of sorts at the tail end of August, it turned out to be 70% catching up and laughing, and only 30% business—hey, I hadn’t seen this girl in 7 years! Funny thing, really, ‘cause it’s not like she had moved to a different place, or it was me who’d moved away—we’d been living in the same city the whole time, thank you very much. But, well, as she puts it now, “life got in the way.” I love that this woman has amazing recall of all level of detail—makes missing out a whole lot easier to endure. I was floored, for example, when she remembered how, back when I’d been editor for the (now-defunct) local counterculture e-zine Neoground.com, I’d proceeded to declare her “my own personal PJ Harvey.”
Well, now it looked like all she was going to be was my own personal dress up doll (she’s not going to like that term, though)! At first I’d thought that she wouldn’t be open to the idea of styling—I mean, it’s a fact that not a lot of local musicians are into that kind of thing (heaven knows the kinds of beef I got into when I tried to style musicians who were either performers or presenters during the first two installments of the San Miguel Beer Cebu Music Awards some ten years back). To my amazement, she was 100% down for it—and she pretty much gave me the free hand, too!
I’m sure most of you have seen Mai’s photos already (if you haven’t yet, click here). Killer, right? I’m tempted to talk right here and right now about how I came up with the styling, but I think it’s wiser to save it for when I am to post my own shots from that session (yes, I took a couple of photos, too). At least judging from Mai’s photos (and these behind-the-scenes shots) you will be able to tell that, yes, my inspiration was pretty much “ebony and ivory” (02), and that I used a couple of mannish items, like a Protacio smoking jacket (01). My own Bed Stü work boots (05) even made a special guest appearance!
Some of you might be wondering where we did the shoot. If that edifice behind Cattski in photo number (04) doesn’t look familiar, well, I can tell you now that is actually the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu. Yes, we shot at the hotel’s Grand Balcony, from where we had an amazing view of the Cebu skyline below. This choice of location was Cattski’s idea, after she’d been here one day at twilight and she’d had an epiphany of sorts while staring at the city as it had changed its face with every passing minute until it had become dusk. She told me the story of how, from that moment on, she’d become more contemplative, resulting in an inexhaustible kind of songwriting. That explained how it had only taken her less than two years to come up with this new album, her fourth (quite a feat, considering that it had taken her a good six years between her second and her third). It’s amazing to realize that inspiration can come from the places you least expect to find it—in this case, home.
I’m excited about this album. I’m excited to find out which of Mai’s photos are gonna end up in the album cover. Most of all, I’m excited for Cattski, and her fans. The inspiration maybe dusk, but I can only predict a bright outcome.
Those closest to me can attest that, yes, I do have “girl crushes.” For example, I am kind of crazy about Love Marie Ongpauco a.k.a. Heart Evangelista—for six or so months now, my Sunday evenings have been spent sitting in front of the computer and staring at her face in the short film Muse (created by actor-turned-director Albert Martinez for the designer Inno Sotto’s 30th anniversary gala). I am also kind of turned on by Zoë Kravitz, or at least by her role in Californication. And then, of course, there is Lauren Conrad. But, you see, these are only my fairly recent obsessions. The one that’s been the object of my fantasies for more than 15 years now is none other than the great Kate Moss.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had an obsession as intense as my fascination with the truly amazing creature that is Katherine Moss. I remember using her Calvin Klein Jeans and Calvin Klein Obsession for Men ads as wallpaper for my dorm room. While everyone else was lusting after Leonardo DiCaprio, I was decidedly all about Johnny Depp, just because he was dating Ms. Moss at the time. I remember hating on my cousin, just because he was the first to have a bottle of CK One, and to my mind that had brought him closer to Kate than I ever could be. When I was 17 or 18 and could not afford a coffee table book, I would spend 2-3 hours every Sunday sprawled on the floor of my favorite bookstore, ceremoniously devouring every single page of Kate: The Kate Moss Book—or just staring at the cover and praying, “Oh, God, please make me have those freckles!”
Yes, my girl friends were going crazy penciling on fake moles above their lips, in an attempt to copy Cindy Crawford’s “beauty mark,” but I was all about freckles. I guess that was what endeared Kate to me. She was perfectly imperfect. I had had enough of the impossible smiles, the vermillion lips, the unattainable curves, the outlandish gowns, the whimsical locations. Escapism was good, but didn’t quite go well with the soundtrack of the times. Grunge was on a rise like a bat out of hell, and it needed a muse to conquer the world with. The world needed, as how British curator Iwona Blazwick put it, “a truth located in the artless, the unstaged, the semiconscious, the sexually indeterminate and the pubescent.” And Kate gave us that kind of truth. Here was someone who was not afraid to slap on a silly grin, to not put makeup on, to eschew technical perfection, to misplace optimism, and to date Edward Scissorhands. In other words, she made fashion real and attainable. For you and for me. And that’s why she will always have a special place in my heart.
So please forgive me when I say that this month I broke a very important promise that I had made to myself—that is, the promise to buy more books, and no more magazines. I’d pretty much been able to stay true to that promise in the last couple of months, but I just had to make an exception this month. Why? Well, ‘cause it’s Kate Moss on the cover of the September issue of American Vogue (06)! And this isn’t just your regular Kate Moss cover—it comes with an exclusive coverage of her wedding to The Kills guitarist Jamie Hince!
I almost died for this copy. I went to Fully Booked on September 5, and they told me they didn’t have it yet. I came back September 11, still they didn’t have it. I was on the verge of throwing a bitch fit when I returned on September 15 and was told they still didn’t have it! How ridiculous is that, right? In the U.S. the September issues hit the newsstands and bookstores as early as mid-August! Ah, the pain of living in a…I shouldn’t finish that statement. On my fourth trip back to the bookstore on September 18, the girl behind the counter gave me a nasty look. “We [already] have the September issue, but you can’t have it yet—we haven’t unboxed any of our new arrivals.” Can you believe her? I was going to cause a scene, but thankfully this guy named Abner came to the rescue and offered to unbox the new magazines right there and then so I could have my copy. Thanks, Abner! You are super awesome!
Anyway, back to the magazine: I don’t think I’ve ever held a September issue that’s this heavy (then again, I haven’t seen the past 4 or so September issues, so what do I know). Perhaps the reason this one feels particularly weighty is ‘cause the cover story was written by my favorite writer Hamish Bowles, and shot by my favorite photographer Mario Testino. The beauty of Bowles’s text, alongside Testino’s dazzling images—I do not think a more formidable pairing exists. Their genius certainly gave justice to a truly momentous, one-of-a-kind event. I even love the little inset photo of wedding guest Naomi Campbell, and the funny little anecdote that tells of Naomi being fashionably late and Kate saying to her, “Trying to upstage me, bitch?”—to me, a celebration of friendship like no other.
My favorite photo of all, I must say, is that of Kate surrounded by her young bridesmaids, flower girls and pageboys, although I am also inexplicably drawn to this one black-and-white number of her and her daughter Lila Grace (07), done in the style of the ‘90s Calvin Klein campaigns that propelled Kate to superstardom. Needless to say, I am going to be putting these photos up a pedestal. Who knows? I might be asked to do a mother-and-daughter session one day—at least I will have something to look back on and slap against the mood board when that day comes.
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Another September issue I just had to get my hands on was that of local fashion glossy Preview (actress Anne Curtis on the cover, making her the celebrity with the most Preview covers to date, this one being her sixth). I’d always been a fan of the magazine, but I kind of stopped reading them in 2007, or 2008—can’t remember why exactly. The reason I picked up this issue, though, is’ cause my photo of Shandar’s Urgello wedges (inspired by Gayle Urgello) made it to their Fashion News section (08), to supplement a sidebar on Shandar designer Mark Tenchavez. Nothing huge, really—it’s all but a little 3.25” x 2”—but it’s huge to me considering this might be the only time a photo by me is ever going to appear in a fashion magazine. They forgot to credit me, though, not even in marginalia, but that’s alright. I’m just happy that Manila editors are starting to take notice of deign talent from this part of the country. I am so proud of Mark and of where he’s taken his little shoe line—everyone’s buzzin’ about Shandar Shoes, and it’s only been three months since he launched the whole thing! I told him to be prepared—now that Preview has ran a story on him, other fashion/lifestyle magazines are bound to follow suit.
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Of course, my itsy-bitsy photo is not the only reason I’ll be holding on to this copy of Preview for years to come—I also am happy to have stumbled upon this glorious print-on-print editorial called “Fly on the Wall” (09), photographed by Jeanne Young, modeled by Sanya Smith (Pepe Smith’s daughter), and styled by the fabulous Daryl Chang. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from the ever-innovative Chang: brave, fierce, and game-changing. She is always first to do what other stylists are too afraid of doing. I, for one, have been too timid to try mixing patterns. God knows how many times I’ve toyed with the idea, but I always end up dropping it cold turkey before I can even get to work. I keep thinking about rules, you see—like, should I mind the scales and sizes of the prints, so that teeny florals should be matched with, say, large stripes? or, should I stick to just two different patterns in one outfit? This editorial by Chang, though, has made me realize that I shouldn’t be caring about rules when it comes to this department. The very reason we do print-on-print is because we want to make a bold statement, right? And so, in the end, it really is a fearless approach—and a little bit of rule-breaking—that is going to do the trick. Total mood board material right here!
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From “girl crushes” we move on to “man crushes.” Laugh all you want, but, yes, I squealed like a little girl when I saw this photo of my “man crush” Carlos Concepcion (with Georgina Wilson) in the BOB of this month’s Preview (10). It’s not even that kind of crush, OK? Carlos here, although most of you might know this already, is a designer and a stylist, and has done a lot of great work for The Philippine Star’s youth lifestyle section, as well as for glossy titles like Garage and Preview Men. I admire him for the most part because of what he’s doing to change the way we look at men’s fashion in this part of the world—it takes a whole lot of balls to do what he’s doing. I mean, cropped jackets and above-the-knee skirts on men? I’m sorry, but he’s my hero. So it’s not that kind of crush, but maybe it’s the Single White Female kind of crush—i.e., I wanna be him. I don’t know if I am ever going to meet him in this lifetime, but if, by some wicked stroke of luck, I end up bumping into him, you know I am going to drop to my knees and plant a kiss on his feet. And I don’t even have a foot fetish. But I do have a shoe fetish, and the guy has some seriously pretty shoes, so there.
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Meanwhile, there was that one September issue I wished I could have but just couldn’t—I’m talking about that of French Vogue. Huge deal to me because this was Emmanuelle Alt’s first September issue as editor-in-chief, after she’d supplanted Carine Roitfeld in February of this year. Of course, I’d always adored Roitfeld (I’d give her a bear hug if I could); just that it had gotten to a point when I could no longer get her—I mean, she’d let Tom Ford guest edit the title’s December 2010/January 2011 issue, and allowed him to use 10-years-old girls and a geriatric couple as models! I’d read somewhere that Alt, who’d been under Roitfeld’s French Vogue wing as fashion director since 2000, was so far doing a great job breathing new life into the title by taking things more lightly, injecting a little “humor” and “positivity” into the scene—and what better way to see this for myself, right, than by getting her first September issue? But, alas, French Vogue wasn’t something you could easily find in this part of the world—hey, it had even taken three weeks for the American edition to hit our bookstores! Luckily, I was able to get my hands on a copy at the designer Protacio’s atelier a couple of days ago! My jaw dropped as I was scanning his magazine shelf and—wham!—there it was, Charlotte Casiraghi on the cover staring back at me with smoky eyes (11). “How is it even possible that you have this?” I asked Protacio as I clutched the copy against my chest. Although, of course, I’d known a long time he was fond of collecting all sorts of hard-to-find foreign titles. (Exactly the reason why I love visiting his shop in the first place, because it’s like a little fashion library to me—he even has a copy of the aforementioned controversial Tom Ford-edited December 2010/January 2011 issue [see same Instagram, 11, behind the Charlotte Casiraghi, with Ford and Daphne Groeneveld on the cover].) Indeed, Alt’s French Vogue was a joy to flip through. Still had that requisite European quirkiness and modernism, but presented in a whole new light—blithe, if you will, and not at all menacing. Just like that, two or so of the inside photos of Casiraghi went straight up my mental mood board. Yes, mes amis, it is that relatable now, even if you don’t speak or understand a word of French (I know I don’t)! Thank you, Protacio, for sharing! I will be back for more inspiration soon!
So I woke up in the afternoon (hey, I work afternoons/evenings Mondays to Fridays) of September 8 wondering why this blog was getting so many hits. Turned out earlier that day Mai had written a little something about me in her own blog (12), and that’s where all the traffic had come from! What a surprise! I know her site has a good number of followers; such an honor for some of them to be trickling down into mine. Now I gotta pay attention to what I’m posting on here, because I don’t just represent me now, I also represent Shutterfairy. And so I have to behave accordingly and try not to do anything foolish.
She wrote about how she doesn’t want to call me her apprentice, but, really, that is all I am for now. Until such a time that I’m confident enough with my own skills and with my application of all the things I’m learning from her, I don’t mind being the guy in the backseat, taking orders, taking down notes, even talking to clients pre-shoot. Which brings us to the something extra that I do for Shutterfairy: Mai, via the same blog post, has made it official that I am resident stylist. Which means that, yes, if you need help in that department, I’m the guy who’s going to sit down with you (Mai may or may not be present during these meetings) days or weeks before your session in front of the camera to help you out with your clothes and accessories (and even makeup and props).
So, OK, if it was the Shutterfairy blogsite that led you here, let me break it down for you: If you’re interested in a styled session with the Shutterfairy (engagement, portrait, family, etc.), simply shoot her an e-mail at email@example.com. She will then contact you to discuss scheduling and all the other high-level stuff. After which your contact details will be forwarded to me, and that’s how I get in touch with you for the pre-shoot styling/mood board development meeting. At the meeting, you will simply need to let me in on your, um, theme, your desired shooting locations, etc., and I will then proceed to build a mood board or two for you. I do house calls, too, just so you know—easier for me to look at items that you already have.
By the way, because I’m only apprenticing for right now, there is no separate fee for the styling. You just have to pay for the photo session, and that’s about it. So, what are you waiting for? Contact Shutterfairy now and let’s get to work!
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Some three weeks after I’d found out that my photo of Shandar’s Urgello shoes made it to this month’s issue of Preview, their “online counterpart” StyleBible.ph put up a gallery of my shots of all the other shoes from the shoe line’s premier collection (13). This gallery, and the accompanying article, marks the addition of Shandar designer Mark Tenchavez to StyleBible.ph’s venerable Designer Directory and Designer Spotlight, placing him side-by-side with the likes of such Filipino design greats as JC Buendia, Patrice Ramos-Diaz, Jun Escario and others. Click here to view the gallery, and here to read the article.
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Exactly how long can one be obsessed with something? In my case, more than 20 years. Yes, the video for Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” turned 21-years-old this past month (14). Shot in September of 1990, I watch it today and it looks like it was only shot yesterday. Thank you, Herb Ritts, for leaving us with such an amazing piece of art.
My fourth sitting with the Shutterfairy was for another non-couple session (15-19). When Mai told me she was going to be photographing a single mother of two boys, I said, OK, I gotta see this—I’d always wondered how she did things like this, you see, where there were children involved. Up to that point the only children I’d ever gotten myself to photograph were my own nieces and nephews, and even with that sort of kindred I’d never been able to make them behave during sittings.
Turned out that the reason Mai was so good at it was ‘cause, well, she was a mother herself! She knew how to command kids’ attention in a manner that was very natural, not at all domineering, and had little to no bribery involved. I am never going to be a mother (duh), but I picked up one thing that could come in handy when I am to photograph kids/families in the future: When doing pre-shoot research, don’t focus too much on the adults; take the time out to learn what the kids love doing and figure out a way to inject it into the sitting. For this shoot right here, Mai had found out that the little boy loved to play soccer, so when she saw that he was a little uncomfortable standing in front of the camera she asked him to take out the soccer ball and just have fun with it. Needless to say, the resulting photos were gorgeous. Click here to see Mai’s set from that session.
Couple of other things I learned that day:
- Don’t stress too much about the location. Yes, there is value in planning and in pre-shoot oculars, but there is potential in the unexplored. Mai had planned to shoot the family at the Mountain View Nature Park in Busay, but decided to shift gears the last minute and took us to Talamban’s Family Park—well, not the park per se, but a somewhat secluded area outside the park. She’d never been here before (neither had I, or any of the subjects), but she was curious. Turned out to be a beautiful place (16-18).
- Don’t stress too much about the props, too. Just explore the surroundings and, if you’re resourceful enough, you’re bound to find something that can be useful. I’d pretty much ignored this rusty wheelbarrow (15) until Mai called my attention to it and asked me to have the subjects play around with it. The resulting picture turned out to be my favorite (19)!
- Even when it looks like it’s about to rain, don’t cancel just yet—there’s a chance it won’t. It was 2PM when I met up with Mai, and there were dark clouds starting to hover over us, so I said, “Should we call it off?” She didn’t want to. I would learn later on that it’s actually a good thing when it’s a bit overcast in the mid-afternoon—the light is just right (not too harsh, and not too dim, either)
- Don’t be afraid of greenery—instead, use it to your advantage! See, always this had been my weakness—like, I’d always ask my subjects to stay away from the trees and the shrubs and all. And then Mai made me realize that it’s actually kind of gorgeous to have all those leaves distilling the sunlight into gorgeous, soft little rays (18).
- Mind your framing/cropping when it’s portraits. Never frame/crop in such a way that you’re cutting through the subject’s joints (i.e., wrists, knees, ankles).
- Most importantly: Do not waste your subject’s time by taking 100+ photos of one frame. Don’t chimp a lot, but be sure to check after, like, 20 or so shots. If you got a couple of winners, move on to the next frame.
I know it all sounds very elementary, but, honestly, these are things I never learned from other photographers that I talked to, or read about in basic photography books. Indeed, there are some aspects of the craft that you can grasp faster as an assistant.
It was my mom’s 52nd birthday last September 10. Because she lives in Ormoc with my grandfather (her father) and our youngest, I hadn’t had the chance to celebrate her birthday with her for the past seven or so years. I didn’t want to miss out anymore, so I asked her to come to Cebu and blow this year’s candles here with us (20, 24).
I love the birthday cake I got her (20, 21). I wanted something light and sort of pastel, and with candy-colored sprinkles, like the gorgeous lemon cupcakes that I’d fallen in love with at Magnolia Bakery some two years back—no chocolate, no devil’s food, nothing dark. It was my friend Rhia de Pablo who made it (she makes the meanest, moistest chiffon cake, and she got the lemon meringue buttercream right). You can’t see it, but the top of the cake says, “YOU CAN HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT, TOO.”
We also had habichuelas con chorizo de Bilbao (22). Earlier in the month I’d engaged in an online discussion with my good friend Kenneth Enecio, who comes from a family of cooks (mom Laura is a pâtissier, brother Eric is a chef), and the venerable Annabelle Tan-Amor (mom of my former co-editor Ina Amor, so I really should be calling her Tita) about what makes a good habichuelas. While Annabelle liked hers authentic, and served in stoneware (puchero de barro, if you will?) “to keep it piping hot,” Kenneth liked to be “adventurous,” adding in stuff like a little ginger and saffron “to give it a little color and aroma,” and even a little potatoes. In the end, we’d come to an agreement that, however you liked it, it was a must to add Bilbao chorizo. Now, I do not know where to get the authentic ones (and I wish I knew how to track down the guy who used to cook all these delish kinds of Spanish dishes for the Sunday brunches of my childhood at my great-grandmother’s), but the canned ones by Purefoods are pretty decent and are a good substitute. Whatever you do, do not use Macao chorizo. Someone I know updated his Facebook status once (or was it twice) to say he was “cooking habichuelas con chorizo de Macao.” OK, first of all, you do not say “chorizo de Macao” with the “de” because we all know that is not a type of Spanish sausage. Second of all, what was he thinking? I don’t know where Macao chorizos are from, but just in case they’re Chinese, then I do not need to explain how it’s all levels of wrong to add them to a Spanish dish. It’s like you’re watching, say, Abre los ojos and then it’s Zhang Ziyi as Sofía instead of Penelope Cruz!
Anyways, backpedaling to my mom’s birthday, yes, I made California-style sangria, too (23)! Sangria is really easy to make. For a recipe, see below.
So, OK, I know I’ve been going around telling people I no longer drink, and that’s still true. What I mean when I say I no longer drink is I no longer go out to bars or clubs and drown myself in shots, shots, shots, shots. It just isn’t for me anymore—the idea of walking around drunk (or, worse, of losing an entire morning the next day due to any level of hangover) frightens me now. I mean, sure, I’d still go to these places, if it were the only way to, say, catch up with long-lost friends; but the only thing you’ll ever see me cradling is a glass of Coke, or maybe orange juice.
I do allow myself the occasional relapse, though. And by occasional I mean a maximum of once a month, and only when there’s something extra special to celebrate. And nothing hardcore. Just sangria. And it has to be sangria made by me (29). That way I don’t get to leave the house and I’m not tipsy or anything in public.
I fell in love with sangria some two years back, when my best friend Chiklet dragged me to the Do-Over, and at the time the whole thing was still held at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern down El Centro where they made sangria of the killer kind. I’d had sangria before, but it wasn’t until here that I was, like, Whoa! Since then it became sort of my official California drink, and everywhere we went—Bar Centro by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel, Lizarran in the O.C.—that was all we got.
Well, Bar Centro’s version is really of the blanca kind—still pretty good, but I like my sangria blood red (precisely why it’s called such, no?), never mind if it threatens to leave a deadly stain or two in your clothes.
If you wanna try making your own sangria, here’s how:
- Take a large carafe and mix 1 bottle of dry red wine, half a cup of brandy, half a cup of triple sec, and a thirds of a cup of simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water).
- Juice one large orange, two or three medium-sized lemons, and add the juices to the wine mixture.
- You will need another orange (28) and another two or three lemons (25), all sliced into rounds; float these slices into the mixture. You may also use lime, but the green kind of bothers me.
- Most people like to add maraschino cherries, but I go for seedless grapes instead (27).
- Let the whole thing sit in the fridge overnight.
- Add two cups of tonic water/club soda (26) just before serving—you know, for that fizzy effect.
If you’re pressed for time, you may skip the wine/brandy/triple sec/simple syrup mixture and go for ready-to-drink bottled sangria. Doesn’t taste as good, though, I have to warn you. Boone’s Sangria is pretty decent (and already fizzy so you can skip adding the club soda, too). Whatever you do, stay away from that brand called Eva.
Why are all the Nikkis leaving me for California? First it was my sister, three years ago, to marry her long-time boyfriend. Now it was Nikki Paden (31), just three days ago, to be with her father. She’d called me up beginning of this month to tell me that she was kind of sad about leaving, and so I’d asked her to join me at the Cattski album cover shoot (01-05) so she could help me style—and so I could convince her that it wasn’t exactly a bad thing to be moving to California. We’d spent hours after the shoot just talking about Melrose and Malibu, PCH and Pinkberry, etc. Apparently it worked because during the days leading to her flight out and as she was packing she was nothing but stoked—had reservations about leaving some of her stuff behind, but I told her, hey, a new city called for new style, so, by all means, yes, “leave it all behind.”
It got me kind of depressed looking at photos of her layover in HKG. Happy for her, of course (in just a couple of hours she was going to be hopping off the plane at LAX!), but sad for me. You see, if things had gone as planned, I would’ve been on the same planes and layovers. Yes, I was supposed to leave for L.A. three days ago. Well, the original plan had been for me to leave in May, but then I’d been asked to move the trip to September. And then September came, and they asked me to move it again. So hard to go on vacation these days!
Up to this day I am still in all sorts of pain. I’m looking at all these photos from happier times and all I can think of is, man, the things I’d give up to, say, be riding shotgun through the Santa Monica Freeway right now (34). Or, to be standing before Chris Burden’s Urban Light outside LACMA (32). Or, to be watching the sunset from Venice Beach (33).
Of course, all those are nothing compared to the biggest thing I am missing out on—I’m talking about the chance to see and hold my adorable niece Mikee (30) while she is still a baby. I mean, look at her! Isn’t she a darling? If things had gone as planned, she would’ve been in my arms by now.
My friends are, like, “It’s not the end of the world! Just go early next year!” If I have to be honest, though, I’m actually sick of people telling me that. Yes, I know, it’s so easy to move vacation dates, rebook airline tickets, etc. But has it ever occurred to them you can’t stop a child from growing? By January or February she’s going to start growing milk teeth, and that’s when babies start to lose weight. I’m sorry, but it would’ve been so much nicer to hold her now while she still has 10,000 creases in her arms and legs, you know? But, oh, well, it sucks to be me!
One of the most unexpected blasts of fresh air to hit Cebu this past month? A fashion school opening!
Fashion Institute of Design and Arts (FIDA) Cebu opened its doors last September 16, and I was lucky to have been there to witness the unveiling. It was the designer Dexter Alazas (36) who’d asked me to be his plus one, and, of course, I’d had to say yes—this was not your ordinary fashion event; this was a milestone!
Full disclosure: Growing up, I’d always wanted to go to design school. I’d had no plans of becoming a fashion designer, of course, but always I’d been curious about how things work in the creative industries. But, alas, my family had had other plans for me—and even if I’d had it my way there was no way it could’ve happened because nothing had been accessible at the time. So I’d ended up in med school, although the dream had never died—I’d catch myself fantasizing about going to Central Saint Martins in London, or Parsons in New York. Meeting people like, say, Stephanie dela Cruz, my art director at Zee Quarterly and a Parsons alum, had only fanned the flames—hearing their stories about their amazing teachers and internships, and, most importantly, seeing how precise and innovative they were with their work, their astounding facility of visuals, and their acumen in creative decision-making, I’d become more appreciative of design education.
At the launch, which also served as an open house/mixer to give prospective students a chance to ask questions about the school’s programs and curriculums, I remember looking at the young ones and saying to Dexter, “How lucky are these kids! They get to be of college age at a time when schools like this are becoming accessible!”
I got to have a brief chat with FIDA founder and headmistress Christine Funda (38), an alum of Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in L.A., and it was refreshing to hear her talk more passion than business. Always she’d considered Cebuano design talent to be topnotch, and for years it had been her dream to make quality fashion and design education available to Cebuanos. “I was just talking to a [prospective student] who said she’d always wanted to study fashion design, but she just couldn’t leave Cebu to go to Manila because she has to raise her young family,” she shared. It gave her utmost joy knowing she was bridging the gap between people like this and their dreams.
Nestled in the heart of the city, at the corner of Escario and Clavano (42), a stone’s throw away from Dexter Alazas’s atelier, FIDA’s pilot programs of study include a 2-year Diploma in Fashion Design and Merchandising, a 1-year Diploma in Fashion Design and Apparel Tech, a 6-month Certificate in Fashion Merchandising, a 3-month Introduction to Fashion Business short course. They’ve also enlisted an impressive lineup to comprise the faculty: Project Runway Philippines season one first runner-up Philipp Tampus (39) is set to teach industry sewing five hours a week; and Lord Maturan (41), winner of the Third Cebu Young Designers Competition, is set to teach fashion illustration. Ms. Munda stated they also intend to offer short courses in advanced makeup, hairstyling, fashion styling, and, yes, fashion photography. (Do I foresee a tie-up between the school and Dexter’s Stylissimo Sessions in the future?)
My stylist friend Mikey Sanchez, upon seeing these photos of mine from the launch, asked if I had plans of taking some classes. I wish I could! I wanted to ask Ms. Munda about one of their 1-year programs, but I had to stop myself. Not that I am not open to the idea of going back to school—it’s just that I have so much going on right now. But, who knows, in two or three years’ time, perhaps? Right now I’m just happy to have walked the halls that are to house the dreams of the future stars of Cebu fashion.
Do I have a confession to make. When the folks at Shandar rang my house to tell me I was going to be shooting Christina Garcia-Frasco for the catalog of their shoe line’s inaugural collection, I got a little nervous. I hang up, and lost a little bit of composure. I mean, sure, Christina and I go way back—in a previous post I talked about how her co-spokesmodel Marjay Ramirez and I go way back, but Christina and I go more way back than way back, having gone to the same grade school and high school, although it was her older brother Paulo I’d been classmates with—but I guess that was exactly what I was nervous about. You see, the last time I’d spoken with her was some 15-16 years ago—well, we’d bumped into each other a couple of times in recent years, especially at dinner parties thrown by her younger sister Carissa, but we hadn’t had the chance to really sit down and catch up. I could still picture her schoolyard persona. She’d been the kind of sister who’d looked up to her brother, treated his peers as her own. Furthermore, she’d always been active in the student council, and as such had had a broader network. It had gotten to a point I’d become closer to her than to Paulo—we’d sit on the concrete bench underneath the flag pole, talking about books and our own writing (yes, she, too, had had a profound interest for writing growing up), among other things, while waiting for the class bells to ring. Flash forward to a decade and a half later, and here we were: I, who had no idea what I was doing, being new to this craft and all, was about to photograph her, who was quite possibly the most accomplished person I knew! To me, she was an apotheosis. Not only was she a hotshot corporate lawyer, she was also the daughter and right hand of the Governor of the Province of Cebu, and the First Lady of a booming Municipality (Liloan, some 45 minutes northeast of Cebu City). So, you see, this woman was kind of a big deal—I had every reason to be anxious. But, well, someone had to do the job, and as much as I was no stranger to wasted opportunities, I just knew I couldn’t afford for this one to be one of them.
Couple of days later I would graduate from nervous to the acme of panicky when the Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez told me that Christina had requested for a pre-shoot meeting of sorts, and asked me and the stylist Meyen Baguio to attend on their team’s behalf since they were going to be in Manila for an appointment with socialite-philanthropist Tessa Prieto-Valdes that they couldn’t reschedule (they were going ask Tessa to host the launch party, a task that would later prove to be successful). Christina had offered to host the lunch meeting at a place called Politics Café, in her new hometown of Liloan, and our drive there became one of the longest rides of my life. For the first time in a long time, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say. How were we going to do this? What was she expecting to get from this meeting? Was she going to ask to see my portfolio, which I hadn’t even put together yet? What if she wasn’t going to like our concept/s? I was going crazy in my head. Normally, you see, with other clients or subjects, the pre-shoot appointment would be one of the highlights of a stint, something I’d always looked forward to—something about the prospect of giving a good “sales talk” and presenting strong mood boards that gave it a great punch of oomph. This time, though, I just wanted to skip the whole thing. I was thinking, if this was some random girl whom I hadn’t met yet, or whom I barely knew, it would’ve been fine, because that nonfamiliarity allowed you to be a bit courageous, you know? But this was Christina—with acquaintance came a greater sense of commitment, and a greater dread of failure. I couldn’t decide whose stomach was twisting into more knots—Mark’s, as he was about to meet Ms. Prieto-Valdes, or mine, as I was about to lunch with Ms. Garcia-Frasco.
When we got to our meeting place, though, and Christina hopped out of her SUV in her Sunday best, all the bedlam inside of me got flushed out of my system. She flashed me a toothy smile and gave me a big bear hug like it was only yesterday that we’d last seen each other, and we found ourselves chatting up a storm before we could even slip into our lunch table. Turned out she was still the same girl from back in high school—cheerful, accommodating, ready to consider everyone around her as a friend. But, of course! How could I have expected her to change? If I ever faltered when I tried to speak it was probably ‘cause I was choking on, um, shame. Shame on me for expecting the worst when I should’ve known her better than that! We talked briefly about high school and family before getting down to the business at hand.
It turned out we didn’t have to convince her to appear in the Shandar catalog—she was already bent on doing it. No stranger to shoots, having been an endorser (her work for the jewelry brand Michelis a few years back is probably the best known of all her stints) and having been featured in fashion/lifestyle magazines quite a handful of times in the recent past, Christina isn’t reputedly selective in her appearances. Every chance she gets, as long as it doesn’t conflict with her hectic schedule, she is more than willing to contribute. But make no mistake—she isn’t doing it for the wrong reasons. It’s not that kind of opportunism—in fact, it’s not any kind of opportunism at all. Sure, she is into fashion and all, and she enjoys dressing up just as every woman her age does, but more than anything she is an avid supporter of local designers. “Anything I can do to help the local fashion industry [thrive],” she declared. To her, the logic is a rather simple one: The more you tell it, the more it resonates. In this case, the more you support local talent, the more they move up the value chain, and this only leads to more opportunities in the industry, and if it’s good for the industry, it’s good for the community. From that logic sprouts her motivation. As she went on and on about this I couldn’t help but be amazed—this was probably the most mature and sensible approach I’d ever heard in my ten or so (albeit off and on) years of working in fashion!
Christina approached the planning stages with the keenness and acumen of an editor. Like Marjay before her, she wanted to have a hand in all the other aspects of the shoot, and attacked the whole thing as a collaboration versus just a mere appearance. This got us real excited—nothing disheartens me more than a subject who just shows up on the day of the shoot and waits for instructions to be tossed their way. When we told her that we wanted no role-playing involved—i.e., she was going to be photographed as, well, herself (in Mark’s shoes but just being herself)—she was thrilled. At least three sets, that was what the concept had called for, each showing a side of her that people who knew her or knew of her could relate to. “But I wear so many hats!” she laughed. In other words, the possibilities were endless, and that wasn’t exactly a bad thing, now, was it?
We decided for to the first set to showcase Christina the attorney, for the most part because she was at this very moment shaping up for a breakthrough chapter in this area—in just a few weeks she was going to be appointed as the Resident Associate of the Manila-based Lex Mundi firm Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles, as the firm was about to inaugurate their Visayas branch office (this decision to set up camp in Cebu had called for a dependable associate to oversee local operations, and Christina was the natural choice for the job). As it turned out, this set was going to be hitting more than one bird, because not only was she a lawyer, she was also a professor at the University of San Carlos College of Law and at the University of San Jose Recoletos College of Law (teaching private international law and moot court argumentation, among others)! I wanted an office type of setting—desk and paperwork and big law books and all. In my mental mood board: the uberdecorator Mica Ertegün in her chic and stately office, photographed by Mario Testino (for the August 2011 issue of American Vogue, if I am not mistaken). We couldn’t shoot at her home office because Sundays were the only time I was available to shoot and we didn’t want to interrupt the peace and quiet enjoyed by their household on that particular day of the week, so we agreed on simulating her place of work right here at Politics. Another thing I learned was that, with Politics, a cozy little, well, political-themed restaurant (framed black-and-white portraits of Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and JFK, among others, hang in the walls, while quotable quotes from Winston Churchill and even her own mom stare back at you from the back side of table cards) that transforms into a swanky saloon by night, Christina had added businesswoman to her résumé—as if she wasn’t busy enough already! And so it was perfect that we were going to be shooting here at the restaurant. Did I already say “more birds with one stone?”
For the second set I wanted underscore Christina the First Lady of Liloan. For days what we’d envisioned was a sort of a romantic setting, guest-starring Duke, her hubby the Mayor—sunset, at Liloan’s hundred-year-old lighthouse, him in a biker jacket and on a big bike, her in a frothy little cocktail dress, with champagne flutes in one hand and her Shandar shoes in the other. But, alas, charming as it sounded, that idea was fated to be axed. Christina offered politely that that wasn’t how she wanted to be portrayed in the catalog. Besides the fact that they’d already done the lighthouse shot in the past (for their engagement photos, by Jim Ubalde), she felt she needed to show the world “the bigger picture.” Sure, they were very much in love, and up to this day still loved to go on dates like they’d just met, but her being First Lady didn’t stop at being a wife. She talked about how she also played an active hand in the affairs of the town, acting as the Municipality’s legal consultant, providing pro bono services, and more importantly as women’s and children’s rights advocate, establishing programs and projects for women and children in need—the latter something she was deeply passionate about. “I love being around little children,” she enthuses. Just like that, the groundwork for the second set was born. “I can gather ‘round a group of children to play with during the shoot,” she proposed. On our plea to convince the hubby to be part of it, though, she said, “I won’t be able to get Duke in the same picture ‘cause he’s leaving to visit his family in the U.S. on the day of the shoot—but I can wear my campaign shirt that says ‘MISIS NI DUKE!’” What a cute idea—who were we to say no?
She would open herself up a bit and allow us to tap into something deeply personal for the final set, though. At a dinner party a couple of months back I’d met her fuzzy furball Gelato—an adorable little Chow Chow (well, little is not exactly a fitting term because this one over here was huge) who was as composed and genteel as his master. I asked her if we could do a fun, laid-back set with the doggy, to which she exclaimed, “By all means! Oh, and he has a brother now, by the way.” The newest addition to the family was named Espresso—another Chow Chow, ‘cause Christina just couldn’t get enough of those fuzzy wuzzies. I imagined a picnic type of setting, Christina in white, flanked by two huggy bears, and it was like I’d died and gone to heaven.
Flash forward to two weeks later, and she was on a roll. If the Shandar team were to give an award for well-preparedness it would definitely go to Christina. She took care of all the props—the table, the books, the pens, everything!—and all we had to bring were the shoes and some clothes. Even when things threatened to go off-kilter, she always managed to come up with some sort of antidote. For example, when it turned out that some of the dresses we’d brought were a tad too oversize for her, despite the fact that they were sample size (how could we have forgotten that she was tiny?), immediately she called on an assistant to haul in a rack of clothes she’d picked out from her own closet for Meyen to choose from. Normally this would pose as a threat to the pre-worked mood board, but the woman, true to her lawyer form, had done her research—“I looked Mica Ertegün up to make sure we’re on the same page,” she quipped—and plus she had an unmistakable eye for style, and so you didn’t have to worry about a thing. For the “office”/Politics set Meyen pulled out Christina’s personal favorites: two knee-length sheaths, both from Arcy Gayatin, the first in a structural peplum silhouette in sand, the other in a simple hourglass contour fit with a bateau neckline, in dark turquoise. “I love the clothes that Tita Arcy makes for me,” she raves. “From afar they look simple, but look closer and you’ll see these immaculate little details.” She handed me the first dress so I could marvel at the cut-and-sew, subtly boned bodice. Both dresses went really well with Mark’s orange-red ankle-strapped wedges with floral-pattern sequin appliqué detail. I was kind of thankful the dresses we’d brought didn’t fit. The Arcy Gayatin numbers did a really good job in bringing into light the Christina that we wanted to portray. Sheath dresses always have a way of working wonders, and I’m not even implying that they’re fail-safe. Think Kate Moss showing up at the Cannes in 1997 in a no-fuss Narciso Rodriguez gray sheath. Understated elegance coming into play for maximal impact.
In her SUV on the way to the Frascos’ farm, where we were going to be shooting the second and third sets, we got to talking about her shoe sensibility. We were worried, you see, that she was going to have a hard time wearing Mark’s shoes on uneven terrain, to which she assured us she was going to be just fine. “I have about ten of these,” she said, referring to the shirt she had on that had “MISIS NI DUKE” emblazoned across the chest. “For months, on the campaign trail, when Duke was running for office, this was all I wore. I was dying for some variety, but the shirt was non-negotiable. So I decided to ditch the running shoes. I started showing up in heels, and Duke was, like, ‘You have got to be kidding me!’” She had no qualms admitting she was more comfortable in heels than in anything else, no matter the terrain. True enough, she had no trouble moving around and playing with the little kids in Mark’s 4- or 5-inch wedges for the second set.
I was happy with how that set with the kids turned out. In my mood board I had plastered a photo of TOMS Shoes founder and designer Blake Mycoskie goofing around with South African children during one of TOMS’s “shoe drops” (the term they use for the pursuit wherein they visit different countries all over the world to donate shoes to children in need), and we managed to pull it off. If the pictures don’t look contrived, that’s ‘cause not one bit of role-playing was involved—when we asked Christina to play around with and exchange stories with the kids, she did exactly that, and most genuinely, too, it was as if we weren’t there taking photos of them. The little ones adored her. They took turns in singing to her songs they’d learned in school, and telling her stories of what they wanted to be when they grew up. They all got so caught up in the moment that they almost forgot that it had to end somehow, and it got to a point that it was almost embarrassing on our part having to tell them it was time to say goodbye so we could proceed to the next set. When I commended Christina on the way she handled the kids, she said, “Is this the part where you ask me if I have plans to have kids of my own?” Apparently a lot of people she knew liked to ask that question a lot. It was definitely something she’d always wanted, to have children of her own. For the time being, though, she was happy with her nephew Jules and her niece Izzy—and with her doggies.
Enter Gelato and Espresso, ready for their close-up. And fluffier than ever, too! Gelato had grown twice in size since I’d last seen him, and his little brother was way bigger than I’d expected him to be! Meyen had to squeeze Christina into a white Ronald Enrico cocktail dress that had this flouncy, voluminous rosette skirt, to give the illusion she was only slightly bigger than her pets, just so they won’t come off overshadowing her. At first I kept thinking what I would do in case one of these big boys tried to jump me, but luckily no such thing happened—they were the politest, most well-behaved creatures I had ever met! Even looked like they were trying to be extra careful not to trample on the picnic baskets and all the other props. They seemed to understand what I was saying, too, because whenever I instructed Christina to “not look at the camera,” they would do turn their heads away, too! They were so adorable, they definitely stole the show. It kind of made us regret putting them on the same frame as the pièce de résistance of the day, which were the shoes that Mark had named after Christina (the Frasco, peep-toe stilettos in raspberry/orange Thai silk with bow detail)—I mean, be honest now, when you look at those photos, do you even notice the shoes? We had to make room for a couple of frames of Christina sans the furballs, if only to put the shoes back in the spotlight.
Total comfort zone experience for me, the day of the shoot—a complete volte-face from what I’d undergone in the days leading up to that aforementioned pre-shoot meeting. From the very second we arrived at Politics for the first set to the minute the stylist Meyen Baguio called out “That’s a wrap!” after the final set, never once did I lose my cool. It was as if Christina’s composure had rubbed off on us. Well, that, and the fact that she was the quintessential hostess, a champion in making everyone feel at home. (Case in point: the make-believe picnic for the last set turned into a real picnic when she took out boxes upon boxes of treats—chicken/pork adobo rolls!—from the hundred-year-old family-owned bakery Titay’s.) As we gratified our post-shoot munchies she commended the team and I on the way we ran the session—“This is probably the most relaxed shoot I’ve ever been a part of in my life!”—before proceeding to share with me some tips she’d learned from working with other photographers and stylists. It’s always nice when a subject takes the time out to boost your confidence and push you. It keeps you motivated like that.
Of course, it helped, too, that makeup artist extraordinaire Emi Ayag was there. This was a real treat for me, because I hadn’t seen Emi in ages—I think the last time we’d worked together was for a Kate Torralba fashion show some three years back. It was Christina herself who’d asked for us to reel Emi into the team. This request, of course, had come from a special place, because apparently she’d had quite a history with Emi, with him being a part of every important moment of her life—from the night she’d met the man she was going to marry, to the day they’d become engaged, down to the day they’d tied the knot! And so for days I’d had to beg Mark to pin Emi down. I’d had my own reasons for wanting him, too—perhaps not as special as Christina’s, but Emi had also been there for me during my seminal years, a part of some of the most important shoots/shows I’d worked on as a startup stylist. Needless to say, I was ecstatic that he was able to find time in his hectic schedule to do this with us. Aside from the fact that his work was flawless and he’d gotten the job done quick (he’d memorized Christina’s face it well may be that he could put her makeup on with his eyes closed!), it was just nice to have him around, standing behind me, nodding at me whenever I needed assurance that I was doing things right.
I’m so lucky that I get to work people like Christina, and, well, Emi. There was a time a couple of months back that I was beginning to have doubts about taking the step up from styling to photography—I felt I wasn’t ready, didn’t have the time, didn’t have the resources. But looking back on shoots like this now, I feel that, really, I’m my own worst enemy and it’s all me saying it couldn’t be done, because there are definitely people out there who are more than ready to hold my hand. At least I know now that if I ever make it far enough in this craft, it won’t be because of me but because of an amazing support system in the shape of people like Christina and Emi. So to that end, thank you, guys, for everything that you do!
Christina Garcia-Frasco for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Liloan, Cebu, on April 17, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Emi Ayag (to book Emi, click here) | Special thanks to Nestor Castillano | Sand peplum sheath dress with cut-and-sew bodice, Arcy Gayatin | Dark turquoise bateau-neck sheath dress, Arcy Gayatin | White uni-shoulder cocktail dress with rosette skirt, Ronald Enrico
Behind-the-Scenes Instagrams Top row, L-R: Emi taking the requisite test shot of Christina’s makeup before sending her off to battle; Shandar’s Nestor Castillano loved to hold the reflector (don’t ask me why!); yes, I like to take photos from way up high, and sometimes I blame the photos, but mostly I just love to climb (LOL); the test shot that got everyone’s vote and eventually made it to the catalog. Middle row, L-R: The team setting up the “picnic” set; we got to nibble on Politics Café’s delish Presidential Oysters Rockefeller in between sets; Emi inspecting the rack of clothes that Meyen and Christina had assembled; the stylist Meyen working her magic. Bottom row, L-R: Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez overseeing the shoot from the sidelines; Emi being fabulous while standing by for retouches (notice his quick-fix apron bag); Gelato and Espresso ready for their close-up; me taking photos from atop a tree deserves a second take—hey, you gotta give me credit for giving new meaning to “taking it from the top.” Behind-the-scenes photos courtesy of Emi Ayag.
Am I boring you yet? You know, with all these journal-type posts? That question, of course, goes to those who know me personally—friend or foe, I must say—because I just know that a couple of brows are going to raise, and they’d be, like, “Tell us something we don’t know,” or, “Show us something we haven’t seen!”
I can’t exactly blame them. It’s no secret that when I put up this blog a little over two months ago I declared that I was going to be using it as a vehicle for my foray into photography. An inconvenient truth, as it turns out now, but it’s the truth anyhow. It’s only natural that people are expecting this to be more of a photoblog than anything else.
But you gotta cut me some slack. One thing I can tell you right now is that, being new to this whole blogging thing and all (I’m not even sure if I can spell blogosphere correctly—did I get that right?), I’m not sure if it comes with a set of rules, and if it does, where to get a reliable handbook. You must remember that, in the beginning, I wasn’t exactly sold to the idea of blogging. I’d never thought I’d live to see the day that I would be putting up a blogsite. For eons my friends had been badgering me to start a blog, and always I’d rebuffed them by saying, “I’m a writer, not a blogger.” My contention was that to those of us who had seen our work on newsprint or some other sort of physical medium a little over a hundred times pre-Internet era, the idea of intangibility was frightening, not to mention the notion of self-publishing a little unceremonious, slapdash and narcissistic. And so when that day came when I had to erect this whole thing, I didn’t have a single clue what I was doing, much less if I was doing it right. Safe to say that until this very day I’m still clueless! Which is why I rely on friends who’ve been doing this a long time to give me some direction (one of them my writer friend Debbie Rojonan, who maintains two blogs—including Balaki Ko, which aims to encourage penning poetry in the vernacular—and whose Tweet from months ago that said “Where in the social media engagement pyramid are you? Still a lurker? Move up. Share, comment, produce, curate. It’s the information age” was what had given me that much needed thrust).
To cut to the chase, the consensus was that, no matter what your reasons for putting up a blog, it has to show the world your character, a dose of your personality, and ensure that your identity doesn’t get “lost in translation” in the process. This tenet is especially crucial for someone like me, a startup photographer, because it offers people who have not met me or heard of me yet a window into what it’s going to be like working with me. I’ve decided the best way to do it is through snippets from my journal—not only does this give my audience a peek into my progress in learning the craft, it also shows what inspires me, in the hopes of perhaps catching the eye of those who are inspired by the same things, and of eventually paving the way to winning collaborations.
That being said, you’re going to have to get used to this, because from here on out, at least once a month, this is what you’re going to be getting from me. What it is is I’ve elected to tap into Instagram to help me carry this whole thing out. (I’m sure all of you know what Instagram is, but to those of you who don’t, it’s the free app for iPhones that lets you take snapshots, apply filters to them, and then instantly share them with friends.) And so, you see, it’s not going to be all writing, and somehow I’ve managed to figure out a way to carry on in the same lane! Instant photos are still photos, whether you like it or not!
One day I will eventually get to that point where I get to do what most seasoned photographers do—that is, just STFU, post the damn photos and then let them do the talking. Wouldn’t that be nice? But I know I got an awful lot of work to do before I can turn up at such plateau. In the meantime, I’m just glad I can share with you the little things that make this work in progress an exciting one and this journey worth the while.
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The beginning of this month saw me getting the New York blues. I was browsing through my good friend Kathleen’s Facebook photo album of her trip to the City that Never Sleeps, feeling sorry that I wasn’t in any of the pictures. I was supposed to go with her on this trip, you see. We’d talked about it for a year—the plan was for me to leave for L.A. late May, and then meet her in the Big Apple a month later—but, as luck would have it, her vacations dates were approved, while mine got the red light. To say that I wallowed in pain would be saying the least. My brother would find me crouched in the breakfast nook, just staring blankly at my I Heart NY keychain and the MTA subway/commuter railroad map (01) from my first trip. I even hung my $3 I Heart NY souvenir shirt in my bedroom window (06) just so I could stare at it before falling asleep. It all turned out fine, though, because while I couldn’t go to New York, it was New York that found its way to me!
Yes, my friend Anne Alegrado and her family (04, 05), my gracious hosts during my first NY trip some two years back, came to Cebu for a quick vacation early this month. It was nice to be within hugging distance with her again, and with her daughter Ellis (02). Remember Ellis from my previous post? The little girl who took me to the Brooklyn Bridge—or, as she called it, “the bridge from the princess movie” (she was talking about Enchanted)? Yes, that girl. She remembers me as “the uncle who slept in our couch and walked me to school couple of times.” Last time I saw her she was into, well, “princess movies” and mathematics. Now she’s into ballet and yoga (03). Proud mother Anne was happy to report that the little girl was learning to play the guitar, too! “[Her Dad] Jovi bought her a Beatles guitar chord songbook,” Anne shared, and then Ellis wasted no time in singing to me her favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” from Abbey Road (07). She knew all the words, and sang in perfect tune! It makes me happy seeing my friends’ kids grow up like this—I’m never going to have kids of my own, so moments like this are the closest I can get to feeling like a proud parent. Our reunion had to be cut short ‘cause they had lots of other people to see—and plus they couldn’t stay long in Cebu ‘cause they had a European trip to embark on (as of this writing they’re in Madrid, I guess). For days I couldn’t get Ellis’s rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” out of my head. It inspired me to take this snapshot of a sunrise one morning (08). To me, the song represents her future, one that’s definitely going to be bright. I hope I live to see the day when she gets there—remind me to bring sunglasses!
Not really big on taking photos of flowers, but I was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen (it was the 136th anniversary of his death the beginning of this month) and the stories I’d grown up with—particularly that one that told of a butterfly looking for a flower to become his bride, and it was a daisy named Marguerite he first approached for guidance as she was “the wisest one.” I’m not really sure these were daisies (09, 10), but they were gorgeous.
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My favorite pieces from fashion designer Dexter Alazas’s most recent collection (12)—he calls it the “peacock collection.” Always I’ve been a sucker for tasteful melees of ornamentation, and these pieces are testimony to Dexter’s mastery in this department. I would love to be able to use them for a shoot one day—that is, if no one beats me to it and I can find a client who can fit into them! I love visiting my friends’ ateliers and browsing through the racks. Dexter’s atelier (11, 12) is special because not only does he put on display his newest creations, pieces from his past collections are within reach, too—and these things, they have a way of taking you back (I think he still has this one gala gown that was used during a shoot I had with the photographer Wig Tysmans and the model Melanie Ediza for CeBu! Magazine some 10 years back.) Rumor has it that for his 15th anniversary two years from now Dexter will be putting up a retrospective. If there’s any truth to that at all, then I’m not the least worried—his archives are carefully arranged, and so curating is going to be a no-brainer.
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The indefatigable Ms. Marlene fitting me into a Dexter Alazas barong Tagalog (13, 14). This was my first time ever to slip into a barong. Always I’d been a suit person. My sister saw these snapshots and exclaimed, “Never thought I’d see the day!” I mean, I still remain partial to suits, but this time I had to make an exception—I was about to attend one of the most important wedding of my life, and the dress code called for traditional Filipino for the gents. The things you would do for a best friend getting married are nothing compared to the things you would do for two best friends getting married to each other! Well, that, plus the fact that, as you get older, you strive to be more polite in social functions—and that includes playing close attention to the dress codes. Turned out wearing a barong wasn’t too bad after all—the only downside is that you can’t smoke a lot or be around smokers ‘cause one flick of ash on the material and then you’re dunzo.
But enough about barongs and dress codes and stuff. Let’s talk about Ms. Marlene. Most of you don’t know her, but I have so much respect for her. She’s, like, the Cebu fashion industry’s best kept secret. She’s non-exclusive; she works for quite a handful of local design houses. The reason she is indispensable is that she sees eye-to-eye with these designers. A designer gives her a sketch, or an idea, and she executes it flawlessly. She is very diligent, too—working long hours, especially when it’s show season. She and I go way back—always at my side whenever I was commissioned to style a Kate Torralba fashion show, and always ready with her quick fix kit for instances that required last-minute alterations and I refused to let pins and binder clips do the trick. I look up to people like Ms. Marlene—the people who work behind-the-scenes tirelessly and fervently to bring beautiful clothes to life.
New York just wouldn’t stop coming to me. This time it was in the form of Nila Romano and Dr. John Seno, who flew into town early this month so they could get married in front of family and friends (17-28). Well, technically they’re not from New York but from New Jersey, but they live in a town called West New York, which is nestled right by the Hudson River and is considered a part of the New York metropolitan area—you can see the Upper West Side of Manhattan if you face east—so, yeah, they’re still New Yorkers to me. (Nila was also one of the few people who showed me around the Big Apple when I was there during my first visit two years ago.) This wedding was special to me—I’d waited for it like it was my own. I’d been with this couple, you see, since the beginning, since the courtship stages, and I’d witnessed the whole thing blossom into a beautiful, strong bond. Fifteen years! That’s how long they’d been together! Very few relationships get to stand the test of time. It’s a connection cemented by his unwavering faithfulness and her eternal optimism. Nila’s older sister Dory Cusi, who’d flown in from SoCal, would later toast to many of John’s finest qualities and heroic deeds, including how, when Nila couldn’t fly to the Unites States yet, he single-handedly chaperoned Dorly’s little children across the Pacific so they could finally be reunited with their parents—“and that’s when I knew he was the right guy for my sister.” They tied the knot at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral (21-23)—it was my first time to step inside that church, and it was glorious. The bride wore a dazzling floor-sweeping strapless sweetheart-neckline gown that they’d snatched in Manhattan. John’s mother had commissioned a choir to sing “Ave Maria” as Nila’s walk-down-the-aisle song. The whole thing was so surreal I was brought to tears. A great bonus was that I got to be reunited with my some of my closest friends from college, and with the rest of the Seno family, especially John’s brothers Joey (25, delivering his best man’s speech) and Rico (26), both of whom I had become close to as John and I had lost touch.
Just a couple of photos from a recent engagement session that I did (29-32). This one took two days because we had to go up the mountains! Yes, it was grueling! The pictures came out pretty good, though, thanks to the fact that this was the first engagement shoot wherein I had absolutely nothing to do with the styling—i.e., someone else took care of the clothes, leaving me with nothing else to attend to but my camera! I should do this more often—you know, just take pictures and leave all the other aspects like the styling and the props to others. It gets you focused like that. I am unable to upload that set on here just yet ‘cause I am not allowed to publish the photos until the days leading to the wedding, so you will have to stay tuned.
Every Wednesday morning my friend Jeff and I make it a point to visit the Carmelite Monastery down Mabolo (just a good 10 minutes’ walk from our office) to light a few candles and say a little prayer (33-35). (By the way, last week, August 24, was the 48th anniversary of the consecration of the Monastery.) I can tell you that not one prayer has been unanswered. More often than not I pray for good health for me and my family. Sometimes I pray for good shoot weather, and I almost always get it! Of course, I go to the Redemptorist Church, too (36)—I live right next door!
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So a friend brought me to a place that specialized in bespoke menswear (37). I can’t disclose the name of the institution ‘cause I’ve kind of been sworn into silence, but they’ve been making bespoke suits and barong Tagalogs for a privileged group of Cebuanos for years, relying mostly on astute word of mouth. I ran my hands through some of the suit jackets laid on the dress forms and was amazed by the precision and the sharpness—what great handiwork! I hope to make an appointment soon.
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That’s a tally of my daily cigarette consumption right there (38). I was really sick beginning of this month, and when the doctor asked me “How many sticks do you smoke in one day?” I could not answer her. And so she told me that I “better start keeping track.” And so here we are. Turns out I am a pack-a-day smoker. Yikes. The good thing about keeping a record, though, is that it kind of disgusts you every time you look at it, and so it kind of keeps you in check. I am not in a struggle to quit or anything—I just really want to minimize my burning up is what it is. Smoker’s cough is not exactly music to anyone’s ears—even to the smoker himself.
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One of my best friends from high school, Rhoderick (39), blew another birthday candle this month. While I could count the candles, what I couldn’t count was how many times this person had been there for me and my family throughout the years, so I knew it was time to give back. I threw a little birthday dinner for him at my place, and we had habichuelas (his favorite), among others, and I made Do-Over-style sangria, too! I’m happy to report I’m getting good at this thing—that is, cooking and entertaining at home. Sure, it’s labor-intensive and time-consuming, but it gives little celebrations a great punch of importance and a touch of individuality, as opposed to, say, just dragging someone to the usual restaurants. Just a little something I picked up from my recent obsession with Rita Konig (I talked about this briefly in my previous post). It is not my intention to do this more and more, but to do it more often than not, maybe at least once a month. You see, there was a time I could not cook, even if it meant saving my life. To borrow a line from Carrie Bradshaw, “The only thing that I have ever successfully made in the kitchen is a mess.” But I’m not twenty-something anymore, and now that I am running my own household I am somehow responsible for injecting a little, um, wisdom into it. Those closest to me will laugh when they read this because they know I am a first-class slob. But, hey, I am working on that, too. One step at a time! This year it’s all about cooking for me, and maybe next year it will be cleaning (LOL). Here’s a serving of the vegetable/seafood pesto pasta that I whipped up some two weeks ago (40). Yes, my brother loved it, and I’m making it again this week.
One of my all-time favorite shirts: a black and white “she-Che” raglan (41) from Cecile Zamora’s Defect that my best friend Yna Varias gave to me for Christmas ’99—yes, it is 12-years-old, and I still wear it like I only got it yesterday!
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Herb Ritts is, like, my all-time favorite photographer. As a young boy growing up in a small town, I would flip through my Mom’s and my aunts’ old Vogues and be mesmerized by his work. The first time I knew I was going to make fashion a huge part of my life was when I saw the cover of American Vogue’s April 1993 issue—Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Stephanie Seymour all playful, wearing candy-striped crop tops by Marc Jacobs paired with white Daisy Dukes, photographed by Herb Ritts. I would later find out it was him who’d directed two of my all-time favorite music videos, too: Madonna’s “Cherish” from 1989, and Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” from 1990. Ever since then I’d become obsessed with his style, his penchant for black-and-white and the way he’d approached chiaroscuros. I remember crying so hard when he died in December of 2002. Three weeks ago, on the week of his birthday (August 13, he would’ve turned 59), I paid tribute by setting my favorite Herb Ritts photograph (“Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage, 1990″) as wallpaper on my phone (42, 43). Around the same time, the Getty announced that they had just acquired 69 Herb Ritts photographs, and that they were planning to put up a retrospective in the spring of next year—God, I hope I’ll be in L.A. in time for that!
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Another person whose demise brought me to my knees: the Filipino actor Rico Yan. I was watching Got 2 Believe, his last movie, in which he’d played a wedding photographer. I had to grab my phone and take pictures of freeze-frames (46, 47) of him crying. He was most beautiful when he cried.
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So, remember last month when I talked about how I stockpile on Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Green in Lemon Jasmine? I got an e-mail from someone who blogs about teas asking why I loved them when there were a lot of better tasting sleep-inducing teas out there. Here’s my answer: They come in string-less, tag-less, staple-less pillow-style teabags (44)—in short, they are environment-friendly.
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Another e-mail I got was from someone who wanted to know how the oversize mustard grandfather cardigan that I let a client wear for a nautical-themed set qualified as, well, nautical. My answer: I know that when we say “nautical fashion” we are quick to think blue-and-white stripes, and then a little red highlights here are there, but what some of you don’t know is that yellow is part of the basic sailorman palette, too—owing to the yellow slickers that sailors use (I did a little bit of research and found out that the yellow “resulted from treating canvas with linseed oil to make it waterproof”). Also, I did take a closer inspection at the buttons of that cardigan: they were gold-colored, like those of the traditional Service Dress Blue uniforms, and they had these embossed yacht anchor details, too (48)—you can’t get any more nautical than that.
This past month was special for a lot of different reasons, but this one right here could be the biggest highlight of them all: A little over two weeks ago I started my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy Photography. Single-handedly run by the beautiful and brilliant Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon (49, 50), Shutterfairy is one of the best-known boutique wedding/lifestyle photography firms in this part of the country. I had been an avid follower of her work, even before I could get a camera of my own. It was a bold step in my part deciding to pursue this apprenticeship. Towards the end of June, after five or so solo shoots, I’d felt I’d needed to push myself some more, and that all this business about being self-taught was getting old. I’d read somewhere about Victor Demarchelier, Patrick Demarchelier’s son, being his father’s principal assistant. “There are [other aspects of photography] that you can grasp faster as an assistant,” he had been quoted as saying. How cool is a father-and-son team? But my father was no longer here to teach me, so I had to look outside the family circle. I pulled a couple of strings, managed to get good viva-voce recommendations, sent a letter of application, and in no time found myself under Mai’s wings.
My first session with her was for an engagement shoot. We were going to be shooting at a farm up the mountains in Carmen, some two or so hours northeast of Cebu. As luck would have it, the couple we were going to be shooting were from New York—I swear to God, the New York streak just kept on coming! Cherry, who has roots from Cebu, was about to marry her fiancé Christian (56) in less than a week. I asked why they decided not to have their engagement photos taken in their new hometown of New York, and she said it was Christian’s idea for them to be taken here, in this very farm, ‘cause he’d fallen in love with this place when they’d first visited about a year ago. What was not love? I looked around me and I couldn’t keep my jaw from dropping—everywhere you turned it was picturesque (49-56). The place is called Noah’s Farm, and it is owned by Cherry’s sister, Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who likes to take her family up there once in a while when they want to shy away from the city life.
What I did was mostly help the couple with their outfits and scout for settings, but I did take a couple of pictures, too, ‘cause Mai would be, like, “Where’s your camera? Why aren’t you taking pictures?” I can’t post any of my photos from that day on here yet, ‘cause I have yet to get approval from Mai and, well, the clients, but, here, feel free to go to the Shutterfairy blogsite to view Mai’s gorgeous set from that day.
Remember two months ago when I inaugurated this blog and I talked about how photographers these days, in an effort to stand out and be cut above the rest, “hold back on the sharing?” Well, I take that back now, because Mai here was just amazing. She answered all my questions, even those that I did not ask out loud (it was as if she was reading my mind!), and she was always pushing me to get to the work at hand. I will write more on the things I’ve learned from her in my future posts. Right now let me just soak up in the awesomeness of how lucky I am to have found a mentor who is as generous as she is talented.
I have quite a number of Nike Dunks, but this pair right here (57), I must say, is my favorite. The sangria/saffron combo always does it for me.
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OK, so I’d been hearing through the grapevine that there was this store in Cebu that sold items from IKEA, but I’d never really paid attention to the buzz. And then I chanced upon the store myself. The store is called Förskö (60), and they are located at the second level of the Banilad Town Centre. I must’ve foamed in the mouth a little when in the corner of my eye I saw the IKEA logo. Never in my wildest dreams had I seen this coming! Not a lot of stock in there, though, and their space isn’t large enough to accommodate the showroom types of displays that IKEA is known for, but they do have a couple of winners, including the LACK side tables (the solid painted versions and the clear lacquered birch effect versions), the silver TERTIAL work lamp, and the MAKROS pendant lamp (58) that I loved from the 2011 catalog. They also have the KNAPPA pendant lamp (59) which I don’t remember from the 2011 catalog, so presumably it’s from a newer line. If you can’t find anything you love, that’s alright—just flip through the pages of the catalog, point at something, and they’ll place the order for shipment later! I’m thinking of getting the NASUM storage baskets (in clear lacquered banana fiber weave). We’ll see.
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The fresh carabao’s milk pastillas (64) from Carigara, Leyte, are simply the best. You should try them.
I forgot to mention my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy comes with a huge bonus: For package deals—e.g., engagement session plus day-of-the-wedding coverage—Mai works with a husband-and-wife team, Paul and Charisse Calo (71), a.k.a. Calography. I met Charisse (66) during the previously mentioned first session with Mai, and I would get to work with both her and her better half a couple of days later during my second session. Both teams were commissioned to do the engagement photos of visiting Zamboaga-based couple Al and Pie (67, 68, 69, 72) who were going to be married in two months. It was fun for the most part because Paul turned out to be the adventurous, adrenaline-driven type, and there was never a dull moment because we were always moving from one location to another. Even more amazing was the camaraderie between the two teams, and that they saw eye to eye and there was never a conflict of ideas. That day I learned some of the technicalities of shooting under harsh lighting conditions, like minding my ISO and all that other good stuff. It’s so cool that I get to pick at not just one brain but three! I cannot wait to work with them again. Click here for a couple of Paul’s and Charisse’s shots from that session.
Proud of myself because this month I kept true to my promise of buying more books and fewer magazines! In fact, no magazine purchases at all this month! (Well, next month is a going to be a different story altogether, as I am determined to grab the September issue of Vogue—Kate Moss on the cover, my dears, and an exclusive coverage of her wedding to Jamie Hince!) So my brother Jake came across this bookstore that sold hard-to-find volumes at steeply discounted prices, and I wasted no time in checking it out. The photography shelf was what I checked out first (73), but it turned out all it contained were books on graphic design and illustration—the salesperson told me they were running low on photography titles, but I enlightened her that maybe all they needed was a little rearranging, because I did find this one baby, Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan by Douglas R. Gilbert (with text from music journalist Dave Marsh and a foreword by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian), in the shelf labeled Fashion. I couldn’t believe they were selling this book for, like, less than Php 200. I loved all the photos in it, but my favorite was this one photo of Dylan singing to the poet Allen Ginsberg in some kitchen while Sally Grossman (better known as the lady in red on the cover of Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home) looked on (74). As I did more digging I was able to unearth a copy of Vivienne Tam’s China Chic (75). For years I had been looking for this title, and finally here I was holding a copy of it with my bare hands. My first impulse was to add it to my cart, but then after leafing through the first few pages I decided it wasn’t for me. No disrespect—Vivienne Tam is one person I look up to, along with other Asian and Asian-American designers like Anna Sui, Vera Wang, Jason Wu, and Alexander Wang. But this book was just not me at all—best left to Winnie Narazeths of the world. Perhaps Anna Sui by Andrew Bolton would be more in my lane, what with her rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic and all. So, no, I do not regret not buying this one. One thing I do regret not getting was this huge Collector’s Library Edition volume of Oscar Wilde’s works (76). I’d turned away from it in favor of a book on the makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin. Asinine move in my part, really, and I should’ve listened to my writer friend Xiomara Demeterio-Glindmeyer when she said, “I would grab Wilde in a heartbeat.” I was tempted, you see, by the immediate practicality the Aucoin book had offered—like, hey, I was going to be doing shoots for a living, so best to grab the one that would teach me a thing or two about makeup, a very important aspect of every shoot. I realize now, of course, that the Wilde book would’ve been the more practical choice—the Aucoin book, easy to find, whereas the chances or finding another Wilde book in this part of the world, close to impossible. Oh, well, you live, you learn.
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Just a couple of days ago I was reunited with someone I hadn’t talked to or seen in a very long time—I’m talking about the singer/songwriter Cattski Espina (77, 78). She had just finished titling and tracklisting her new album (to be released really soon!), and now it was time to get to work on the album cover. She had commissioned Shutterfairy to do her portraits, and since Mai was in Manila for a family thing I took the liberty of setting up the pre-shoot meeting myself. What was supposed to be a quick discussion turned into 3- or 4-hour meeting, ‘cause there was a lot of catching up to do in my part. I confessed that the last album I’d heard about was Vacuum My Inside (released late 2003), the follow-up to their 2001 debut Cattski EP. Turned out that I’d missed out on a third album (a 2009 release called Sound Minds Speak Volumes) because this thing she was about to launch was her fourth. I also learned that she was on her own now—this new release was going to be the first from Cattski the solo artist; Cattski the band was no more. “Which is why I’ve decided to call it Zero,” she shared, “because it’s like I’ve gone back to zero.” I’m not allowed to let anyone in on the details just yet, but suffice to say that, like the album title, the recording is going to feature a pared-down sound—a departure from the heavier sounds in her previous works. “More electronica than rock,” she pointed out. This called for a brand spanking new look. We got to work, and I was happy with the styling concept we were able to come up with. The shoot’s this weekend, and I’m excited. I can’t wait to see how it’s all gonna turn out.
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Cattski couldn’t help but notice the wallpaper on my phone. I told her that this was my own little way of paying tribute to someone. Couple of weeks ago it was Herb Ritts (42, 43), and these days it was Aaliyah (79, 80). It was the 10th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death last August 25. Can you believe it’s been 10 years? Feels like it was only yesterday that I cried myself to sleep, after seeing the news on the plane crash that killed her. In her song “Try Again” from the soundtrack to Romeo Must Die, Timbaland ad libs, “It’s been a long time/ We shouldn’t have left you/ Without a dope beat to step to.” Well, at least Aaliyah didn’t leave us without a dope beat to step to. Up to this very day I still dance to “Back and Forth” in my room, the same way I used to do it back in ’94, and it’s something I’m not ashamed of. Nothing wrong about getting up and letting “this funky mellow groove get you in the mood”—yes, “you know it’s alright.”
Just when you think I’m done with this crap, here I am again with another set of Poladroids.
Blame it on design It Girl Rita Konig. I was at three different bookstores this month looking for a copy of her book Domestic Bliss but couldn’t find one (don’t they stockpile on anything other than teenage vampire horseshit these days?), so I was forced to dig up the archives at NYTimes.com to revisit her old columns (she no longer writes for them, by the way; I think she has since moved to the Wall Street Journal). For once, I was beginning to obsess about decorating, and not spending too much time looking at photoblogs. I read about her penchant for charming pieces of tobacciana (a pink glass ashtray that gets to go with her wherever she goes, cute little glass match strikers, etc.), and her quirky yet practical method of entertaining (“I don’t have a dining table, but I do have a coffee table, a newly upholstered sofa and a kitchen large enough to cook in, so dinner is eaten off of large art books on laps, or sitting cross-legged at the coffee table”). But what really struck a chord with me was her article on “sticking photos straight up on the wall,” pointing out “how unfashionable it has become to put framed photographs on tables,” and so what she does is she puts up a Polaroid wall in her kitchen. What a novel idea! Not to mention practical and stylish!
Well, the practical part is almost debatable. For one, nobody could figure out where my Dad had kept his old Polaroid Sun 600s (if he’d even kept them at all), and even if we knew, it would be fiendishly difficult to obtain instant film in this part of the world. But, hey, there’s always Poladroid, right?
Here are some of the Poladroids that I am considering printing and putting up against my kitchen wall, again, created using random snapshots from my trips from the last three years. Of course, this means I’m going to have to print some of the ones that I made last month, too. They won’t look like actual Polaroids when they’re printed, but they will, from afar (I love that I kind of have that Rita Konig kind of thinking now!).
You guys have a good weekend now! Remember, inspiration is everywhere—even in the things that you settle for when you still haven’t found what you’re looking for (am I even making any sense here?).
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#46 and #47: At the Brooklyn Bridge with my friend Anne Alegrado’s daughter Ellis, a.k.a. my uptown girl. This was my first morning in New York, and they took me to the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d always wanted to see the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d always thought, Oh, that’s where you fall in love all over again. Thanks to that one pivotal scene an hour and 59 minutes into the first Sex and the City movie wherein Miranda and Steve decide to let back together and leave the past behind, with Al Green’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” playing in the background. “Very logical, yet poetic,” Carrie had said about the choice of rendezvous. So when I got there, I expected it to hit me—I thought of those who’d broken my heart, or those I’d hurt, and waited for a little voice inside of me to say, “Hold on.” But then the only little voice I heard was Ellis’s, who was quick to quip, “Hey! This is the bridge from the princess movie!” And then I realized she was talking about a scene from Enchanted, in which Princess Giselle was finally reunited with her Prince Edward—which she’d thought was all she’d ever wanted—until, walking side-by-side with him on this very bridge, she realized it wasn’t the Prince she was in love with, it was McDreamy. And so I stood there and got into thinking: Do I hold on, or do I let go? In life, it’s easy to get stuck between two places—in this case, it was literally, between Manhattan and Brooklyn—or in a place that means two completely different things. And that can be a pretty sticky situation. It can cause you sleepless nights. Luckily, for some of us, we can just shake it off, and do something stylish. It’s OK to lose sleep, anyhow—especially when you’re in the city that never sleeps.
#48: The rooftop at Anne’s Upper East Side apartment (the Wellesley on E 72nd, between 2nd and 3rd Ave., a red-brick 35-story tower). I’d be up here every morning, barely out of REM sleep and not having had coffee yet, just soaking up the sun and the incredible view of the neighboring skyscrapers. Her family have since moved to Brooklyn so Anne could fulfill her dream of sitting on the apotheosis of domestic bliss (well, I kind of like the sound of “Brooklynite gardener,” too), so it’s safe to say I won’t be seeing this rooftop ever again. At least I have pictures that I can look back on.
#49: I hadn’t seen this girl Liz Marsh in, like, 10 years—so you can imagine my surprise when she called and said she had to kidnap me for a day! Always nice to be reunited with old best friends. It’s amazing how she’d managed to stay the same after all those years—same hair, same eye makeup, same laugh, same everything—while I’d become 60 lbs. heavier! Well, her taste in music had changed a bit, but in a good way. Nothing beats driving around West L.A. with Deftones blasting from the car stereo. Speaking of driving, another thing that hadn’t changed about her was, well, her driving! That girl could bust a U-turn (and I don’t mean a legal one) like a gangsta! Luckily, we didn’t get into an accident like that one we got into some 10 years back at the DTM /Reclamation area. I almost got killed, though, when she tried to stuff me with Brazilian barbecue (carneiro, picanha ao alho) at Pampas Grill and “Around the World” combos at Sushi A Go Go—as if I wasn’t fat enough already.
#53: That’s Kloodie, one of my best friends, on her wedding day late last year. I just had to squeeze this photo in. Her wedding dress was the most divine thing I’d ever seen—I mean, look at that! It’s a Jun Escario, by the way, in case you’re wondering.
#56: My friend Janice Larrazabal took me to the Getty to see Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties. It meant so much to me being there and standing face-to-face with the works of the likes of Mary Ellen Mark, James Nachtwey, and Philip Jones Griffiths. Griffiths was my father’s favorite photographer, you see, so, yeah, it meant the world to me. Click here to read more about that experience.
#58: Four months after Michael Jackson’s passing, Angelenos and tourists alike flock to the Staples Center/Nokia Theatre L.A. Live area to pay tribute by dancing to “Thriller.”
#61: On my fourth day in New York I met up with some of my best girl friends from college, Nila Seno, Jam Montecillo and Charmaine Nadela.
#62: After a grueling trip to see Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone in the Greenwich Village the girls and I rewarded ourselves with these divine cupcakes from the world-famous Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker and W 11th. Divine!
#64: I’d wanted to go back to the beginning, so off we went to the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District at the site of the city’s original settlement (downtown, right by the Union Station and the City Hall). I’d been in this area back in 2008, but never got the chance to see the mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles, so I made sure there was no missing it this time around. I said a little prayer, and then went on to explore the colorful Olvera Street. We were right for going on a weekday; we didn’t have to squeeze through crowds of tourists. It was a nice experience: The sound of Mexican guitar and people pronouncing it “Loce Ang-hel-es.”
#64: San Francisco’s J. Boogie on the ones and twos at the Do-Over. A must-do when you’re in L.A. between mid-May and early November, the Do-Over is a Sunday afternoon “backyard barbecue-style” party (they used to throw it over at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern down N El Centro, between Hollywood and Selma, a stone’s throw away from Roscoe’s on Gower, and now the whole thing’s been moved to the Cabana Club a little off Sunset, right by the Arclight). They call it the Do-Over—because, well, as one of the bouncers put it when I asked, “do it once and you’ll want to do it over and over again!” My first Do-Over experience was the bomb, thanks to J. Boogie right here. Famous for his blend of roots reggae, dancehall, Latin hip hop, jazz rap, soul, and new jack swing, he got the crowd swinging nonstop, from Max Romeo’s “Chase the Devil,” to The Fugees’ “Ready or Not,” to Buju Banton’s “Mr. Nine,” to Richie Spice’s “Youth Dem Cold,” to Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s,” to Lady G’s “Nuff Respect,” to Tony Rebel’s “Know Jah,” to Q-Tip’s “Breathe and Stop,” to Bill Withers’s “Lovely Day,” to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” to Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” to Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” Next in the lineup was King Britt from Philadelphia, who kept the classics coming. I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t danced to SWV’s “Right Here/Human Nature” in so long, and it felt pretty damn good to be able to do so again. I can’t believe they brought the Do-Over to Manila just last month (July 23)—I would’ve flown! Oh, well, I sent them a Tweet saying they should swing by Cebu the next time they visit this part of the world. Let’s see what happens (or maybe I should just let my event organizer friends to make it happen). #65: Oh, and did I mention the sangria at the-Dover was the shiznit? I could finish 5 carafes of that shit. Well, now I got a deadly stain on my white boat shoes, but I don’t care—I’d like to think of it as a remembrance of a West Coast life well lived.
#66: With my best friends Ronald Conopio and Julie Pongos enjoying supersized mojitos at The Abbey in West Hollywood. We’d dreamt of this very moment when we were kids—all three of us, together again, in the same ZIP Code, particularly one that starts with a 9 and a 0. And so there we were, picking up the pieces, from 90067 to 90069 to 90210. And the coolest thing about it was that none of this was planned! It just happened, just like that, like a comet, like laughter, like forgiveness, and all those other things you can’t explain—a lot like the day we first met some 20 years ago!
#67: It was dineL.A. Restaurant Week. My best friend Chiklet was in the mood for a little sophisticated Spanish, so she took me to The Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (no, we were not there to stalk Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom). Loved loved loved the Gazpacho estilo Algeciras, the Tortilla de Patatas, the Papas Canarias, the Jamón Serrano Fermin, the Buñuelos (codfish fritters, honey alioli), the Croquetas de Pollo, and the Beef Hanger Steak (cooked in its own fat and drenched in piquillo pepper sauce). Of course, you don’t need to ask if I liked the ambiance—everything was screaming Philippe Starck.
#69: My goddaughter Tabitha, cutest little thing on earth. This was taken last December when she and her mom Yna Varias came to visit me. I love that she loves to overaccessorize. She has those sunglasses in three different colors.
#72: Me and my best friend Julie with Chad Wolf, frontman of the band Carolina Liar. This was taken after the Rob Thomas/OneRepublic concert at the Gibson Amp, in which they were opening act. Ah, fucking crazy! I got to talk to him and lead guitarist Rickard Göransson and tell them about how their song “California Bound” was, like, my soundtrack for this trip—or, for all my Californian adventures, for that matter! “Well, thanks for finding us, man,” Chad told me as we were about to leave. You should’ve seen me. I was beaming the whole time. Another rock ‘n’ roll dream come true!
#77: One of my favorite couples, my cousin Randy and his beautiful wife Sue, who always make it a point to see me whenever I’m in California. Well, Randy is not really my cousin—our moms are just real good friends, so, there, we’re sorta cousins, which makes Sue my sorta cousin-in-law. LOL. I’d love to photograph them one day, just ‘cause their chemistry is amazing, not to mention they’re both very stylish. The plan is to do a session before their Cebu wedding (yes, they had a California wedding, but Sue wants to have a Cebu wedding soon). Well, Randy is a photographer himself (see samples of his work here), but he can’t do his own pre-second-wedding photos, can he? You guys, this is my sales pitch right here.
#80: My nephew Jamim. Well, his real name is Prince James, but we call him Jamim—a moniker that big sister Oona came up with when should could not pronounce James, and it stuck. He calls me Antle because he can’t pronounce uncle, but that’s alright with me because, really, if you come to think of it, it’s like a portmanteau of aunt and uncle. LOL. He knows alligators are green, and dragons are orange. He loves guitars and drums, and it is my intention to start him early. He smells like Irish Spring, which is why I like to hug him. A lot. He can be clumsy at times, and once he amputated my Deep Space Starscream, but I love him all the same. He is the only human being who sees the good in me, only calling me “Bad!” when I cut his spaghetti into small bits. How nice that somebody in this world is capable of looking at me with a fresh pair of eyes.
#84: My godson Ari is growing up too fast! One day he could barely crawl, and now he was running around The Grove my knees were shaking as I was chasing him around. His mom Cai had asked me to take pictures of him, but it was just diabolically difficult trying to make this one stand still. Note to self: When photographing a child, make sure you’re on Red Bull.
#85 and #86: Couple of photos from my visit to the Kentucky Horse Park. I had promised my cousin Amanda Liok, who loves horses to death, that I was gonna take a lot of photos for her. There’s a certain kind of magic when you look at horses. Maybe it’s their necks. Maybe it’s their manes. Or, could it be their rear ends that remind you of a woman’s behind when she is wearing the right stilettos? I don’t know. I just know it’s magical. But even more enchanting is when you get to know their names. One of the girls I talked to calls her horse Moonshine—who knows if she meant moonlight, or liquor, but this was Kentucky so it’s probably the latter—and that just took my breath away. Another girl calls her horse Alcatraz. Amanda has a couple of horses in her backyard, and all of them have beautiful names: Salsa, Moondance, Taco, Chili. I would love to be able to own a horse one day. Maybe I’ll call it Baroness, after my favorite G.I. Joe character. Or maybe I’ll call it Malibu, after my favorite beach city. Or maybe I’ll call it Lexington, after my favorite summer fling. Or maybe I’ll call it Ava Adore, after my favorite Smashing Pumpkins song. Whatever it is, it definitely won’t be “a horse with no name”—although I kind of love that song, too.
#88, #89 and #90: Who doesn’t love the Santa Monica Pier? I know I do. And not just because this was where Spencer Pratt proposed to Heidi Montag—hey, I was a Baywatch baby long before I became a The Hills hoe. But, of course, it wasn’t the David Charvet types I’d come here to ogle at. Sitting there and watching the birds crisscross the horizon, I thought to myself, “Wow, I would come here everyday if only I could.” There’s this incredibly talented singer-songwriter named Terry Prince (I just recently learned that he has Fililipino roots, too!) who performs there on a regular basis. That definitely added a nice bonus to our visit. I mean, California is the last place you’d expect to find an old soul when it comes to music, and yet here was one guy who was not afraid to share his stories of inspiration through his soulful voice and pared-down melodies. Everyone stopped and listened. My favorite song was “Imagine Love.” I regret not capturing it on video, but, here, someone else did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WZoH2UP4PI. It’s even more beautiful when you’re actually there, I promise. The first few lines of the song goes: “Imagine love/ Imagine heaven here on earth…” I did not need to imagine heaven here on earth. Thanks to the birds, the horizon, and him, I was already standing on it.
My father was a photographer. Well, he was a lot of other things, too—farmer, businessman, practical shooter/handgun enthusiast, tennis player—but it’s the photographer part that’s etched deep in my mind and the first thing I remember whenever I think of him. Was he a professional? Did he have paying clientele? I don’t know. All I know is I grew up tiptoeing around a loft scattered with cameras of all shapes and sizes—Polaroid Sun 600s here, a couple of Leicas there, 35 mm Nikon SLRs everywhere—and other photographic equipment, including tripods, one of them I’m sure I used as hobby horse at one point. When it wasn’t makeshift hobby horse time or Lego time or Atari time I could be found sprawled on the family room hardwood floor, leafing through piles and piles of his prints—some of me and my brothers in various stages of infancy, mostly of my mother in various states of fancy (apparently that was how the courtship had went—my mom skipping and jumping and dancing and laughing and beaming and singing and breathing, and my dad documenting her every move in film). Easily my favorites were his double exposures, and this one print of a chubby-cheeked me as a rotary dial was my favorite thing to bring to show and tell—never failed to elicit ooohs and aaahs from classmates whose baby pictures were humdrum. Of course, toting an instant camera helped boost my schoolyard cred, too. Apart from my dad’s personal work, I was also surrounded by works of genius—he loved collecting documentary photography books, a good chunk of them on war photography, including the first edition of Philip Jones Griffiths’s Vietnam Inc. I suppose there was a darkroom somewhere, possibly tucked between the storage where our plastic model kits sat in various states of disrepair and this room where a small group of his workers packed all sorts of stuff (from chocolate tablets to banana chips), but in the time of A Nightmare on Elm Street you wouldn’t dare consider exploring rooms that were, well, dark, even with trusty old Atari joystick in hand. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d gone looking for it anyway, Freddy Krueger be damned. Oh, well, it bites that you can’t turn back time.
Around the time I turned ten or so I decided I was old enough to get into hobbies outside, well, hobby horses (and Galaga and Donkey Kong Jr.), and taking from my parents’ interests seemed the most practical. From my mom I took her love for music, and went on to learn the piano—the only thing that rivaled the photography books for shelf space was sheet music (her father was a music teacher). For some reason, though, it wasn’t taking pictures that I decided to take on from my dad—instead, I asked him to take me to tennis clinic. I don’t know, perhaps as early as then I’d seemed to know that the former was going to be expensive—a box of Polaroid film alone would cost more than an entire summer of tennis lessons, not to mention they were very hard to come by in the small town where we lived. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d gone for it anyway—if he could afford to buy me some swank racquets there was no reason he couldn’t afford to get me a good beginner’s camera. Oh, well, it bites that you can’t turn back time.
By the time I reached early teenagerhood I stopped playing the piano and dropped the tennis racquets and started toying with my maternal grandfather’s typewriter. I wrote furiously, neurotically, although no one really read my works, save for my maternal grandmother, who would nod in approval every time even when my syntax was flawed and my figures of speech all over the place. Yes, my early works, as you would’ve suspected, were just a tendril short of crap—how deluded was I when I attempted to create, for example, a local version of Sweet Valley High? It all got a little better in time, though, as I slowly outgrew my fondness for implausibly sunkissed blonde twins, and I got published for the very first time in The Philippine Star’s youth lifestyle section when I was 15. Three or so years later I became an editor at a local daily’s youth lifestyle section, and soon after became associate editor and youth section editor at a local magazine. Somewhere in the midst of all this frenzy, I became a stylist, too—I’d figured, to be a credible fashion journalist one had had to walk the talk. This was the time I got to work with some of the most amazing photographers I know. Jon Unson was an incredible to work with—not only did he encourage me to push the envelop in each and every shoot I styled, he also made sure each session was going to be educational (he was always explaining to me what he was doing and what he was aiming to achieve, was always eager to let me in on the planning and conceptualizing stages, and his vast collection of rare art and fashion magazines became my library for a year or so). And then there was Wig Tysmans, whom I’d been commissioned to work with for two fashion editorials for the now-defunct glossy CeBu!, who took us outdoors and gave us a crash course on light and luminance—I remember him talking about “the magical hour,” that sliver of time between when the sun starts to set and when it disappears completely, and I just stood there open-mouthed as it all unfolded, and as he seized ten different hues of a sunset in a single frame. During this period I was living alone, away from family, and being around these gifted and generous people who made work feel like it wasn’t work, and who taught me everything I’d failed to learn from my father, made me feel like I was home. My parents would visit from time to time, and I’d tell my dad about these extraordinarily talented people I was working with and their fascinating craft, and then he’d tell me, “Don’t say I never gave you a camera!” It appeared that he’d given me his Nikon N8008 when he’d arrived from a trip to Vegas in the early ‘90s, but I’d turned it down, saying all I’d wanted was a new typewriter. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d taken it anyway. Oh, well, again, it bites that you can’t turn back time.
It would take another couple of years for me to get my very first camera, a Nikon Zoom 500 or something that looked like it—yes, compact, and secondhand, because I was living from meager paycheck to meager paycheck at the time—which I lost four months later on a trip to Manila to stalk the boundary-pushing streetwear designer Cecile Zamora and the equally fierce stylist/DJ Angelo Villanueva. Two years later I got my first digital camera, a Kodak DC3200—again, compact, and secondhand, because it was all I could afford. Boxy, heavy (it required 4 AA batteries), and in the dullest shade of gray (the color of a battleship), it looked (and, I should add, sounded) more like a toy than a camera, but it did the job pretty well, save for the overactive flash, and so it stuck with me for a good four years—such a trouper, I know! I was gonna say the thing served its purpose as a good personal camera, but it would be remiss in my part if I said I never used it “professionally,” because the truth is I sort of have—in my one-year stint as lifestyle editor for a local weekly in my hometown, we used it for a good number of features that required accompanying portraits, even travelogues. Were they show-stopping images? Well, not quite. But I thought they were pretty decent—for newsprint, at least. And then my dad stepped into the picture. Yes, it was around this time that he started to pay attention to my work; normally, you see, he wouldn’t touch on the subject of my writing, but since this time around my work involved accompanying pictures he began to feel the need to pitch in. “You whites are burnt out—what are you doing about that?” “Watch your lines—composition is important.” “Your photos are almost always published in black and white, so understanding contrast is key.” “Practice a little bit of framing; it can be flattering.” For the first of these feedback sessions I kind of listened, but for what followed I took less and less to heart. Because this was a parent there was this childish tendency for me to suspect that he was just taking advantage of the situation to point out the things I was doing badly. Also, with the dearth of stuff to write about in a small town, I had to focus on digging for stories rather than spend time learning a new craft—besides, I would rationalize, people knew me as a writer, not as a photographer or art director, so they wouldn’t care if the visuals were mediocre as long as the writing was pretty damn good. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d paid close attention to what he’d had to say, hung on to every word, taken down notes. Oh, well, it bites that you can’t turn back time.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2008 that I learned to recognize the value of photography as a tool to help me see the world and tell stories in ways that could be markedly different from the written word. I was on my very first trip out of the country, and was therefore saddled with the task to document every little experience for those waiting at home. “Your camera ready?” my dad had asked days before my flight out. Naturally, I’d assured him, two cameras, in fact. “You sure you don’t need a new one?” he’d asked, and to this I’d shaken my head, and he’d said OK, fine—knowing me, he’d probably had a sneaking suspicion I’d only put them in my checklist to make sure something was there to document my outfit opportunities, anyways, so he’d fought the urge to push. And, true to form, during my first few days in Los Angeles, all I did was shop and have photos of me in my new clothes taken, under the false illusion that maybe a profile picture of me wearing some Urban Outfitters and against some kickass stencil graffiti down N La Brea would land me a spot in the MySpace Muses section of WhoWhatWear.com (and how depressing is that, right?). And then the day came when everyone I knew was too busy to show me around, and so I was left with no choice but to go around on my own, walking (yes, walking, a breach in convention by New Wave standards since Missing Persons had declared that “nobody walks in L.A.”) a half mile from my friend’s Wilshire Center neighborhood to Melrose, and another two miles down Melrose looking for the People’s Revolution offices to stalk Kelly Cutrone. With no one there to take pictures of me, for the first time in a long time my camera was turned away from, well, me and actually saw the world. Melrose, particularly that section between La Brea and Fairfax, was quintessential, dead-on L.A.—equal parts offbeat and classic, crass and urbane, languid and dynamic, cluttered and tidy, unworldly and worldly, it was like being caught between two places, definitely unlike anything I’d ever seen in the movies or television. Falling more and more in love with the city with every step I took, I yanked my camera out of my tote and just fired away, taking pictures of every nook and cranny, of every hustle and bustle, of every passerby suspecting or unsuspecting. I snapped and snapped, more obsessively by the minute, for the record, for me to look back on, for others who’d ever wondered. It was an epiphany of sorts: Here was a prompt, convenient, all-encapsulating way to document—a pen and journal, albeit brave, wouldn’t have sufficed. So I didn’t get to spot Ms. Cutrone, but I stumbled upon a new hobby—not bad at all. Instant-replaying my shots as I called it a day, waggling at the few hits and snorting at the hundreds of misses, I thought of how much painless all of this would’ve been had I taken my dad up on his offer to buy me a better camera. But, oh, well, I was here, and there was no turning back the hands of time.
One of the last conversations I had with my father was about cameras. I was home visiting, having just returned from the City of Angels, and was showing him my shots from Melrose, a.k.a. my feeble attempt at street/documentary photography. They were nowhere as good as his shots from Vegas/Reno from years back, of course—or any of his shots, for that matter—but he gave me his stamp of approval, and declared I was ready to graduate from point-and-shoot to SLR. At first the idea of a heavy black box that needed to have its own bag (or to be carried around your neck) and that required careful handling and that entailed a number of accessories frightened me, but then I figured, hey, if I had to jump at this I had to go all out. So I told him I was willing to take him up on his offer to get me a new camera this time, if it still stood, and, to my dismay, he said yes, but on one condition: it had to be film-based. “Do they even sell those still?” I whimpered. But then again I’d seen it coming. The thing about my dad was he kicked it old school, tenaciously, almost to a fault—never got tired of his Jeep CJ, for example, which he’d had since his adolescent years, in favor of compact cars or other more sophisticated forms of transportation. And so it was no surprise that he wasn’t a huge fan of digital photography. With film, he said, “you are forced to have this discipline, to exercise restraint, and it gives you room to really study your bad shots—unlike digital, where you can take a hundred shots of a single frame and just discard the 99 that are bad and keep the one that’s good.” He had a point, but I remained obstinate. “If you want to be good at this, you have to learn it the hard way,” he’d added. After much prodding, though, he agreed to meet me halfway—i.e., I was to get myself a DSLR body, and he would buy me all the lenses that I wanted. Sounded like a deal to me. I was excited that I was about to start a new creative journey. And he was kind of thrilled, too—if not at the idea that, finally, he and I had something in common (after failed attempts to get me interested long enough in tennis, or at all in trips to the farm, family business stuff, or pistols), then at least at the idea that his prodigal progeny was going to be needing to see him more frequently than the usual twice-a-year. Am I making this stuff up—the part about him being kind of thrilled? People are going to ask that, knowing my father was nothing if not hard to read. Well, the answer is no. Before we said goodbye, I asked for a photo with him, which my friend Carlo took. My dad, he was never fond of being in front of a camera, always preferred to stand behind it—he was never a smiley person, too, and was always stiff, even when the situation called for one to be tender. But he said yes to this one photo, and even managed to put on a half-smile.
Little did I know that that was going to be the last photo of me and my father. He would pass away, in a freak motor accident, a little over three months later, just three days shy of my thirtieth birthday, which was when I’d originally intended to get myself a present in the form of the camera body that we’d talked about. It’s sad when the cookie crumbles, but even more heartbreaking when your world falls apart. In the wake of his death it all hung like a dark cloud over me, the promises that never came to fruition—not just the more prosaic ones like the camera situation, but the graver things, too, like my promise to be a good son and a good brother, and everything else in between. I began to wonder how the feminist artist Kiki Smith, daughter of American modernist sculptor Tony Smith, must have felt when her works were put alongside a retrospective of her father’s, some twenty years after his passing—“I remember being embarrassed because he had a beard or drove strange cars,” she had been quoted as saying. In my eulogy for my dad I touched on the subject of my self-imposed semi-estrangement from him and the rest of my family. It was no secret that I had distanced myself from and turned my back on him in more ways than one, and I would reason that that was because I was trying to be my own person, but, really, the truth was I terrified that his idiosyncrasies would rub off on me—not knowing that the more I’d ran the more I’d taken parts of him with me, and I had only been wasting my time, throwing away what had promised to be a relationship inundated by creativity. Tearfully I expressed my regret in front of friends and family. But no amount of tears could turn back time. All that was left to do was to move forward, and hope that, no matter how tragic things had turned out, a wonderfully consoling outcome was waiting for me somewhere, somehow. The good son and good brother parts I am still working on up to this very day, as I am writing this. The camera, though, I got to pick up last year, some fourteen months after his passing, and it’s never left my side ever since—a part of my father that has stuck with me, and that is going to be stuck with me, hopefully for a very long time. Of course, the aforementioned last snapshot of me and him is stuck with me, too—as a soothing reminder that, while we are not able to turn back the hands of time, at least some things can be, well, frozen in time.
I guess that’s what’s good about love in the time of the camera.
It hasn’t been easy having to learn the ropes on my own. Sure, there are people around me who’ve been doing this a long time, but every time I push my luck a door is slammed on my face. No hard feelings, especially since I’ve come to understand that times have changed, and are changing—advancement in digital photography has made the craft accessible to almost everyone, and as the landscape becomes oversaturated people are looking for more and more ways to stand out and be cut above the rest, and unfortunately for some one way to do that is to hold back on the sharing. The deplorable part is when people accuse you of being a “copycat,” thinking they own the craft just because they happened to pick up a camera a few years before you could do so yourself. I was unlucky enough to have undergone such travail. There were days it would get so bad and I’d find myself giving up cold turkey. But somehow during these days memories of my father would manage to manifest, and so I’d pick my head up. Case in point: Just a couple of months ago I was in L.A. visiting my sister, and I was this close to selling my camera to a friend from college, but then I made a quick trip to the Getty, and at the time Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties was on exhibition, featuring the works of the likes of Mary Ellen Mark, James Nachtwey, and Philip Jones Griffiths, and then I was brought face-to-face with a print of Griffiths’s seminal image of a Marine talking to a Vietnamese peasant girl in a paddy field, my dad’s favorite image from Vietnam Inc. And just like that I decided to keep the camera. It’s kind of a bittersweet thing, really, how he’s no longer here to teach or guide me, and yet it’s like he’s all around me, just pushing.
You might be wondering why I chose to tell this story to inaugurate my blog. Well, the principal reason is a rather simple one: Today is Father’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than by paying homage to my old man? There is a collateral reason, though, that I feel needs to go on record. You see, ever since I got a camera I have been getting a lot of flak from friend and foe alike, saying that I only got interested in photography because of a boy. While I will admit that, for a time there, I was head over heels with a guy who happens to be a photographer—and a very, very talented one at that—he wasn’t, isn’t and will never be the reason that I got myself into this. Does this boy inspire me? Well, yes. But then so do a lot of other stuff, like the Pacific Coast Highway, grunge, horse names, Beat poetry, birds, Catherine Deneuve, Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. And that’s just talking about right now. Maybe tomorrow it’s going to be, well, “Maybe Tomorrow” by Stereophonics. My point being that, while inspiration is a critical part of every creative process, it is often fleeting, temporary, and can be substituted at a snap of your fingers. A birthright, however, is steadfast and headstrong, has no hiding place, and is not something you can just shake off or put away. Trust me, I am tempted to attribute this whole thing to affairs of the heart, but there’s no denying that there’s no affair quite like a family affair. And so, once and for all, to dispel the rumors and to disabuse some of you of that notion, let it be known that I’m doing this not because of a boy, but because of a man.
This blog is dedicated in loving memory of my father, Jose Francisco Serafica Kangleon. I am probably never going to be as good as him—or anyone in this field, for that matter. I am probably never going to get people to stop and say oooh and aaah. I am probably never going to get people to show some respect. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop soldiering on. Some people are going to do a cursory glance-over at my work, dismiss it as amateur, perhaps even make ominous forecasts about it, but that’s alright. Because maybe it is amateur, maybe terribly so even. I will come clean and admit that I’ve never attended a single photography workshop, that there’s no more technical know-how in me than in an intermediate-level child photographer (I mean, I look at my lens blower and I am baffled by it!), and that I do not have the discipline or patience to organize my camera bag or my mood boards or my shooting schedule. More often than not I rely on whim and not on white balance, forget to mind my composition in favor of caprice, attach importance to accidents vs., say, aperture. Pretty clumsy, you might say. Like on this one late afternoon two years ago, in the fall, I was walking towards the corner of Wilshire and S Manhattan Pl looking for The Wiltern (to see if I could score tickets to an Aimee Mann/Fountains of Wayne gig), and I stopped dead on my tracks and pointed my camera to the sky upon remembering it was my dad’s birthday, his first since his passing. The resulting picture was not of his face among the clouds, of course—it was of a flock of birds, gracefully gliding through rays of the California sunset, almost Hitchcockian, top-to-bottom surreal. Is that sort of stuff amateur? Maybe so. I don’t know. All I know is that it’s magical. And I have my old man to thank for it.