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
You’d think that after a certain period of being an apprentice you would, as a matter of course, move on to the next level, no questions asked. I’d begun my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy Photography in August 17, 2011, and so when August 17 of this year came I expected to receive an e-mail or letter from my boss/mentor Malou Pages declaring the end of my noviciate and telling me to get ready for the next chapter of my journey with her (like, as associate photographer, perhaps?). Alas, that e-mail or letter never came, and instead all I got from her that day was a comment on one of my posts on Instagram asking if I was ready to shoot her. Yes, her—I, the aspiring photographer, was going to shoot her, the established photographer, and that was going to serve as my “final exam” of sorts. “Are you being serious right now?” was my initial reaction, to which she made it very clear that, yes, she was being dead serious. Never one to recoil from a challenge, I, of course, said yes—but that isn’t to say the whole idea of it didn’t get my hands all clammy.
Most people will agree that photographers make for very challenging subjects—and even Malou herself has admitted this at one point or another, having been subjected to a similar situation in the past—because there will always be that tendency for them to espy (and call out) the things you’re doing badly, to dictate your creative process, and to measure your methods/output against their own style. Said differently, “photographing the photographer” (or, as Malou’s contemporary Josephine Sicad likes to put it, “shooting the shooter”) is not an activity for all tastes, and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. To me, it’s, like, ask me to shoot a band standing next to a fiercely burning fire and I’d gladly breeze through that without breaking out in a sweat, but ask me to take a picture of a photographer—and my boss at that!—and I might require a little towel to dab the beads in my forehead with. I mean, hello, I am fairly new to this craft, and even if some of my favorite anecdotes to draw inspiration from concern artists sitting for other artists (example: Irving Penn photographing Richard Avedon back in 1993), inspiration doesn’t always translate to howling courage.
Malou was quick to assure me she was going to be the opposite of everything that I’d had qualms about, promising to behave like the “ideal subject,” and to let me have my way with zero “backseat driving” from her. “Your equipment, your style of shooting, your style of editing,” she swore. But even with that concern out of the way, I still had another dilemma in my hands: How to approach this whole thing? My first impulse was to make it documentary-style—i.e., follow her around on a working day, and take photos of her as she took photos of actual clients. I scratched that, of course, once I realized that that would be like interfering with her business. I then considered approaching it like I would any other shoot—i.e., a styled session where I could dress her up and she could do some role-playing. But then I was afraid that that was going to make me focus more on the styling aspect and less on the photographing part, and that would be totally missing the point of this exercise, right?
Ultimately I decided to make it a personal style portrait session—her wearing pieces (up to 5 outfits) from her own closet, à la, well, personal style blogger, and tinkering with the stuff that she surrounds herself with. Perfect, right, since this would take styling out of the equation, and so I would have all the room in the world to mind my composition, white balance, aperture, and all that other good stuff!
I really like Malou’s style, although she would be the first to tell you that she doesn’t have any style to speak of, and that she’s “more of a tomboy” who would “rather go biking” than mind what she shoves into—or pulls out of—her closet. (When I came back from my summer vacation this year and I handed her a floral bodycon dress that I’d bought for her in California she gave me a funny look, like she would rather have received a Lance Armstrong book or something!) Funny how she doesn’t see that she can go on and on about having no stomach for shopping or clothing, but the way she puts herself together will always contradict her claim. On the day of the shoot I told her something to the effect of, “How could you say you have no style, when in fact you even have two?” There was the Malou that I saw everyday, whose deal was the warm-weather/California boho style—airy tunics or bright kaftans bloused up over vintage denim cut-offs, statement necklaces, and strappy flat sandals, plus the occasional straw sun hats, multicolor beach hobo bags, etc. And then now, after taking a peak in her closet and browsing through her picks for the shoot, it became evident that she had another side, one that had a thing for old, offbeat and fun pieces, like chunky grandmother cardigans, wool blend jackets in quirky floral patterns, bright colored skirts with applique detailing. After I deduced this she would admit that, yes, she did have a penchant for old stuff, and that she considered herself a kind of modern-vintage character born a couple of decades too late. So she was one of those who had developed her personal style subconsciously rather than studiously. Trust me when I say that’s the more interesting kind of personal style!
OK, I guess it’s time to brush the topic on clothes aside and back up a bit to how the actual exercise went. First of all, I appreciated that Malou kept her word that she was going to stay out of my hair and be really laissez-faire about the whole activity. This made me very happy because it allowed me to strike a balance between the techniques she had taught me over the past year and those I’d worked to develop on my own. It helped, too, that she turned out to be such a natural in front of the camera as she was behind it—I would later find out that she’d attended a couple of modeling workshops in her youth (it was the makeup artist Owen Taboada who disclosed this little tidbit, and I’m pretty sure Malou is going to hate me for putting this on record) and that she’d had some modeling experience (she was the original face for local accessories brand Gracie Q before Fretzel Buenconsejo came into the picture). I also loved how I finally got to see her home, and survey not just the stuff that she surrounded herself with but how she’d organized her workspace as well. This helped me a great deal because, as those close to me might know, I tend to be a first-class slob, and so seeing how Malou had arranged her tools, equipment, research material, and files forced me to reexamine my own system (or the lack of it), and made me realize that if you want to be serious about the business aspect of photography you’ve got to learn to de-clutter and get rid of the things you don’t need. (Some two weeks following this shoot I would find myself setting up a home office patterned after hers—with a little help from all that IKEA that I’d gotten from California, of course.)
But my absolute, absolute favorite part of this shoot was that I finally got to try my hand at shooting film. Yes, you read that right: I got to shoot film! In the days leading to this session, you see, Malou had asked me if there was anything more about this craft that I wanted to pursue, a “new thing” that I was dying to explore. I’d told her I could not think of anything except that “new old thing” called film—yes, I’d wanted to go back to basics, for the most part because I’d felt it was time to really tap into my father’s legacy. She’d proceeded to ask her film camera enthusiast friend Christian Enricuso to tag along with us, and that’s how I ended up with two cameras dangling from my neck that day: my DSLR, and a circa mid-‘80s Nikon FG-20 35mm (50mm f/1.4). I used a roll of Konica Centuria 400 film. I haven’t seen the outcome yet because that roll is still in Manila being developed as I am writing this, but I promise to post them on here if they turn out to be decent!
So now you understand how strongly I feel about this woman as my mentor. As much as she’s intent on instilling in me some of that signature Shutterfairy stamp, she is also keen on encouraging me to define my own style and carve my own path. I don’t say this enough, but everyday I thank my lucky stars for that one fateful day last year that she decided to take me under her wing (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but did you know that, before Malou came along, a lot of doors were slammed on my face?). I have learned so much from her, and grown so much under her tutelage. To say that I owe so much to her is an understatement. Right now, at this point in my career, I’m not exactly sure where I’m headed—but at least I know I’m going somewhere, and that’s thanks to her. If you ask me now if I’ve worked out some sort of long-term plan, I’d say no. But I can tell you that I’d love to stay with Malou (as associate or assistant or whatever you call it) for the next 2-3 years—that is, granting that I pass this test!
Maria Luisa “Malou” Pages | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City, Cebu, on September 23, 2012 | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada | Special thanks to Christian and Mela Enricuso
These two lovebirds are tying the knot real soon—and by real soon I mean in two days! We had the privilege of doing their engagement photos some three months back. At the time they were already beginning to count the days: “Three months to go!” the groom-to-be had exclaimed more than once. How exciting it must be for them now that it’s only a few hours ‘til they seal the deal!
We shot these photos at the Amun Ini Beach Resort and Spa in Anda, a tiny, peaceful coastal town in the northeastern tip of the island of Bohol, some 55 miles from Tagbilaran City via the Tagbilaran East Road, or 65 miles from Tubigon via the Central Nautical Highway (for some reason it was the Cebu-Tubigon ferry that we’d booked, so it was the latter route that we took). I’m not a big fan of road trips that take more than an hour, especially in this part of the world where it can get pretty bumpy, but this drive right here was worth it. Once we arrived at the resort, like magic, all my back and neck pains just melted away. Yes, that’s how beautiful the place is. I remember the first thing I said to resort owner Federico “Freddie” Carmona as I shook his hand the minute he greeted us by the pool: “People who say ‘it’s the journey, not the destination’ were obviously not coming to this place!” Built on a 4-hectare private cove facing the vast blue Bohol sea, and jutting out of lush, untouched vegetation (an ancient banyan tree greets you at the entrance, which, as it turns out, served as muse for when they were architecting the place), it was unlike anything I’d ever laid my eyes on before. I’m gonna stop with the words right here because the truth is no amount of waxing poetic is ever going to do the place justice (even these photos don’t do it justice), but if you ever plan to visit that part of Bohol, look no further and just book a night or two at Amun Ini—trust me, you won’t regret it!
It was Ernest who’d made arrangements to shoot at this place, not so much because of his family’s close ties to the Carmonas but because he’d wanted for it to be sort of like a vacation for him and his bride-to-be at the same time. Vanessa is a flight attendant at Emirates, and she only had a couple of days off to do this shoot, and so the fiancé had to make sure the whole thing was going to be half-disguised as R&R. We respected this, of course, and made conscious efforts to work fast so that they could have some time for, say, little massages in between sets. And for sumptuous dinners by the beach, to which we got to tag along! I swear, our team slipped into a coma after being subjected to a feast of local seafood (courtesy of the mayor of Anda)—I’d never had crustaceans that huge (and that many) in my life! (And that’s not even counting the lavish breakfasts whipped up by Freddie’s Manila-trained, San Francisco-honed culinary whiz of a daughter—her stylized banana fritters are to die for!) I’d like to think we were successful in not making the couple feel like this was all work. It certainly helped that our main photographer Malou was one of their closest friends from back in college—I think more than 80% of their time was spent talking about the good old days!
I loved these sets that we did at Amun Ini, especially the pool set and that one we did down the shore with the little banca (named Los Angeles!), but we were scheduled to do a couple of sets at the world-famous “man-made forest” down Bilar, too, and that was what I’d been really looking forward to. It was Vanessa who’d wanted to shoot at that location because she loved trees (and Malou was all for it because of a prospect of a Twilight feel—yes, my boss is a huge Twilight fan!). But, alas, luck wasn’t on our side: after driving two or so hours from Anda, we were greeted by torrential rain! It got me a little cranky, because an hour into our drive the weather was completely fine, but the moment we entered the Loay Road (Chocolate Hills territory) that was going to lead us to Bilar it suddenly turned gloomy and then it began to rain really hard. We all prayed for it to stop by the time we got to the forest, but it didn’t—well, perhaps it did for a bit, but everything was drenched now, and it was pretty foggy (we’re talking zero visibility). Ever the troupers, Malou and makeup artist Owen insisted that we soldiered on, despite the fact that we had no lighting equipment with us, or even tripods. I felt bad, not so much because of the prospect that the clothes I had prepared for Vanessa were going to go to waste (I’d assembled two outfits inspired by the “Taylor Swift as Rodarte muse” look especially for these sets!), but because it became very clear we never going to give Vanessa the gorgeous photos that she’d long been dreaming of. Even with out ISOs hiked up to the 1000 mark my photos still didn’t come out right! If only it was my decision to make I’d let everyone wait one more day, but then the couple had a few pre-wedding business to attend to in Cebu, so we had to leave that night. I’m posting some of the photos I took on here, anyways, never mind that they’re too dark or too blurry—I just want Vanessa to see that we did get a little something out of it.
That’s the thing about natural light shoots—when the weather turns sour and the elements don’t work out to your favor, you either pack up and walk away frustrated, or carry on and hope for the best. I’m glad that we took the latter route. The weather may not have gotten better no matter how hard we crossed our fingers, but we did the job anyways. I only hope that when people see these photos they won’t see photos that are crappy, but instead be reminded of the power of persistence.
I am praying for spotless sunshine on their wedding day this weekend, but then again even if my prayers end up unanswered I’m sure no amount of rain is ever going to stop them from walking down that aisle and tying that knot!
Thank you, Ernest and Vanessa, for giving us this opportunity to take your engagement pictures, and best wishes to you both!
Ernesto Herrera III and Vanessa V. Villareal | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Anda, Bohol, and Bilar, Bohol, on June 30 and July 1, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada | Vanessa styled by Angelo Kangleon | Sittings assistant: Jennifer Hortillosa | Special thanks to Freddie Carmona and the staff of Amun Ini Beach Resort and Spa (for reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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 think I’ve ever seen this much hyperflorals in one closet!” That’s what I exclaimed as I was rummaging through Michelle Gutierrez’s closet during my house call to style her and her fiancé Jerbie Domingo for their engagement photos. “Or this much Forever 21!” When I’d said during our initial meetings that I’d wanted hyperflorals, you see, she’d offered, “You might want to take a look at my closet; I think I might have a little.” Well, I don’t know what her definition of little is, but one whole closet of hyperflorals is not a little to me! And about 90% of them from Forever 21! (She would later admit that she’s a sucker for anything Forever 21—at the time of my house call the store hadn’t even set up shop in Cebu yet, and so most of her items she’d gotten during “shopping trips” to Manila and elsewhere.)
I love it when my clients allow me to do house calls—not a lot of them do, you see, and that’s a shame—because it makes my job easier by giving me a strong starting point. People tend to say things like, “But I don’t have a lot of stuff in my closet!” or “I don’t own anything you’re gonna be remotely interested in!” But I always say, “Who knows?” You may be tired of looking at your own clothes, but with a fresh pair of eyes by your side there’s a huge chance that you’re gonna unearth hidden gems—after all, I would say 90% of a stylist’s job is to make you look at something in a way you’ve never looked at it before. Some of the best styling jobs I’ve done (like for Rey Dauz and Sheryl Guzman’s “vintage travel”-themed engagement session, for example) turned out the way they did because my clients opened up their homes—and their closet doors—to me, and so they became collaborative efforts, you know? It’s like the “Bend and Snap” from Legally Blonde: “It works every time.” You just have to trust me on this one. (Don’t worry, you won’t be obligated to cook for me. LOL.)
Anyways, backpedaling to the story: It was a “springtime picnic” kind of feel that we wanted Michelle and Jerbie’s engagement photos to evoke. The idea for the theme came to us when my mentor Malou Pages-Solomon (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing) took me for a drizzy Sunday afternoon stroll up the Banawa Hills’ Tanchan-owned Celestial Gardens, and I fell absolutely in love with the place. I always talk about how I am not a big fan of vegetation in this part of the world, but this place right here was a different story altogether—it was like we weren’t in Cebu! There were parts where the foliage were manicured, and parts where they had this unstudied, unkempt appeal, and when you put them together it’s just bewitching. (There’s even a sweet little spot in there that overlooks Cebu City, it reminds me of the Getty’s Lower Terrace Sculpture Garden that overlooks Los Angeles! Just breathtaking!) What’s more, it was discreet in architecture and artifice—it was, like, 85% nature. And even in the rain and the fog it was beautiful—how much more so when the sun was shining? I wasted no time in telling Malou that I wanted to have a shoot in that very place, something with a picnic theme, and that was when she suggested, “Why don’t we do that for Michelle and Jerbie’s session next week?” Just like that, we got to work. Luckily for me, the couple welcomed the idea. There were minor hitches in trying to book the venue at first, especially after two of the custodians said that photoshoots were “not allowed” in the area, but we were able to pull some strings, and so we made it happen.
During our initial discussions around wardrobe, Michelle had expressed interest in flowy, diaphanous dresses in white or off-white, kind of like the wedding dress that Amanda Seyfried’s character wore in the Mamma Mia! film, but Malou was quick to discourage us from pursuing this look, pronouncing that using white dresses in engagement photos was a tired, old rule that she wanted to steer clear of. The idea for bright hyperflorals (and patterns) came to me when I thought about the place we were going to be shooting at and what it lacked, and it occurred to me the Celestial Gardens were all green and had very little flowering plants. Why not let Michelle be the flower to lend a burst of color to the place? I thought. People often ask me what hyperfloral is, and how that’s different from the regular floral, and I wish I could do a better job at explaining things like this (yes, contrary to popular belief, I am not about to write a doctorate paper on styling), but all I’ve really got to say is it’s kind of like chintz—varying floral patterns rather than just one, and in a melee rather than in an orderly sequence. Think Peter Copping for Nina Ricci Spring 2012 Ready-to-Wear—or, better yet, think the works of textile designer and artist Zina de Plagny, who was the central inspiration for that collection.
Of course, I didn’t want it to be all-floral, so I decided to throw something with an ethic print into the mix—more specifically, a cobalt blue/orange-red Navajo-print dress. I don’t know, but at the time I kind of had a feeling ethnic prints were going to be huge in the coming seasons (flash forward to today, and, voila, we see a lot of Aztec prints in, say, Topshop’s new collection), and plus I’d always been fascinated with them (I have Navajo-print bedroom curtains, and a couple of tank tops in Ikat-inspired prints). A friend of mine who observed as I was I was putting together these outfits for Michelle commented that she was “relieved” that I was able to restrain myself from injecting a little grunge into the picture—“For once you’re doing something really girly!” she exclaimed—but that only goes to show she wasn’t paying close attention, because if you take a closer look you will see that the dresses I picked were all in babydoll silhouettes, that I managed to throw some leather jackets into the mix, and that for one of the sets I had Michelle ditch the ballet flats in favor of 1460 8-eye Doc Martens! Trust me to always have a little bit of grunge sneak up on you, even if the situation doesn’t call for it!
It was my idea to put a TV set and a couch in the middle of the frangipani garden (I love frangipani, especially when they’re in clusters—their knotty, spindly branches have a way of slicing sunlight into gorgeous little rays that add a dramatic dimension to your frame). Just because the theme was picnic didn’t mean they had to be sprawled on the ground the whole time, you know? Besides, an outdoor couch potato set was in order, especially since I wanted some of these photos to reflect Jerbie’s personality—for what was Jerbie without his TV (he’s a self-confessed TV and film buff; he works for SM Cinemas)? I would’ve wanted a vintage TV set, though—like something from the ’50s jet age—and a bigger couch, but, well, sometimes you gotta work with what you have.
As gorgeous as the photos turned out, I’m afraid they kind of do not do justice to the day they were taken. It was such a charming day, despite the fact that it was sweltering (I had to pile sunblock on three times!) and that we were up to the neck in enormous props. The atmosphere was serene; the grass so soft we couldn’t resist lying on it like cats; and there were birds that wouldn’t stop chirping! And how about that creamy sunset? The day had a certain feeling to it; it was the kind of day fashioned for a romance novel. Add to that Michelle and Jerbie’s playful, childlike chemistry, and you have the makings of a photo session that you don’t want to ever end (our timetable had called for us to wrap by 4PM, but we kept shooting well until 6PM, anyway)! It was as if we were in a daydream! I love it when all the elements of a shoot come together to create one big perfect moment. It makes me sigh dreamily and think to myself, There’s work, and then there’s this.
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I am currently in Los Angeles, CA, on vacation, so please forgive me if I am unable to update this blog over the next couple of weeks. To those who’ve been sending me messages asking me to style their sessions, please check with Malou Pages (email@example.com) for available dates (I will be back in Cebu soon).
Jerbie Domingo and Michelle Gutierrez | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City on December 11, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view Malou’s set) | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada | White hyperfloral babydoll dress, cobalt blue/orange-red Navajo-print dress, and Palatinate blue hyperfloral baby doll dress, all from Forever 21 | Blue cardigan, Primark/Atmosphere UK | Chamoisee biker jacket and desert sand bomber jacket, all from Forever 21 | Red cardigan, Charles 1/2, Urban Outfitters | International orange lightweight summer shirt, American Apparel | Multi-colored striped zip-front sweater, Esprit
“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
Don’t you just love those New York Girls? I know I do. And I’m not just talking about those who have made me want to sing, “At the risk of sounding cheesy/ I think I fell for the girl on TV”—like the fictional but fabulous Carrie Bradshaw, for example, or the very real but too good to be true Olivia Palermo. I’m talking about the, um, regular girls, too: like the Lou Doillon look-alike who stood beside me at the Garment District Pret A Manger, and who ordered nothing but sparkling water for lunch; or, like the girls I bumped into at the Time Square Starbucks, cradling Caramel Macchiatos in one arm and a pile of fashion magazines in the other; or, like the middle-aged woman and her Chihuahua that I ran into near the Christopher St. station, who wore matching granny-style crocheted wool square ponchos; or, like the cool mom who grows her own vegetables in her Brooklyn backyard during the day, and at night squeezes her way through throngs of sweaty rock fans at Terminal 5 to watch Nine Inch Nails live in concert (I’m talking about my friend Anne); or, like the little girl who likes to refer to the Brooklyn Bridge as “the bridge from the princess movie” (Anne’s daughter Ellis, named after Ellis Island, and, yes, she is talking about the movie Enchanted). Yes, there is a certain kind of magic when you are looking at, talking to, or just simply being around a New York girl. It gives you a certain kind of thrill—something about the exuberance of their unrestrained actions, their whimsical wits. Inevitably, you find it extremely hard to keep your jaw from dropping.
One such jaw-dropping moment happened to me a couple of months back when we were photographing the New York-based Cebuana transplant Cherry de Dios and her groom-to-be Chris Beck. They’d just flown in from the Big Apple, decided to do a quick stopover in Cebu to see family—and to have their engagement photos taken—before proceeding to tie the knot in Ormoc City, Leyte. We were at some farm up the mountains in Carmen (some two hours northeast of Cebu City), and I was inside this quaint little cabin helping Cherry sort their outfits while watching her do her own makeup. She’d elected not to hire a makeup artist for the occasion: “For the actual wedding I’m going to have a makeup artist, of course,” she said (and she was talking about my friend Sheila On, who did the makeup for my very first solo shoot months back—what a small world!), “but for now I just want to look like me, you know? I don’t want to look like somebody else in these pictures.” At first I was skeptical about this decision of hers, but in no time she proved me wrong. And by no time, I mean, well, no time—she spent only 20 seconds penciling her brows, another 20 applying eyeliner, and then 10 seconds glossing her lips, and then another 10 combing her hair with her fingers! “You just gave new meaning to ‘in a New York minute!’” I exclaimed in awe. To which she just winked and said, “Exactly!” She knew what she wanted, she worked on it herself, and she worked on it fast. The very essence of a modern New York girl.
Asked why they’d chosen to have their engagement photos taken here when they could’ve done it in New York City (I was imagining Bow Bridge at Central Park, or those pretty little West Village sidewalks!), she said, “I thought about it, but it was Chris who said he wanted to do it here.” By here, she meant this very farm where we were at right now. Turned out the fiancé had fallen absolutely in love with the place when they’d first visited a little over a year back. And who could blame him? I looked around me and asked myself, what was not to love about this place? Towering pine trees, windswept shrubs, pretty little hiking trails—it was like we were in Baguio! Plus, stand on the porch of the main cabin and look east and you get a breathtaking view of Camotes Island (or, is it Leyte?). My favorite part would have to be how there were these charming little makeshift birdhouses atop each of the pine trees—and they weren’t there for decorative purposes; little birdies actually inhabited them! How was it possible that a place like this existed in this part of the country? Well, made possible in part by Cherry’s sister Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who took her predilection for all things countryside and bucolic to create the ultimate vacation home for when she and her family needed to shy away from the city life.
That was it! It was the perfect retreat from the frenetic pace of their big city lives! That was why Chris loved it here! I was watching him as he walked around the place, took deep breaths and blinked dreamily at every little thing he laid his eyes on. And it looked like that was all he wanted to do all day—soak up the beauty of the place—and it got to a point it was almost too embarrassing to ask him to stop what he was doing so we could start photographing them!
It would later turn out that this place wasn’t the only thing Chris loved about the Philippines. When it was time for lunch, served semi-al fresco style—i.e., at the porch—he was more excited than everyone else was about the food. It was an all-Filipino fare that Cherry’s sister had whipped up, and Chris attacked the table with much gusto. And when it came to conversations, both while in front of the cameras and in between sets, he displayed a heady kind of sensitivity towards breaking the language barrier, trying as best he could to speak in Cebuano. It almost embarrassed me when I told the team to “be sure to speak only English when he’s around, ‘cause he might get the wrong idea,” and Cherry was quick to disabuse me of such notion, saying that Chris was actually semi-fluent in Cebuano, and was passionate about learning the language more! And what a romantic way of reconciling their greatest difference, right? This was probably one of the reasons why Cherry knew Chris was the one.
As for what made Chris know Cherry was the one for him… Well, no one needed to ask, either. August can be a pretty sticky, sweaty proposition in this part of the world, especially when you’re running around outdoors—and, yes, even when it’s atop the mountains where the breeze is somewhat cool. This was why I was kind of hesitant at first about making her do the things we wanted her to do in front of the cameras. I mean, this was a New York girl we were talking about here—what was she going to think if we asked her to, say, remove her Calvin Klein strappy sandals, tread barefoot on prickly, rocky terrain, and chase the farm animals around? To our surprise, she obliged, and even managed to laugh about it. When we asked her to jump into the freshwater pool—you know, like, really jump, in order to make a huge splash—she winced at first, saying she’d never done anything like it before, but she rolled up her sleeves and went for it anyway. Such a cowgirl, I know! You should’ve seen the look in Chris’s eyes as he watched his wife-to-be do all these crazy antic—it was like he was getting more and more smitten every minute! Emerging from the pool, all flushed from her feat, she chuckled, to thundering applause from her family (her mother and her brothers and sisters, who’d decided to tag along for this session), “You see, these people are never going to let me live that down!” And then she jumped back into the water, proving that, to borrow a line from Ms. Bradshaw, “city girls and just country girls—with cuter outfits.”
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Apologies for the delay in posting these photos. No, I didn’t misplace them. I just had to wait ‘til the couple returned from their month-long (actually, I think it was more than a month) honeymoon in Italy before seeking their permission. I seem to know it’s kind of impolite to interrupt anyone who’s on a Roman holiday, for whatever reason.
This was my first session as apprentice at Shutterfairy Photography, by the way. I didn’t take a lot of photos—I think I only took a little over 400—because I was too busy observing my mentor Malou Pages (and “second shooter” Charisse Calo, of Calography) at work. Couple of things I learned that day:
- Organize and clean your equipment the day before a shoot—not in the car on the way to the job, and especially not at the eleventh hour when your subjects are already getting ready to step in front of you. I must’ve wasted about 20 minutes and was only able to take 10 or so shots during the first set because I was still busy dusting my camera and my lenses while Malou and Charisse started clicking away.
- Just because your subjects ask for breaks in between sets doesn’t mean you have to take a break, too. You have to be in the moment, all of the time! Look around you and take as many detail shots as possible—of a flower, a farm animal, or whatever else catches your eye.
- Always carry your mood board around with you. I had brought mine to this shoot, but left it inside my bag, which I left inside the cabin the whole time we were outside shooting. Clumsy, right? I mean, what’s the use of a mood board when it’s just gonna sit in the dark? Malou saved her boards in her iPad (she’s techie like that), which she carries around with her to every nook and cranny, so it’s easy for her to check back on them when she feels she is straying from her vision and she needs to be pulled back in track.
- Strike up casual conversations with your subjects while you are taking pictures of them. When photographing people you’ve just met, you see, there is a tendency for us to appear, um, serious, and to keep our mouths shut, in an effort, I guess, to look professional and all. As it turns out: Stiff photographer equals stiff subjects, and the whole thing comes out very unnatural! I loved that Malou asked Chris and Cherry all kinds of questions while she was clicking away, even exchanged jokes with them. I was quick to adapt this style, especially upon seeing the effect it had on the subjects—they became more relaxed, to a point they forgot they were in front of the cameras. Cherry and I exchanged stories about our favorite spots in the West Village (including the world-famous Magnolia Bakery), and in no time we became, like, kindred spirits. I hope these photos show that happening.
Christian Thomas Beck and Joan Grace “Cherry” de Dios | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Carmen, Cebu, on August 17, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo for Calography (click here to view Malou’s photos, and here for Charisse’s)
“If I lay here/ If I just lay here/ Would you lie with me and just forget the world?”
How beautiful are these lines from Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars?” In fact, how beautiful are all the lines from that one song? Sources say frontman Gary Lightbody considers it the “purest love song” he’s ever written. Eschewing intricate imagery not uncommon in arena ballads, the muse having struck the songwriter during a hangover, it uses stark sentences, simplistic metaphors—“a garden that’s bursting into life”—and languid cadences, and this is probably why it’s so catchy. When you keep your words simple (which is one gift I definitely don’t have), you see, they go straight to the heart. “I think that the song has worked because it has an emotion that people can relate to,” Lightbody has been quoted as saying (after a UK-based music licensing body declared it “most widely played song of the decade” in December of 2009). In the same way, TV music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas told Los Angeles Magazine about her choice of the track for the second season finale of Grey’s Anatomy (a listing that would be responsible for propelling the song to the top of music download charts in 2006): “It connected on multiple emotions at once.”
Even to people like me, who don’t have someone we can lie there and just forget the world with, it has a way of sending chills down the spine. (Especially Natasha Bedingfield’s version—have you heard it? It’s pretty much like the original version, except the words are sung kind of breathlessly. It’s on constant repeat in my iPod.). It pushes buttons in that it conjures visions of all sorts of escapism. I mean, to just withdraw from everyone and everything, and just lay there, not caring—how nice would that be? Although, of course, I’m sure it’s no more nicer than to have someone to escape with—or someone to be your escape, if you will.
I had been toying with the idea of translating this whole song into engagement photos for so long. Luckily I found a couple whose very relationship embodies the carefree, almost hypnotic premise of the song. Luigi and Maricor, they knew the formula too well—some events (and people) in their lives threaten to shake them, but instead of breaking down they just withdraw and look for a means of escape. And so spur-of-the-moment road trips are not uncommon. Like this one right here, for instance.
We’d already done a session a couple of weeks back, and I’d thought, you know, that that was that. But suddenly they wanted another session, “away from the city” this time. Served me well, because although that first session had covered the track’s main lines—“Let’s waste time/ Chasing cars/ Around our heads”—complete with an actual car and all, I had been left with a hunger to translate all the other lines, and here was my chance to do so (I did not have to wait for the next couple to come along)!
Two hours north of Cebu, that was where they took me. A place called Borbon, some three or four towns after Danao, and right before Tabogon. Shame on me—up to that point I had never heard of the place. (We’re always in a hurry to go to, say, Bantayan Island, and we tend to overlook the gorgeous places along the way.) We were going to be shooting at Luigi’s grandfather’s vacation house (or “rest house,” as they call those things here in the Philippines), and during the ride there I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the whole thing was going to look like, but was proven wrong once the gates were flung open. More garden than house, really, and the area was so huge you could get lost in it if you weren’t careful. And unnervingly perched atop a cliff! Yes, overlooking the sea that separates the islands of Cebu and Leyte. There was a makeshift tree house, too, with an old telescope—presumably for those who wanted to look across the water at Isabel, Leyte. But my favorite part was how the whole place was made to look unmanicured—wildflower shrubs sat alongside well-tended garden plants, giving off a bittersweet, unstudied kind of appeal (give a wedding stylist five minutes to pluck the flowers and whatever else there is to pick at, and he would be able to come up with maybe 10 different kinds of whimsical bouquets, or quirky little boutonnieres). I was quick to thank the heavens for giving me a setting that was my very idea of “a garden that’s bursting into life.”
The photos of the couple lying in the grass (with a mahjong set, and don’t ask me why) were taken, well, from the top (how else?). Yes, there was the tree house to support me, but it was only the lower half of my body that it bolstered—my torso was pretty much suspended in the air! It was dangerous, and I almost dropped my camera—twice! I think I might have felt my back snap, too. Luigi’s friend Roland Caballero pleaded for me to give it up, saying he was scared for my life, but these pleas fell on deaf ears. I was willing to stay all day up there, and to risk my life, all for the sake of getting my perfect “lie with me and just forget the world” picture!
Speaking of Roland, I must not forget to thank him. And not only for his genuine concern about my safety. A graphic designer and illustrator by profession, Roland had been asked by Luigi to come with during this shoot to act as “creative director,” after I’d brought up that “I am going to be needing some help if we are going to be shooting somewhere where there’s trees and plants and all.” My mentor Malou Pages-Solomon (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing) very recently wrote about how she was more comfortable shooting in the mountains, where nature is aplenty, versus, say, in an urban area. For me, at least up to this very shoot right here, it had always been the opposite: I’d preferred shooting in the city (where there’s buildings and concrete and glass and etc.), and I’d been deathly afraid of, um, vegetation. In a city setting, you see, I’d found it easier to mind my composition and manage my angles—always a straight line somewhere, always a plane or two, always a perfect circle. Plants, however, I’d had a hard time grasping—too abstract, too all over the place! Thank God Roland was there to show me how to make all these nature-y elements work to my advantage. Taught me how, for example, to look at things two-dimensionally, versus in three dimensions (i.e., take a test shot before deciding against a certain spot), and how to use leaves and barks and all that for framing. Even showed me where the best lighting was coming out of—and wasn’t that supposed to be my job? To cut to the chase, what I’m saying is, yes, it doesn’t hurt to second pair of eyes with you when you’re shooting, and it doesn’t have to be a secondary or assistant photographer (Roland here does like taking pictures, too, but decided to go camera-less that day so he could focus on helping me out with my shots)—especially when it’s someone who’s professionally trained in color, shape, structure, composition, and in understanding the nuances of space. I do not think I could’ve done all this without him. I mean, sure, I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted my subjects to be positioned within my frame, but I wouldn’t have been able to get the third character—the location, the surroundings—to cooperate if it weren’t for him. Needless to say, I took note of everything that came out of his mouth, and would end up applying all these lessons a week later during my session with Christina Garcia-Frasco for the Shandar catalog (the concept had called for a farm set).
I think I mentioned this already, but I’ll say it again: This is my second session with this couple, the first having been completed a month earlier in Mandaue. They had a third session after this, because Luigi had wanted a kitchen setting with him wearing his chef whites (yes, he is a chef), but I had to excuse myself from that—they were going to be shooting at the Casino Español de Cebu’s cookery, and at nighttime, too, and I did not want to jump into indoors and strobe without proper training. And so that set was taken care of by a photographer named Burton Raya. I’m not sure if Burton has a Website and I haven’t really seen the photos from that set, but I’m sure they came out gorgeous—must have gone really well with the couple’s choice of wedding souvenirs, which were measuring cups, with a little note that said “Love knows no measure” (the cups came with rulers, too, as Maricor here is a teacher by profession).
I hope you enjoy looking at this set as much as we did shooting it.
Luigi Mangubat and Maricor Teves | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Borbon, Cebu, on April 10, 2011 | Hair and makeup by June Sy | Creative Director: Roland Caballero | Special thanks to: Mia Bacolod and Vice Mayor and Mrs. Ace Serafin of Tabogon