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
Seriously, though: Exactly how small is the world getting? When my boss/mentor at Shutterfairy Photography Malou Pages told me we were going to be doing this couple’s engagement session, she didn’t mention much about the groom-to-be, only waxed poetic about the bride-to-be, saying that “you’re going to love her—she is very, very pretty!” So imagine my surprise when I went to sit down with the couple for our initial meeting and I found out that the groom-to-be was Gerald Serafin, who was not only the cousin of Rachelle Jean “RJ” Serafin-Bual, for whom we did a cowboy-themed engagement shoot back in 2010, but also brother to my good friend Ace, who was married to one of my closest friends Camille! From that moment I knew I had to do a good job with this assignment—Ace and Camille are like family to me, so I couldn’t afford to do a sucky job with this one! Of course, I also couldn’t discount the fact that Malou was right about Gerald’s fiancée Barbara being very pretty—I couldn’t stop staring at her face and thinking, I am going to have one hell of a field day styling/photographing this girl! She had the face of an angel. She reminded me of the model Kristine Petersen, who reigned supreme back in the day (1990s/early 2000s) as part of the original lineup (along with Malou Gica, Steevee Mahboob, and Elite Model Look- Philippines 1996 winner Charity Lagahid) of the inimitable Models Association of Cebu (MAC). That thought alone was enough to get me real excited.
Gerald is a businessman and an architecture enthusiast who runs a small but successful countertop and cabinetry business, but what most people don’t know is he is also a health and fitness buff who is obsessed with cycling. In his free time, usually on weekends, he likes to go on biking trips, and, mind you, we’re not talking the usual 5-6 miles up the hills of Busay—we’re talking hardcore here, like, some 70 miles down south of the island and back! Don’t ask me where he gets all that energy and drive, but he did get to talking about why he enjoyed exploring the southern parts more than any other area of Cebu: he loved the scenery, especially the old buildings/structures. Perhaps to feed his fascination of placemaking? He cited one favorite: Ruins of an unfinished coral-block cuartel or barrack stand dating back to the mid-1800s, which sat immediately in front of Oslob’s Church of the Immaculate Conception, facing the sea. He showed me a couple of photos of the place that he took using his camera phone during a recent biking trip, and my eyes widened at how majestic it looked—how come I’d never heard of this place before? The more he talked about it, the more it became palatable in my mind, and so I wasted no time in proposing: “We should do the shoot right here!” They liked the idea, but Barbara expressed that she was hoping we could do a couple of beach shots, too—having grown up in Bohol, this girl was, more than anything, a beach bum. I assured her this wasn’t going to be a problem, since weren’t there a string of beach towns—Argao, Dalaguete, Alcoy, etc.—on the way to Oslob from the city? The thought of turning the shoot into a road trip at the same time was enough to get me pumped. I’d used to not be a fan of road trips—those things had used to make me throw up, literally and figuratively, to put it rather bluntly—and I’d even told my boss at one point that, for engagement shoots, “I prefer not moving around too much, and just sticking to one location that has it all.” Eventually, though, I’d learned to re-embrace the idea of road tripping, thinking, I live in this incredible island—I just have to own that!
The styling part came really easy, too. I mean, when you look at someone with a face and a body like Barbara’s, what kind of clothes do you imagine on her? I was pretty much stumped at warm-weather clothes! And that wasn’t something I hoped to change! No other look made sense on her—I examined her ethereal hair, her amber eyes, her megawatt smile, and I saw a thousand summers written on them. You know the song “Sunny Road” by Emilíana Torrini? That was the song that played in my head the whole time I was talking to her. So, like reflex, I proceed to look to Free People’s May 2012 catalog (the one they shot in Miami; click here to view photos from that catalog) for inspiration, with a hint of Blake Lively’s carefree California girl character Ophelia “O” Sage from Oliver Stone’s thriller blockbuster Savages (July 2012)—kaftan tops, low-rise denim cutoffs, colorful maxi dresses, semi-sheer summer shirts, headscarves, bikinis, some crochet, and some tie-dye. The whole thing was equal parts boho, surfer chic, and Coachella! They were the kinds of clothes that would be in my closet had I been a girl living in L.A. or Laguna Beach! The sweetest thing was I didn’t have to do an awful lot of legwork in order to look for these items, because between Barbara’s and Camille’s closets we were able to put together at least 20 or so outfits! Yes, we spent one whole afternoon cooped up in Camille’s walk-in closet (Barbara had dragged in three bags full of her clothes—one of which contained about thirty pairs of bikinis!), going through racks upon racks and piles upon piles of their stuff, mixing and matching to our hearts’ content! So much fun! The only tough part was having to deliberate which of the twenty outfits were going to make it into the final lineup, but we got there eventually. Thank God for helping hands!
The weather was pretty crazy on the day of the shoot—I woke up at 4 in the morning, and it was raining like hell, and it stayed that way during our entire drive to Oslob! I was just about ready to slip into a mild depression (uncooperative atmospheric conditions = bane of my existence), but then Gerald and Barbara stepped in front of the cameras, all goofy and dorky, and just like the skies started to clear up, like magic! I love that they’re like a crazy bunch—they’re always trying to make each other laugh, and they love to pull crazy stunts on each other. Even my boss Malou, who’s photographed close to a hundred couples since started Shutterfairy, tells me that she’s never seen a relationship like theirs before: “It’s nice because it’s like they’re just two friends hanging out, having a good time.” You won’t believe it when I tell you the story of how Gerald proposed: Barbara was lazing around his bedroom while he took a shower, and moments later he would emerge from the bathroom in nothing but a towel, engagement ring in hand, saying, “I love you!” And that was it! No “Will you marry me?” or “Will you do me the honor of being my wife?” I’m not too sure whether or not Barbara uttered a distinct and deliberate “Yes!” It is assumed just she just took the ring with a big laugh, and that was her version of a “Yes!” If finding someone that makes you laugh is the recipe for a perfect marriage, then it well may be that Gerald and Barbara wrote that cookbook.
Did I mention that they have a lot of things in common, too? I think I only mentioned it was Gerald who loved cycling, but the truth is that’s actually something they liked to do together—he has a big room next to their living room that houses all their bikes and cycling gear/equipment, and I think half of them he bought for Barbara. They even have matching cycling jerseys (most of them in blue, maybe because that’s their favorite color). They also share a common love of dogs! If you were to ask them who the boss was in their relationship, they would probably tell you it’s their Labrador Retriever Princess, or their dachshund Macky. Princess even got to tag along with us on the day of the shoot—that added a really nice touch to the photos! I would’ve wanted for Macky to join in the fun, too, because he was such a dashing little fellow, but then he was grounded at the time ‘cause just a few days back he’d gotten into trouble by chasing an unsuspecting jogger and gnawing at the poor guy’s, um, balls! After hearing this horror story I decided perhaps if would be best if Macky just sat this one out. I mean, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to engage in any activity where there was a possibility of canines chewing on my body parts! No hard feelings, Macky!
Gerald and Barbara tied the knot last December 5. At first we’d worried it was going to be gloomy on their wedding day, and that they’d had to deal with a lingering vestige of the tropical storm Bopha that had hit the previous day. Quite miraculously, as in what had happened during their engagement shoot, when it was time for them to put on their show, the skies cleared and the sun came out! Trust the elements to align for you when you’ve got a sunny disposition, apparently! I couldn’t make it to the wedding, but I was just looking at the photos that Malou took that day and I couldn’t help but feel my heart balloon at how radiant Barbara looked—could she be the most beautiful bride in the world? Of course, when you look at those same photos, there’s no missing Gerald’s signature naughty grin, too—it’s either he may have been born with it, or that was his way of saying, “My bride is prettier than yours!” I wish them more charming old towns and beautiful beaches to bike through and explore, and more puppies to cuddle with. Most of all, I wish them more grey skies to turn bright and blue!
Gerald Serafin and Barbara Jean Duncan | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shuttefairy in Oslob and Alcoy, Cebu, on October 21, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy |Hair and makeup by Vanessa T. Gamus (to book Vanessa, click here) | Special thanks to Camille Blanco-Serafin and Marla Baguio
So, OK, my friends have been asking me what my favorite thing about this year was, and, gosh, and I don’t even know where to begin! Aside from the fact that the world didn’t end like they said it would last December 21, so many major stuff top my list, like finally meeting my baby niece in L.A., seeing a retrospective of my all-time favorite photographer Herb Ritts’s work at the Getty, and getting to meet and talk to my idol Lauren Conrad in the flesh on my birthday. Career-wise, though, I must say that the best part of 2012 was that I got to work with a lot of people from all over the place this year. And, well, not just me—that applies to the rest of the Shutterfairy Photography team, too! When I got back from California/New York, where I got to photograph a couple of people (mostly close friends and family, of course), suddenly we were barraged with assignments to photograph/style clients from the States, Singapore, New Zealand, Ireland, etc.! So crazy, I know! And to think our team is barely three years old! We must have done something right to deserve this huge boost to our reach!
The biggest bulk of our “extralocal” clients are from the Lion City, like Gwen and Edgar here. I’ve lost track of the exact figures, and to quote my boss/mentor Malou Pages, “I [can no longer] count how many Singapore-based couples [we have] photographed,” but suffice to say that it came to a point where it got us wondering: How did these people find out about us and our work? did these people know each other? did it start with one couple who were happy with our work, and then it all trickled down through their communities via viva voce? There might be no finding out now, but that’s OK. I’m just glad to know we have quite a fan base in a place where none of us (me or Malou) have even ever been to before in our lives!
It had used to baffle me why overseas-based couples to be married would opt to fly home to have their engagement photos taken here, when they could easily have them done in their new cities where the amount of gorgeous shooting locations are endless, and where I’m pretty sure there are no shortage of exceptionally talented portrait photographers and stylists. But working with Gwen and Edgar here made me realize this: these people wanted their engagement session to be a sort of homecoming at the same time, a nice little break from their busy working lives. In the case of this couple right here, it was to serve a third purpose: for Gwen to show Edgar her home. It’s just Gwen who’s from Cebu, you see, while Edgar is from Pampanga, and he’d already shown her around his hometown a couple of times in the past (the most recent being some six months before this shoot), and so now it was her turn to show him around hers. Which was why when Gwen said she wanted to do the shoot at a resort, I knew better than to oppose the idea. In most cases, you see, whenever our subjects bring up the faintest idea about shooting at a resort (most popular picks: the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa down Marigondon, Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa in Punta Engano, the newly opened Crimson Resort somewhere in the Maribago area), I would be quick to talk them out of it, just ‘cause everyone else was doing it, and I wasn’t a huge fan of crowds or onlookers. But who was I to say no to this couple, who made it very clear they wanted to treat this whole thing as a vacation at the same time? Their resort of choice was the Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort in Maribago. Relatively new and an irrefutable favorite among locals and tourists/vacationers alike, I just knew the crowds out there were going to be crazy and that it wasn’t going to be easy trying to look for decent, peaceful spots, but I took comfort in the fact that the clothes were going to be amazing.
Yes, that is one upside to shooting at a beach resort: the vacation theme calls for nothing else but resort style, and isn’t warm weather wear the easiest to put together? Ask every stylist you know, and they will tell you resortwear is, pun intended, a breeze—especially to those of us who are from these parts where we’ve got year-round sun-drenched climes! I mean, it was never something I had to closely study or do a lot of research on, just ’cause it was something that I saw everyday; and plus I got a good head start by virtue of my early experience at various Cebu-based magazines/publications, where, safe to say, about 70% of my styling work entailed resortwear and swimwear. For this assignment right here I had to keep it low-fuss and straightforward. At first I was tempted to look to various spring/summer catalogs from Free People for inspiration, but then there were too much Coachella-inspired elements and Bohemian references in there—Gwen here was nothing if not sweet and simple, and so I knew I had to keep the “overstyling” in check, lest I ended up stripping her of those qualities. Trendy, but a little more on the timeless side, that was the agreement. So what I did was I used the formula in the “Warm Weather Vacation” subsection of the “What to Wear Where” chapter of the Who What Wear book (ABRAMS, 2009): global prints (they “never go out of style,” according to the book, so I introduced Gwen to ikat), punchy brights, kaftans (“long enough to go over a bathing suit and brief enough to wear bloused up over a pair of shorts”), maxi dresses, denim cutoffs, statement necklaces, and hobo bags. (The nicest thing about all these outfits that we put together: Gwen will be able to use them after the shoot, like for, say, Sentosa weekends or something). Not to say we didn’t leave room for a little experimentation, though, because we did go for a little print-on-print/mixed prints action: I usually shy away from swimwear if it’s engagement shoots (except when the theme is surfing, then the Billabongs and Roxys becomes non-negotiable), but I politely asked Gwen if she could wear a bikini for the shots by the pool; this frightened her at first, but once I showed her the complete look—sheer beach wrap in traditional-color leopard print, over a fuchsia-and-black leopard print bikini—she went for it (albeit with a joke, “My very first daring role!”). Needless to say, that set we did by the pool was my favorite. Although coming in as a close second was the one that was never in the mood boards to begin with, and that’s the set we did in their hotel room where I had them wear nothing but bathrobes. I swear, pure accident: it was 2PM, and therefore too hot out for us to be able to take decent pictures, and as I walked into the room I realized I was digging the color scheme (eggshell and mint green!), so I decided to take pictures of them in there! I love happy accidents!
I guess I have to mention that, when all these e-mails from Singapore-based clients started to pour in, I initially declined them and proceeded to ask my boss to hire another stylist to do the job. My previous experience with long-distance styling, you see, had been extremely unpleasant, and in an effort to save face I expressed that, moving forward, I was only going to accept clients who lived in the same city as me—the job’s always easier when you can physically take their measurements, do house calls that give you the chance to take a peek inside their closets, or personal shop for them. It took the boss some time to find another stylist, though, so I had no choice but to take on some of the projects, and I remember choosing Gwen and Edgar here because during our initial correspondence they were very congenial—and thankfully they remained that way all throughout the planning phase! Just a couple of days ago we were in Boracay to photograph a Chicago-based couple’s beach wedding, and I met the inimitable and ever-effervescent wedding/events planner Amanda Tirol of Boracay Weddings, who told me that “about 80% of my clients are from out of the country,” and shared that the key to successful long-distance coordination was timely and effective correspondence. I couldn’t agree more. What I’d feared at the onset to be a rough ride turned out to be a smooth-sailing one, thanks to Gwen and Edgar’s timely feedback whenever I had questions. Helped, too, that they trusted my abilities, valued my input, and respected my boundaries, leaving what was to be done by me to, well, me! Now, if it looks like my faith in long-distance styling has been renewed, that’s thanks to this couple right here!
But what made this shoot truly memorable for me wasn’t all the prep, or the clothes, or the lengthy (but healthy) exchange of e-mails. Rather, it was the fact that, for a change, it was the groom-to-be that I connected with the most as we were shooting. Normally, you see, during engagement shoots, it’s the fiancée that I get to bond and exchange stories with—it’s always the woman that’s excited about things like this, right?—while the fiancé just sits on the sidelines, patiently waiting for the session to be over. Not saying that Gwen was detached that day, it’s just that she had a couple of close friends over for the occasion and she had to entertain them in between sets, and so it was Edgar who I got to chat with the whole time. It was kind of weird having to ask the guy about their love story, but Edgar was very eager to share, anyway. Unlike most of our Singapore-based couples, they didn’t meet in the workplace (in fact they work for two very different companies: she for United Overseas Bank, as systems analyst; he for the interior architectural design firm BuregaFarnell) , or through mutual friends—rather, it was their mutual love of volunteerism that brought them together. Yes, they shared a favorite cause, and that’s the Gawad Kalinga (GK), a movement dedicated to community- and home-building to help improve living standards among the deprived. One fateful day three years ago they attended the same GK Singapore fellowship meeting, and that’s where it all started—ever since then they would go on the same GK immersion/building activities/trips, and their relationship would eventually turn into a full-fledged romance. I’d heard about couples falling in love because they shared the same taste in music, or the same taste in food, etc., but this was the first time I met a twosome whose bond was cemented by their mutual love for reaching out. Something tells me this is one bond that will be very difficult to break.
Edgar Gonzales and Gwen Pinca | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Maribago, Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, on August 20, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup: Ramil Solis | Special thanks to the staff of Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort
No matter how much couples engaged to be married claim to have a lot of things in common, they almost always end up in different pages when it comes to planning their engagement photos. I’ve worked with a little under twenty couples over the last two years, and that should be a reliable enough statistic, right? More often than not the fiancé wants one thing, but the fiancée has another thing in mind, and sometimes this can end up in a pretty sticky situation (although thankfully not the kind that leads to drastic stuff, like, God forbid, the engagement being called off or something). Is this the part where I back away a little, allow them some space to settle the score amongst themselves, you ask? Why, no! What most of you might consider a sore spot, I happen to consider a sweet spot! This part right here is when I put my game face on and push the pedal down, so to speak! Taking two (or more) different ideas and then jamming them together into something that makes sense—well, don’t that look like a job for me? Not to blow my own horn or anything, but my track record has been pretty decent, too. Case in point: for this guy who had a fondness for old stuff, and his wife-to-be who loved travel, we came up with a “vintage travel” kind of theme. And for this girl who wanted acid colors and fitspo, and her groom-to-be who wanted big bikes and grunge music, I came up with a “’70s, ‘80s, ‘90s” theme! So, no, when your clients’ ideas clash, that is no time to take the backseat. It may look like it’s sort of a meddling thing, but, really, it’s more of a mediating thing, not to mention a stimulating thing—you get to reconcile other people’s creative differences, and at the same time give your own creative muscles a good old flex
Don’t get me wrong, though: While I make it sound as easy as 1-2-3, taking two (or more) very disparate concepts and getting them to tango is not an exercise for the faint-hearted. It entails an awful lot of research, and can even lead to sleepless nights—plus, be prepared to rework your mood boards up to ten, fifteen times! So while I appreciate it when opportunities like these present themselves, because to me nothing feels as good as a good creative challenge, they are really only ideal for when you have the luxury of time (and/or an extra pair of hands). When faced with a tight deadline (and you can’t find an extra set of hands), you’re pretty much left with no choice but to stick to just one concept (and a lot of times you’ll go for the easiest!) and hope it works out well for you and your clients.
When I met with Michael Nazareth and Charice Lasconia for the first time to talk about their engagement photo session, I was as nervous as could be: the shoot was set to take place in less than two weeks! I’d been so used to being given a month (or two!) to prepare for a shoot that the idea of that time frame being cut into half was just too stressful for me. Didn’t help stifle my nerves knowing that I only had one hour, tops, to discuss this with them and come up with a final plan—their flight back to Singapore was in a few short hours (yes, that’s where they’re based, and they were only in Cebu for two short days so they could meet up with various wedding vendors). I kept thinking worst-case scenario: What if Michael wanted one thing, and Charice wanted something else? And we only have a few days left to prepare? Never had I knocked on wood as many times as I did that day.
As it turned out, luck was on my side, and the minute Michael and Charice sat with me on the table was the very minute that my nerves were quashed. They wasted no time in telling me they already had a concept for the shoot in mind, so no need for me to think something up—and that it was something that the two of them had agreed on from the get-go, and so no two completely different sides to the story! Finally! A couple who were on the exact same page!
And not just any page, too, if I may add—another thing that made this couple extra special in my eyes was that they chose a page that was completely, utterly, and wonderfully them. “Surfing and longboarding,” that was the theme they picked—and not so much because they thought it would look cool, but because these were stuff that they actually loved to do together as a couple! Yes, ever since they’d started dating, no year would be complete without them going on a couple of surfing (and longboarding) trips, be it in another country or in some beach town nearby. And you’d think they’d dropped the whole thing after moving to Singapore, what with their very busy schedules (Charice works in project management, while Michael works as a software engineer), but, no, up to this very day they still make it a point to pack the boards and just flee every now and then (as of this writing they have just gotten back from a surfing trip to Bali). That’s the glue, apparently—some couples like to work as a pair, but these two love to play as a pair. They live for the rush of it.
I find it very admirable when couples make creative decisions in this manner. Always, always I encourage my couple clients to choose a theme that is based on the stuff that they actually love to do together, and on the things that cement their bond. Not that I don’t have respect for those who choose themes that are based on some sort of fantasy, or those who dare to be “decoratively different”—there will always be people who are going to want to paint a fairy tale, or those who are going to want to stand out, and that’s totally fine. Allow me to say this, though: When you look at your engagement photos 20 or so years from now, do you want to be reminded of who photographed you, who styled you, who did your makeup, who did your hair; or do you only want to be reminded of just the two of you being young and in love like that? If you’re a couple engaged to be married looking for photo ideas and you’re reading this, please ask yourself that question, and I hope it helps you arrive at sound creative decisions.
Needless to say, when the actual shoot came, I enjoyed every minute of it immensely. And to think I woke up that morning a bit under the weather (coughs and colds and all)—not a great start to any working day! So there’s a sort of placebo effect when everything about a job falls right into place without you having to work so hard. For one, there was no need for me to source and bring a lot of clothes/props, because Michael and Charice got that aspect all covered—they brought every single thing in the boatload of a list that I’d drafted, from the surfboards to the longboards, and down to the littlest details like, say, the bottles of sunblock! No need for me to tell them what to do, too—because the goal was to recreate their surfing/longboarding trips, they had no trouble playing the part in front of the cameras! They made the whole thing very painless for us, we ended up finishing the job in under five hours (we even had time to do a bonus set, in which I had them go punk glam—my idea, because I needed an excuse for Charice to wear a dress)! Breaks between sets were spent exchanging stories about our favorite beaches and summertime songs. It was such a carefree afternoon, the whole thing felt like a Beach Boys record (as it turned out, one of their theme songs was “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys, and they asked us if we could use this as backdrop to their engagement photo slideshow!) Don’t you wish all shoots were like this?
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I feel like I should tell you guys that this month is shaping up to be a real crazy time for me and the Shutterfairy team. We just got back from an assignment in Mindanao that spanned three cities (Cotabato, General Santos and Davao), and tomorrow we are set to leave for Leyte (Ormoc, Bato) for another engagement session. And God knows where we’re going next week, or the week after that! I’m starting to think it’s a November thing—this exact time last year also found us neck-deep in shoots (I think I had 7 at the time!). That being said, please forgive me if I am unable to update this blog over the next couple of weeks. But feel free to do some backreading! And if you have questions about our 2013 schedule, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Michael Franz Nazareth and Charice Lasconia | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Argao, Cebu, on July 17, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Pines Borden
Wanna hear a funny/sad story? Alrighty then, here it goes: Where were you when the nearly 7-magnitude earthquake hit Cebu (and the neighboring island of Negros) some eight months back (I think it was on February 6)? Me, I was in bed, watching Pearl Harbor from 2001 for, like, the 50th time—it’s one of those movies that I never get tired of, and not so much because of the obvious sausage fest (Affleck! Hartnett! Matthew Davis! One-fourth of the Baldwin brothers!), but because of the, well, ‘40s fashion! Anyway, so, yes, I was in bed, Cheetos is hand, deeply engrossed in the movie, and by the time I got to the bombing scene that was when the earthquake struck! At first I thought the whole shaking was ‘cause my surround sound was pretty intense, and I actually exclaimed silently, Wow, I’m so glad I got these Edifiers!—it wasn’t until I checked my Twitter timeline a few minutes after the shaking stopped that I realized there had been an actual earthquake! And as everyone was praying for the resulting tsunami warning to turn out to be a false alarm, all I could think of was, God, no! I can’t die right now! Not when I haven’t had a 1940s-themed shoot yet! True story! I am not making this up, I swear! I know that by sharing this tidbit I risk being called a coldhearted little prick, but I can’t help it if that was what really went through my head at the time! OK, so maybe I need a little help in reprioritizing my life, but for now let it be put on record that, for a while there, I cared more about the prospect of a 1940s-themed photo shoot that I did my own safety!
As luck would have it, my prayers would be answered only less than two weeks later when the Manila-based events stylist Deo “Din-Din” Urquiaga flew into town to book us (by us, I mean the Shutterfairy team) for a wedding that he was working on. The legwork was going to commence with planning the engagement session. When he mentioned that he was given a free hand to think up/explore a variety of concepts for the couple’s consideration, I wasted no time in pitching the Pearl Harbor-inspired theme at him. Initially he’d had a different concept in mind—something to the effect of “film director and screen siren, bard and muse, songwriter and songstress”—but once I got him started with stills from movie he found it hard to disentangle himself from his iPad! This guy and I go way back, and over the years we have come to acknowledge and respect our differences in aesthetics—e.g., if it’s grunge and so it looks like a job for me, he gets out of the way; if it’s romantic/ladylike and so it’s right up his alley, I step aside. This right here was one of the very few times that the two of us saw eye-to-eye on a particular style—the 1940s look appealed to me in that, especially for men, bright colors took a backseat to make way for more subdued tones, thanks to “wartime restrictions” (and drab has kind of a grunge quality to it, no?), and it fascinated him in that, for women, the hemlines were longer (i.e., more becoming), the waistline was reemphasized, and hats and gloves were a big deal. Something gave me a sense that this was going to be a winning collaboration! Thank God that because the groom-to-be, Eric Omamalin, was one of his closest friends (I think they’ve known each other since their college days), and therefore trusted him enough, we didn’t have a hard time selling the concept to the couple.
Let’s get one thing straight, though: I am not about to take credit for the styling, because that aspect was all Din-Din. Preparation time coincided with my travel dates, you see (I had to leave for L.A./New York and be gone for almost two months), thus I had no choice but to relinquish that detail. Well, it was me who worked on the mood board—I think I must have spent three or four straight hours at the Cathay Pacific lounge at Chek Lap Kok immersing myself in the Michael Kaplan/Mitzi Haralson dynamic, browsing through American fashion ads from the war years (Clare Potter, Adele Simpson), and staring at Vogue covers from the latter years of the Edna Woolman Chase era—but it was Din-Din who took the collage and painstakingly translated it to actual clothes/accessories for Eric and his fiancée Godday Bastigue. These dresses that you see on Godday aren’t vintage, by the way; they’re Din-Din’s own designs, brought to life by whom he calls his “super secret seamstress” (I volunteered to scour topnotch vintage shops [The Way We Wore down La Brea, revamp down the L.A. Fashion District] and even the Hollywood Goodwill for authentic 1940s pieces, but he good-naturedly declined, saying there was nothing this “super secret seamstress” could not whip up for him). That’s the thing about Din-Din: he never reveals his sources, not even to me, and everything is “super secret”—there’s even this shop where he gets props/knick-knacks for his shoots/events that he calls his “super secret store.” Clearly all this coyness works well for him, and that’s alright with me, because he matches this with irrepressible creative drive and a healthy dose of chutzpah.
What’s not-so-secret, though, is his choice of makeup artist/hairstylist. If it’s an event/shoot styled by Din-Din, expect him to demand for Vanessa Gamus: “It’s Vanessa or no one else,” he’d always say. For years I’d been trying to decipher this preference, and on the day we did this shoot it finally occurred to me: what made Vanessa appealing to Din-Din was her uncanny ability to strike a perfect balance between what was in the inspiration boards and what actually worked best on the subject’s face. Trust me when I say not a lot of makeup artists have that kind of eye!
You guys are probably going to blow the whistle on me and say it looks like I’m over-relying on or overusing the airplane/hangar/airport backdrop, and that’s totally understandable—I mean, I myself questioned this a couple of months back when I wrote: “What is it about planes and hangars and airports, and why do I gravitate towards them?” That’s what it looks like on the surface, but if you take a closer look you will see that, while the backdrop might be the same, the theme varies from session to session: for the Shandar catalog that I shot at the Aviatour hangar the styling was modern jet-setter with a touch of Catch Me if You Can (styled by my friend Meyen Baguio); the “vintage travel”-themed engagement shoot that I did at the Busay Air hangar exactly a year ago was inspired by cultural behemoth Amelia Earhart; and for the family session that I did at the Van Nuys Airport this past spring I looked to Lauren Conrad’s “airport looks” for inspiration. I have no problems with reusing locations and backdrops, so long as the styling/theme does not make a repeat performance. Just two months ago I had to say no to a bride-to-be who said she wanted a set that simulates Cielo Ramirez’s photos from the Shandar catalog—I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s, like, come up with something that I haven’t done in the not-so-distant past, and let’s talk.
This was one of the first shoots under the Shutterfairy banner that I had to carry out on my own: my boss/mentor Malou Pages couldn’t join me for this session because she had to jet to Manila to attend her idol Nelwin Uy’s first ever wedding photography workshop (yes, she was one of the lucky few to land a coveted spot). Before she left I’d jokingly begged for her to skip the workshop and not leave me alone, but I knew this was no time for me to be selfish—she’d been waiting for two or so years for a chance to meet Mr. Uy and pick at his brain, and now that that day had finally come who was I to keep her from realizing that dream? At first it frightened me that I was going to be working solo—I mean, sure, I’d been doing some of this stuff on my own, for commissioned work outside the Shutterfairy brand, but this time I was flying solo under that banner, and I was afraid that with Malou not around there would be no one to pull me right back on track in case I strayed from that signature Shutterfairy stamp. Good thing Din-Din flew in from Manila on the day of the shoot to keep me in check—he and Malou had been friends for a long time now, which made him all too familiar with Malou’s style! And thank God that he brought his camera with him, too—I wasted no time in designating him as second shooter! Helped a great deal, too, that Godday had kind of an “old soul” air about her, and so not only did she make it look painless slipping into 1940s character, she also lent that ladylike, graceful vibe that is oh-so-Shutterfairy to each frame.
Eric and Godday tied the knot just this past Saturday, October 27, at the Alliance of Two Hearts Parish Church in Banawa, Cebu City, with a reception that followed at the Beverly View Pavilion in Bevely Hills, Lahug. Incidentally, that wedding day of theirs was another first for me—it was my first time to photograph a wedding (not counting my brother’s wedding two months ago). Although I’m pretty confident I did a decent job with the engagement photos, I’m not very sure if I feel the same way about the photos I took during the wedding. Good thing Malou was around for the event, otherwise I’d be screwed! It was such a beautiful affair, from the preparations at the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, to the church (loved that the priest they’d gotten to officiate the whole thing was someone they’d known since childhood—his homily was peppered with snippets of Eric and Godday’s love story, which made it very heartwarming), and down to the littlest details at the reception. Now, I’d been to the Beverly View Pavilion many times before, but I’d never seen it like that! The sleight of Din-Din’s hand is, indeed, never to be underestimated! The theme was not Pearl Harbor, of course, but he made use of some of these photos that we took during the engagement session, blowing them up to larger-than-life to resemble panel-format American movie posters, and there were floodlights everywhere, not to mention dozens of Speedlights to mimic the blinding flashes of paparazzi’s cameras. He topped this “movie premiere” ambiance with hundreds upon hundreds of luscious flower arrangements that, from afar, gave the illusion of one giant red carpet—majestic cockscombs in oxblood, with big, fat crimson roses, scarlet African daisies, and wine-tinged succulents and Magnolia seed pods. How’s that for plush? For a while there, I thought I was being transported to another place, in the other Beverly Hills (in California), like, say, the Greystone Mansion. Pair all that with Godday’s refined, ladylike bearing (Malou loved how Godday the bride behaved exactly like the Godday in these 1940s-themed engagement photos), and her Swan Princess-inspired bridal dress (by no less than Protacio Empaces Jr.), and you’ve got the makings of a true red carpet event. It was just too cinéma vérité for words.
Erickson Omamalin and Godday Bastigue | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon and Nino Deo “Din-Din” Urquiaga for Shutterfairy in Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, on June 10, 2012 | Styled by Din-Din Urquiaga | Hair and makeup by Vanessa T. Gamus | Sittings assistant: Amy Antony | Special thanks to the staff of Aviatour Air (visit http://www.flyaviatour.com/ to learn about their tour packages)
These two lovebirds are tying the knot real soon—and by real soon I mean in two days! We had the privilege of doing their engagement photos some three months back. At the time they were already beginning to count the days: “Three months to go!” the groom-to-be had exclaimed more than once. How exciting it must be for them now that it’s only a few hours ‘til they seal the deal!
We shot these photos at the Amun Ini Beach Resort and Spa in Anda, a tiny, peaceful coastal town in the northeastern tip of the island of Bohol, some 55 miles from Tagbilaran City via the Tagbilaran East Road, or 65 miles from Tubigon via the Central Nautical Highway (for some reason it was the Cebu-Tubigon ferry that we’d booked, so it was the latter route that we took). I’m not a big fan of road trips that take more than an hour, especially in this part of the world where it can get pretty bumpy, but this drive right here was worth it. Once we arrived at the resort, like magic, all my back and neck pains just melted away. Yes, that’s how beautiful the place is. I remember the first thing I said to resort owner Federico “Freddie” Carmona as I shook his hand the minute he greeted us by the pool: “People who say ‘it’s the journey, not the destination’ were obviously not coming to this place!” Built on a 4-hectare private cove facing the vast blue Bohol sea, and jutting out of lush, untouched vegetation (an ancient banyan tree greets you at the entrance, which, as it turns out, served as muse for when they were architecting the place), it was unlike anything I’d ever laid my eyes on before. I’m gonna stop with the words right here because the truth is no amount of waxing poetic is ever going to do the place justice (even these photos don’t do it justice), but if you ever plan to visit that part of Bohol, look no further and just book a night or two at Amun Ini—trust me, you won’t regret it!
It was Ernest who’d made arrangements to shoot at this place, not so much because of his family’s close ties to the Carmonas but because he’d wanted for it to be sort of like a vacation for him and his bride-to-be at the same time. Vanessa is a flight attendant at Emirates, and she only had a couple of days off to do this shoot, and so the fiancé had to make sure the whole thing was going to be half-disguised as R&R. We respected this, of course, and made conscious efforts to work fast so that they could have some time for, say, little massages in between sets. And for sumptuous dinners by the beach, to which we got to tag along! I swear, our team slipped into a coma after being subjected to a feast of local seafood (courtesy of the mayor of Anda)—I’d never had crustaceans that huge (and that many) in my life! (And that’s not even counting the lavish breakfasts whipped up by Freddie’s Manila-trained, San Francisco-honed culinary whiz of a daughter—her stylized banana fritters are to die for!) I’d like to think we were successful in not making the couple feel like this was all work. It certainly helped that our main photographer Malou was one of their closest friends from back in college—I think more than 80% of their time was spent talking about the good old days!
I loved these sets that we did at Amun Ini, especially the pool set and that one we did down the shore with the little banca (named Los Angeles!), but we were scheduled to do a couple of sets at the world-famous “man-made forest” down Bilar, too, and that was what I’d been really looking forward to. It was Vanessa who’d wanted to shoot at that location because she loved trees (and Malou was all for it because of a prospect of a Twilight feel—yes, my boss is a huge Twilight fan!). But, alas, luck wasn’t on our side: after driving two or so hours from Anda, we were greeted by torrential rain! It got me a little cranky, because an hour into our drive the weather was completely fine, but the moment we entered the Loay Road (Chocolate Hills territory) that was going to lead us to Bilar it suddenly turned gloomy and then it began to rain really hard. We all prayed for it to stop by the time we got to the forest, but it didn’t—well, perhaps it did for a bit, but everything was drenched now, and it was pretty foggy (we’re talking zero visibility). Ever the troupers, Malou and makeup artist Owen insisted that we soldiered on, despite the fact that we had no lighting equipment with us, or even tripods. I felt bad, not so much because of the prospect that the clothes I had prepared for Vanessa were going to go to waste (I’d assembled two outfits inspired by the “Taylor Swift as Rodarte muse” look especially for these sets!), but because it became very clear we never going to give Vanessa the gorgeous photos that she’d long been dreaming of. Even with out ISOs hiked up to the 1000 mark my photos still didn’t come out right! If only it was my decision to make I’d let everyone wait one more day, but then the couple had a few pre-wedding business to attend to in Cebu, so we had to leave that night. I’m posting some of the photos I took on here, anyways, never mind that they’re too dark or too blurry—I just want Vanessa to see that we did get a little something out of it.
That’s the thing about natural light shoots—when the weather turns sour and the elements don’t work out to your favor, you either pack up and walk away frustrated, or carry on and hope for the best. I’m glad that we took the latter route. The weather may not have gotten better no matter how hard we crossed our fingers, but we did the job anyways. I only hope that when people see these photos they won’t see photos that are crappy, but instead be reminded of the power of persistence.
I am praying for spotless sunshine on their wedding day this weekend, but then again even if my prayers end up unanswered I’m sure no amount of rain is ever going to stop them from walking down that aisle and tying that knot!
Thank you, Ernest and Vanessa, for giving us this opportunity to take your engagement pictures, and best wishes to you both!
Ernesto Herrera III and Vanessa V. Villareal | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Anda, Bohol, and Bilar, Bohol, on June 30 and July 1, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada | Vanessa styled by Angelo Kangleon | Sittings assistant: Jennifer Hortillosa | Special thanks to Freddie Carmona and the staff of Amun Ini Beach Resort and Spa (for reservations: email@example.com)
Don’t hate me. I almost forgot I had these photos. I will come clean and admit that I seem to be getting suckier at organizing my files—still trying to figure out an effective way to maneuver through this thing called a Mac! This shoot right here was one of those that were spur-of-the-moment. I know, I know, very uncharacteristic of me, because, as most of you might know by now, I am nothing without all the planning, the countless meetings, not to mention my mood boards. But, hey, I was in L.A., and I had to assimilate somehow! The British model and columnist Peaches Geldof once wrote that Los Angeles “isn’t self-conscious, it’s just doing its thing, and it’s for that reason that I love this city.” I felt like in order for me to capture the very spirit of this place, to effectively take its pulse, I had to let some of that self-consciousness go somehow and just, well, go with the flow!
Let me just be clear: It’s called assimilating, OK, and not compromising. Being in a place like California is hardly what I’d call a compromise. Especially the part where all roads lead to the beach. It’s kind of amazing, really, how whenever you want to do something or whenever you’re looking for something, you almost always end up in some beach. Itching to go to a carnival? Why, the Pacific Park is right there, perched atop the Santa Monica Pier! Need to play ball, sweat it out a little? Why do it in some park in the middle of the city when you can do it and have an incredible view at the same time at Laguna Beach’s Main Beach? Even stuff as trivial as, say, bread pudding—why look further when the ones at Schulzies (especially the Blueberry Muffin Pudding!) down the Venice Beach Boardwalk is to die for?
This whole thing right here was not a different story. After asking around for where I could score some Baja hoodies for cheap (I’d found some at Urban Outfitters but they cost $29, and even some vintage at Wasteland down Melrose but they were at $50-$60), I found myself in the backseat of my friend Nikki Paden’s car—she and her boyfriend Paul Marrer were going to take me to Venice Beach, where just a few days back they’d gotten authentic-looking Baja hoodies for under $15 apiece! I’d been to this place countless times before, but just never bothered to look inside the souvenir shops along Ocean Front Walk! After I got my hoodies (yes, more than one), we decided to walk around the beach a little bit—and that’s when I thought that, hey, why not take their photos while we were at it?
Nikki had just transplanted herself to California some 7 or 8 months back (she’d left Cebu immediately after helping me style singer-songwriter Cattski for the latter’s album cover shoot September of last year), and so far she was loving every minute of it. Paul was not from around here, though—he lived in Switzerland with his family, and was only here for two or so months to visit his girlfriend. I thought it was really sweet of Paul to ask for an extended vacation from work just so he could spend some time with Nikki in her new home. Apparently they loved doing this for each other. Just a few years back, when Paul had moved back to Switzerland from Cebu, Nikki had moved to London for a year so she could be closer to him. Some couples flail at the idea of an ocean between them, but not these two. Just one of the things that I admired about them—not only were they intent in testing the boundaries of their relationship, they were intent on breaking them. (Don’t expect Brandy’s “Long Distance” to become their theme song anytime soon!)
Another thing that cemented their bond was their common love for the beach. For years since the day they’d first met, and prior to leaving Cebu/Asia to see the rest of the world, that was all they’d ever done—escape to Boracay, or Camotes, or Pandanon Island, or Panglao (Bohol), or Siargao, even Phuket. (I wasn’t sure how much of these SoCal beaches they’d covered over the last couple of weeks, but they’d probably seen enough already, considering they were at this very moment already talking about flying to Maui [yes, Hawaii!] in a couple of weeks!) And so it just seemed right for me to photograph them right here, on the beach—more than any other place in the world, this was home to them.
Also, it was the least I could do in exchange for everything they’d done for me. Yes, they did more for me than just hook me up with those Bajas. Just a little over a week back, the day before my birthday, they’d stood patiently in line with me for two or so hours at the Grove Barnes & Noble as I waited my turn to talk to my dream girl Lauren Conrad and get her autograph! Of all the people I knew in this town, they were the only ones who’d said yes to chaperoning me to what most people from around here considered to be an “unglamorous” situation (yes, if you have friends in L.A., they’re gonna lay some ground rules, and the number one rule is to “not freak out when you see a celebrity, and pretend like you don’t care about them at all”). And when I’d said there was nothing I’d wanted more for my birthday dinner than some good old fashioned Louisiana-style fried chicken and coleslaw, they’d made a beeline for the Hollywood Popeyes, never mind that it took hours to get there because of the traffic, never mind that it took forever to find parking space when we finally got there—and never mind that it meant having to sit beside some scary-looking people like plastic surgery addict Steve Erhardt. I’m blessed with so many friends in this part of the world, but I gotta admit not all of them are willing to brave the hellish Hollywood traffic and mingle with the Hollyweirdos with me. So, thank you, Nikki and Paul! You guys are awesome!
Paul Stanley Marrer and Dominique Paden | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 1, 2012
Nothing fascinates me more than a good old California love story. And I’m not just talking about those that we see on TV—you know, like, the love triangles that make shows like The Hills, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and Melrose Place go ‘round. I’m talking about those that we see on the big screen, too: the collection of intertwining love tales in 2010’s Valentine’s Day; Crazy/Beautiful from 2001 (starring Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez); the classic Pretty Woman from 1990 (starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere); and, of course, (500) Days of Summer from 2009 (starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel). And then there are the real life love stories that prove to be infinitely more irresistible than the ones in celluloid: for a time there I was obsessed about, for example, how Pamela Susan Courson became inextricably linked to the Jim Morrison legend, and so all I ever looked at online were these Websites dedicated to their tragic romance; I even got hooked on all that tabloid coverage around Lindsay Lohan’s relationship with Samantha Ronson; and very recently I’ve been doing some research on Harvey Henderson Wilcox and his wife Daeida Hartell, turn of the 20th century settlers who bought a ranch up the hills west of L.A.
Why do I find these love stories fascinating? Well, simply because they are stories of more than just the relationship between two people—there’s a third character that plays a pivotal role in these romances, and that’s California. The ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier where Spencer Pratt proposed to Heidi Montag. The Venice Canals where Ashton Kutcher’s and Jennifer Gardner’s characters kiss in Valentine’s Day. The pier (presumably Santa Monica’s again) where Dunst’s and Hernandez’s characters meet in Crazy/Beautiful. The Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Pretty Woman. Of course, I do not need to enumerate the architectural wonders of downtown L.A. used in (500) Days of Summer. Meanwhile, there’s the now-defunct Sunset Strip nightclub west of Whisky a Go Go where Morrison met Courson. How, post-breakup and post-rehab, Lohan rented an apartment in Venice right next to Ronson’s, which freaked the latter out. And that canyon land that Wilcox and Hartell purchased in the 1880s? Well, they named it “Hollywood,” and for some reason it stuck. I guess what I am trying to say is love stories on their own speak volumes—but when they’re set in places that tell their own tales, they make lots of noise.
Such was the inspiration behind this couples shoot that I did during my last week in L.A. this past May. After a series of family shoots, I was in dire need of a love shoot to break the, um, monotony (for lack of a better term)—so imagine the wave of excitement that washed over me when Rotchel Siglas asked me to come hang out with her and her boyfriend KrisJhon Villaceran for one whole day, and, well, to photograph them while I’m at it! Rotchel and Kris are such a cute couple. At the time of this shoot they’d only started seeing each other (a little over a month), but they had such great chemistry it was as if they’d been together for years. Always sweet-talking each other (even when the situation called for one to be, um, a little rough), always holding each other’s hands (even when one of them was busy, say, driving), always telling each other jokes, always singing to each other (they both loved music). And I was always walking into them curling up with each other on the couch watching TV! But that couch potato mode is on only when it’s American Idol season or when the weather isn’t too great, because 90% of the time they like to be out and about. Yes, what I loved about them was that they were always showing each other around their city—every time I checked Facebook there were always updates about her taking him here, him taking her there, them taking each other everywhere! What can you say? Apparently California is a great place to be in love because you never run out of places to see, new and old. Of course, I said yes to photographing them, but on one condition: I was picking the locations. Nervy and brash of me to impose, I know, but, hey, I was the tourist here, was I not? I mean, they have this place to themselves all year long! Luckily, they conceded, and I got to have it my way! They had a special request, though, to get a couple of shots with a couple of items that meant a lot to them—like Kris’s guitar, or this one teddy bear that he gave Rotchel. Who was I to say no to a teddy bear?
I was happy with my choice of locations—or, at least I was happy about the fact that I was successful at coming up with a lineup that juxtaposed the usual suspects with L.A. arcana:
- It was a given that I was gonna pick Venice Beach for the beach sets, not so much because I was all too familiar with the place, but because it made sense and was the practical choice—I mean, I couldn’t imagine “guitar-by-the-beach” shots in, say, swanky Santa Monica or Marina del Rey; and plus I demanded Kris wore a Baja California hoodie for one of these sets, and thanks to my friend Paul I knew you could get decent ones for less than $15 at one of the Venice Beach Boardwalk souvenir shops! (I had to be careful not to use the Boardwalk, though, or the Venice Public Art Walls, as I had already used these two spots in a previous shoot.)
- I couldn’t discount the fact that this couple lived a “healthy” lifestyle, too, and so I took them to Pan Pacific Park between Beverly and W 3rd so we could have a couple of shots of Kris sweating it out playing ball and Rotchel having a good jog. Just so you know, this was where Brody Jenner and friends liked to play ball, and, according to my brothers-in-law, where Manny Pacquiao loved to run in the early mornings (I think the Pac Man has digs in Park La Brea, which is right across the street).
- Rotchel loved to shop, so a shopping set was in order. Initially I toyed with the idea of recreating that one scene in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere’s character takes Julia Roberts’s character on a shopping spree down Rodeo Drive, but dismissed that once I realized Kris would look too old in a suit, and that that area was always flooded with tourists. I had to scratch Melrose off the list, too, because that was too artsy/hipster for their taste, and plus that area was too hot between noon and 3PM. So off we went to Robertson Blvd. where the ritzy boutiques were aplenty but the crowd not madding, the vibe not too cliquish, and where you had tree-lined sidewalks to shield you from the heartless California sun. (Had to make a conscious effort to sidestep the AllSaints Spitalfields, though, lest I wanted to hurt my finances!)
- Of course, for the breakfast/brunch set, I looked no further than Lulu’s Café down Beverly (between Formosa and N. Detroit). It was my best friend Julie who’d introduced me to this place some two or three years ago, and immediately I’d fallen in love with it. Apparently this was where the grownup cool kids liked to have brunch, not to mention the celebutantes like Kristin Cavallari and Lo Bosworth. But that wasn’t the only reason why I loved this place—their Chocolate Chip Banana Filled Pancakes and Breakfast Quesadilla are to die for! Right now, though, I wasn’t after a The Hills cast member sighting or a serving of offensively delish pancakes—my goal was to capture that mellow, carefree vibe that was so dead-on L.A. People from back home were always asking me, “What’s it like in L.A.?” and so I felt I needed some pictures to show them what it was really like, you know? Leisurely brunch at a sidewalk café with your Ray-Bans on, a good book, someone who makes you laugh, and all the time in the world to kill? I couldn’t think of anything more L.A. than that.
Needless to say, I had so much fun doing this session. They didn’t really tell me, but I think Rotchel and Kris had a pretty good time, too. I mean, most of the places we shot at they’d never really been to before—and that’s always fun, right, playing tourists in your own city? The irony of it all was that it was me, the tourist, who played tour guide!
My favorite location, though, wasn’t one that was on the original list, but rather one that was added at the eleventh hour. So after hair and makeup, as Kris was getting ready to plot the route to Lulu’s on the GPS, a lightbulb moment hit me, and I begged him to make a detour to that area of Rampart Village where the L.A. Jollibee was. Not ‘cause I was craving for some Peach-Mango Pies, but because in that very area where Jollibee sat, just before N New Hampshire crossed Beverly, there were these towering, very regal-looking palm trees that lined that street, and I felt like I just had to use them as backdrop. It was my brother-in-law Chester who’d pointed this spot out to me a couple of weeks back, and all I could think of the moment I’d laid my eyes on it was how beautiful California was—and how charmed my life was. Ever since then, every time we’d drive past that stretch, I’d look up, squint, smile dreamily, and play a Long Beach Shortbus song in my head: “A palm tree can grow up and reach the sky/ I never did stop and wonder why/ It seems they climb into outer space/ I guess it’s cause they’re living under California grace…”
And that, my dears, is how this unassuming little area down N New Hampshire and Beverly has shot up to the top of my list. How could it not, when it’s testament to the fact that the life I’ve always dreamed of is the life I’m already living? Now ask me if I regret getting California Love tattooed on my right arm.
By the way, to those who know this couple: Kris and Rotchel are not engaged, OK? At least not yet. Just wanted to do something, you see, to prove to the world that you don’t have to wait to be engaged (or married!) to have an excuse for a love shoot. To be young and in love like that—that’s reason enough to smile. To be young and in love like that, and be in an incredible place at the same time—well, that’s reason enough to smile for the cameras.
KrisJohn Villaceran and Rotchel Siglas | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 22, 2012 | Hair and makeup by Mayce Aparis Arradaza | Tomato cardigan, black tiered lace trimmed floral cami, printed tiered flounce dress, and leather jacket, Forever 21 | Denim jacket, H&M | Brown lace-up boots, Aldo | Sky blue cotton oxford shirt, Hollister | Denim-washed garment dye khaki pants in dark olive green, Gap | Grey cutoff shorts, Levi’s