The theme they chose was cowboy/ranch hand—Carl Bual, the groom-to-be, was a veterinary sales rep who’d grown up in Bukidnon surrounded by horses, and he wanted to relive that time in his life. And who was I to say no to an equine-related concept (those of you who’ve been following my blog will know I’ve become terribly obsessed with horses)? Aside from horses and stables and cowboy boots, I was also imagining throwing a big bad pickup truck into the mix. You see, I wanted a “gritty” feel, if you know what I mean. Something action-packed, and somewhat reckless, even. Especially after Carl made it very clear that “I don’t want anything cheesy—no hugging, no squeezing, no kissing.” This assertion took Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing), the main photographer, by surprise, and I think we almost choked on our macarons when Carl said this. By the look in Malou’s face, I could tell she was thinking, But what’s an engagement shoot without the hugging, the squeezing and the kissing? But, well, as the saying goes, “To each his own.” Besides, what else were you supposed to expect from a guy like Carl, what with his stocky frame, thundering baritone, and hands the size of a giant’s? (I swear, at one point I caught myself thinking, I better give this guy what he wants, lest I want to end up being sucker punched in the face!)
Conversely, the fiancée RJ Serafin (first cousin to my good friend Ace, Vice Mayor of Tabogon, Cebu—what a small world, right?) didn’t want the whole thing to be too mannish. For one, she didn’t want her outfits to be too western-inspired. Incredibly soft-spoken and ever the lady (she’s a preschool teacher, after all), she wanted a little girly touch, a little romance. I told her the cowboy boots were non-negotiable, and so were the cowboy hats, but promised I was gonna stay away from dirty jeans or anything plaid and/or gingham. At first I was tempted to slap a little Gigi Mortimer kicking back at her country cottage in Harrington, NY, against the mood board—i.e., romantic equestrian—but immediately I scratched that as soon as I realized that chunky sweaters and traditional knee-high riding boots would be too much for RJ’s slight frame (yes, she’s pint-sized, the polar opposite of Carl’s colossus). Thankfully, I was able to dig up a couple of floral dresses from The Fab Grab’s archives. I particularly fell in love with this ‘90s-style black floral prairie dress. It reminded me of what Cynthia Geary’s character Kellie wore some 35 minutes into the movie 8 Seconds, when she approached Luke Perry’s character as he was forking hay in a barn, and then she uttered the most beautiful lines: “Nothing you could say or do would make you less in my eyes. I love you. You don’t have to be perfect for me.” (It’s my favorite scene from that movie, especially since, after that, Perry’s character replied, “You may have to prove it. Right now, [when] I’m covered in horse shit,” and then they kissed, and Karla Bonoff’s “Standing Right Next to Me” started playing in the background, and then it was fade out, and fade in to the wedding scene.) For this reason alone I knew I just had to get this black dress into the picture, to add a little touch of 8 Seconds to my work! I didn’t want RJ’s wardrobe to be all dresses, though, so I took this one dress—the green floral one, which was a bit sheer—and asked her to wear it unbuttoned in the front, like as an open robe/maxi cardigan, over a little boy’s tank top and a pair of denim Daisy Dukes. I was taking a cue from the latest craze that had been sweeping the Lookbook.nu and Chictopia communities, which entailed, well, girls wearing their sheer maxi dresses (most of them from UNIF Clothing) unbuttoned in the front, as maxi cardigans. (Before this shoot I’d also adopted this style for one of the outfits that the model Fretzel Buenconsejo was going to wear for the Gracie Q catalog—click here and look for the series of photos where she’s frolicking with little children.) Add a Swarovski-encrusted seashell-colored stretch-jersey gala gown by Lotte Delima-Edwards to the mix, and we were on our way to being a far cry from the hackneyed cowgirl look that RJ wanted to avoid.
Funny thing happened on the day of the shoot. You know the macho Carl who’d said that hugging, squeezing and kissing in photos wasn’t his style? Well, that was still the same Carl who hopped into the van that was to take us to our location—he wouldn’t even laugh at the makeup artist’s jokes, he’d just chuckle and shake his head! When we arrived at our destination, though, as RJ was having her hair and makeup done, he was reckless enough to grab a bottle of Red Horse beer before seeking to get acquainted with, well, the actual horses that we were going to be using for the shoot. At first I was a little concerned about this, and about how RJ just sat there and encouraged this foolhardy behavior, but it would soon prove to work to our advantage: after a few bottles, Carl suddenly became so invigorated and cheerful—and he was suddenly OK with the idea of hugging and squeezing and kissing in front of the cameras! He’s gonna hate me for writing this down on here, but, hey, people are gonna see these photos, anyway, and are gonna wonder what happened to all the macho, so better put the whole backstory out there, right? I still got what I wanted, though, in the form of a badass pickup truck, which was “gritty” enough for me—I’m sorry, but there’s something about mud and dirt and off-road wheels (and mud and dirt on off-road wheels) that make me feel, um, alive (guess there’s still some macho in me, after all).
We were going to do this whole thing in Bukidnon—this would’ve been my first out-of-town shoot (well, save for the occasional sessions in Ormoc) and my first time to visit that part of the country (i.e., Mindanao). But we’d ran into some scheduling conflicts (November last year brought in an exceptional run of green lights—click here to read about our jampacked schedule that month), which had left us with no choice but to do it a little closer to home. Thank God Carl’s good friend Marlo Causin, a veterinarian, had a ranch (that also doubled as a fishing pond) that was only an hour and a half southwest of Cebu, in Barili. At first I was kind of in a funk about Bukidnon not happening, but when we arrived at the Causin property I immediately thanked the heavens that it didn’t—one, Marlo a champion host (I won’t enumerate all the stuff he made us eat that day); and two, I got to meet and photograph the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen in this part of the world!
Sabina, that’s how they named her. Probably because she looked like a sabino-white. I say “looked like” because she’s not a true sabino-white—if you look closely (e.g., at her muzzle), you will see her underlying skin is somewhat grayish. Of course, goes without saying that this did not make her less stunning. She was so towering and regal, she reminded me of the Andalusians I’d met at the Kentucky Horse Park in the summer of 2010. And unabashedly affectionate, too—she was always trying to plant a kiss on Carl’s cheek, like she wanted to steal the show from RJ and be the bride-to-be!—and was a darling in front of the cameras, like she’d grown up around show business! She was just a joy to photograph that I didn’t want the set that featured her to ever end! Malou kept saying, “OK, next outfit! Next set!” but a lot of times I had to pretend not not to hear her, ‘cause I just didn’t wanna let go of Sabina!
The Causins had two other horses in the property: Venus, Sabina’s daughter, and a strapping stallion named Bravo. We’d been told beforehand that we couldn’t borrow Venus for the sitting ‘cause she’d been in a foul mood lately, so she had to be kept at bay (and true enough, when I went to see her, she kind of threatened to buck!). We were supposed to use Bravo for one of the sets, but then just as his caretakers were readying him we noticed that he had a nasty cut in his right pastern, and so we had no choice but to let him sit this one out. Shame, because he was a beauty, too, what with his shiny chestnut coat and all! But I’ll be back for you one day, Bravo (I hope)!
I love it when the theme is country or cowboy. And not just for the obvious reason that it allows me to be around and/or photograph horses, but also because it’s the kind of theme where my subjects can have a crazy good time and be spontaneous, you know? Like, they’re kind of in character, but at the same time they can just be themselves. No contrived poses or positions, no fidgeting because the outfits make them uncomfortable, no trying hard to borrow, say, Kristine Hermosa’s smile (swear to God, I can’t wait to see the day I’ll hear the last of couples wanting to “copy” the Kristine-Oyo engagement photos!). I guess this is the exact same reason why I love the grunge theme, too. It’s, like, there’s a theme, but it’s not there, you know? It stylizes your subjects, but doesn’t disguise them.
On our drive back to the city after the shoot had wrapped, Carl and RJ were discussing song choice—i.e., what song to incorporate in the slideshow of their engagement photos (to be played during the wedding reception). Although between the two of them they shared a couple of love songs that meant a lot to them, this time they wanted something from the country genre, in keeping with the theme. I was quick to dispense advice on the matter, just ‘cause two of the most beautiful love songs I’d ever heard in my life happened to be from that genre: the aforementioned “Standing Right Next to Me” by Karla Bonoff, from 8 Seconds (perfect, in fact, because didn’t they play it in the movie’s wedding scene?), and “I Cross My Heart” by George Strait. They’d never heard of these songs before, and I didn’t have my iPod handy, so I recited to them a couple of lines from both. Needless to say, they loved them, and Carl was quick to declare that, of the two, he liked the George Strait more. I don’t know if they ended up using either, but I sure hope they did.
Carlos Bual and Rachelle Jean Serafin | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Barili, Cebu, on November 20, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo and Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view some of Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by JingJing F. Maching | Amaranth pink floral-print cotton-blend dress with cap sleeves, black floral-print button-front prairie dress, and hunter green floral-print button-front stretch-silk shirtdress (worn as maxi cardigan), all from The Fab Grab | White tank top, Forever 21 | Swarovski-encrusted seashell stretch-jersey gala gown, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Accessories, Gracie Q
“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)
The sky wasn’t my friend that day, and neither was the sun. I mean, I woke up, looked out my bedroom window, and there it was, staring sardonically back at me—a sky so cloudy it looked like it was falling. Not overly overcast or anything—just that there was no hint of blue at all! And the sun wasn’t its usual bright self, too! I was this close to calling the whole thing off, but I knew I couldn’t: one, this was my last solo shoot before I was going to start my apprenticeship (at Shutterfairy Photography, in August of this year); two, I couldn’t bring myself to let a best friend down.
Paolo, the groom-to-be, is my best friend Andre’s younger brother. It was Andre who’d asked me to do this, and I’d said yes because, well, his family was like my second family, plus it had been years since I’d last seen Paolo—and I’d never met his bride-to-be! I’d offered something that was young, a bit messy and hard-edged, in the same vein as my grunge-inspired first solo shoot (for an Ormoc-based couple). But Andre had had something else in mind, something more “mature” and sedate—“They’re parents now,” he’d reasoned. Fair enough. A stylist himself, he’d been visualizing his future sister-in-law’s look for days. “I want modern, floor-sweeping gowns,” he’d shared, “but set against the mountains!” He’d proceeded to show me photos from a recent road trip with friends to Busay, and further up the Cebu Transcentral Highway to Balamban. “Glorious, isn’t it?” To which I’d nodded, for indeed they were breathtaking pictures, but I’d had to warn him that “I’m not very good with these nature-y locations” (you might remember me talking about this in a previous post, about how deathly afraid I was of vegetation and anything countryside/bucolic). But I’d had to compromise—Andre had made it clear he was going to take care of the styling aspect of it, and so here was a chance for me to focus on just taking pictures, something I’d been praying for for so long! And so, mountains it was.
Which was why I’d hoped for “blue skies” to be “smiling at me.” I’d wanted to give them “glorious,” like Andre had described. Laugh all you want, but in the days leading to the shoot all I could picture in my mind’s eye was something that looked like that generic Windows XP wallpaper—you know, sprawling verdant hills against a vast blanket of cerulean skies. But, alas, cerulean had decided to take a day off, leaving us with nothing but a canopy of cotton. “Well, we will have to do with what we have,” Andre said. “Let’s just be thankful it’s not raining!”
I was in for a pleasant surprise, though, when we got to our first location, a grassy cliff tucked behind a small market where local flower and vegetable growers sold their fresh picks to drivers passing by (it was the makeup artist Owen who led us to it). The sky may have been cloudy and devoid of any trace of blue, but that was alright because the grass was in a lovely shade of yellow-brown! Looked kind of dull, actually, when I took my first few shots, but just a few experimental adjustments to the white balance, and I was able to add a yellow cast and kill some of the greens (of course, the vibrance I would work on later on in Photoshop). As I followed Paolo and Kiselle around as they traipsed on these fields of yellow, I couldn’t help but call to mind these beautiful lines from Sting’s “Fields of Gold” (one of my favorite songs from when I was a child, and still one of my favorites now—I kind of like Eva Cassidy’s rendition, too): “You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky/ As we walk in fields of gold.”
Also loved how I was able to spot a solitary tree. Swear to God, I am getting good at keeping my eyes open these days. You should’ve seen me that day, I almost broke my neck darting my head from left to right as Paolo sped through the highway, on the lookout for a lone tree, and I think it freaked everyone out when I screamed “OK, stop!” as soon as I spotted one. Well, at first it wasn’t really solitary, as there was this colossal water buffalo grazing right next to it. My friend Inez, who tagged along for this assignment, wanted to place a bet that there was no way I could get the thing to scoot over—to her dismay, I was able to, and I didn’t even have to pull my sleeves up! I don’t know if everyone was impressed with my “buffalo whispering” skills, but I knew I was impressed with myself. Nice to know I have a way with these four-legged creatures!
Speaking of four-legged creatures, perhaps the biggest treat that day was when Andre was able to get a gorgeous horse into the picture. I love horses. To me, they’re the most beautiful creatures on earth (next to Kate Moss, of course), and few reflexes are as pleasant as the gasp that escapes my mouth upon seeing a horse throw its head up, arch its back, and whip its tail. This was perfect timing, because I’d missed taking picture of horses. It had been almost a year since I’d last taken pictures of these beauties (at the Kentucky Horse Park, in August of 2010, where I’d spent some five or so hours clicking away at every single horse I’d bumped into), and what a refreshing experience that had been! Even more exhilarating, though (and I think I wrote about this in a previous post), is when you get to know—and call them by—their names. This beauty right here was named Athena, after the Greek goddess. At first Kiselle was hesitant to get up on the saddle (antiquated leather!), afraid she might topple, but the caretaker was quick to assure us Athena was very neighborly and always treated her riders kind. Before shooting I spent a couple of minutes caressing her mane and touching her face, and I couldn’t help but notice there was a tinge of sadness in her eyes. Mr. Caretaker proceeded to tell us the story of how, just a few weeks back, Athena had lost all her three or four siblings to a mysterious equine illness—that explained the sullen look in her eyes. Despite this, though, she carried on like a trouper, and made love to the camera like a pro. Before we said goodbye I felt the need to whisper in her ear—you know, that she was going to be OK, and that her eyes were going to regain their sparkle one day.
Speaking of expressive eyes, I simply couldn’t take my eyes of Kiselle’s. I liked the way they disappeared into tiny slits every time she laughed—whether out loud, or silently, in her head. She was a woman of very few words, and instead relied on her eyes to do the talking. I loved how, when she needed Paolo to do something, she would just give him a certain look, and then he would set out to do it. Yes, they had that kind of chemistry, and it was enviable. Kiselle’s father would touch on the subject of her eyes and their convincing powers three months later, at the wedding reception. “I don’t like speaking in front of people—when I was in school, I would pretend to be sick on days when the teacher would ask me to recite in front of class,” he shared during his father of the bride speech. “Only Kiselle could get me to do these kinds of things. I wasn’t gonna do this, but it’s her special day, and she’s looking at me with those eyes… Kiselle’s eyes are beautiful. They’re the eyes that she got from her mother. And now Kiselle’s daughter, my granddaughter, has them.” Nice to know there’s plenty of them to go around.
Jun Paolo Dedamo and Kiselle Ibones | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Busay, Cebu, on July 24, 2011 | Styled by Andre Emmanuel Dedamo | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada (to book Owen, click here) | Sittings assistant: Inez Reformina | White strapless bias-cut crepe de chine gala gown, black strapless draped silk-georgette gala gown, and scarlet strapless bias-cut silk-georgette gala gown with laser cut detail, all by Owen Taboada
Behind the Scenes Instagrams Clockwise from top left: The hairstylist/makeup artist Owen, who is also a designer (he made all the gowns that Kiselle wore for this shoot), fixing Kiselle’s hair; Inez and Andre scouting for a good spot; Owen keeping our special guest star Athena happy by feeding her with corn husks; Andre and Owen on the simple suspension bridge at this place called Island in the Sky Resort in Balamban; me holding on for dear life as I tried to photograph the couple on the simple suspension bridge (the photos came out bad because it was just too foggy that afternoon); test shot with Owen and Kiselle; we all just had to have a photo with the beautiful Athena. Behind-the-scenes photos courtesy Andre Dedamo.
Just when you think I’m done with this crap, here I am again with another set of Poladroids.
Blame it on design It Girl Rita Konig. I was at three different bookstores this month looking for a copy of her book Domestic Bliss but couldn’t find one (don’t they stockpile on anything other than teenage vampire horseshit these days?), so I was forced to dig up the archives at NYTimes.com to revisit her old columns (she no longer writes for them, by the way; I think she has since moved to the Wall Street Journal). For once, I was beginning to obsess about decorating, and not spending too much time looking at photoblogs. I read about her penchant for charming pieces of tobacciana (a pink glass ashtray that gets to go with her wherever she goes, cute little glass match strikers, etc.), and her quirky yet practical method of entertaining (“I don’t have a dining table, but I do have a coffee table, a newly upholstered sofa and a kitchen large enough to cook in, so dinner is eaten off of large art books on laps, or sitting cross-legged at the coffee table”). But what really struck a chord with me was her article on “sticking photos straight up on the wall,” pointing out “how unfashionable it has become to put framed photographs on tables,” and so what she does is she puts up a Polaroid wall in her kitchen. What a novel idea! Not to mention practical and stylish!
Well, the practical part is almost debatable. For one, nobody could figure out where my Dad had kept his old Polaroid Sun 600s (if he’d even kept them at all), and even if we knew, it would be fiendishly difficult to obtain instant film in this part of the world. But, hey, there’s always Poladroid, right?
Here are some of the Poladroids that I am considering printing and putting up against my kitchen wall, again, created using random snapshots from my trips from the last three years. Of course, this means I’m going to have to print some of the ones that I made last month, too. They won’t look like actual Polaroids when they’re printed, but they will, from afar (I love that I kind of have that Rita Konig kind of thinking now!).
You guys have a good weekend now! Remember, inspiration is everywhere—even in the things that you settle for when you still haven’t found what you’re looking for (am I even making any sense here?).
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#46 and #47: At the Brooklyn Bridge with my friend Anne Alegrado’s daughter Ellis, a.k.a. my uptown girl. This was my first morning in New York, and they took me to the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d always wanted to see the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d always thought, Oh, that’s where you fall in love all over again. Thanks to that one pivotal scene an hour and 59 minutes into the first Sex and the City movie wherein Miranda and Steve decide to let back together and leave the past behind, with Al Green’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” playing in the background. “Very logical, yet poetic,” Carrie had said about the choice of rendezvous. So when I got there, I expected it to hit me—I thought of those who’d broken my heart, or those I’d hurt, and waited for a little voice inside of me to say, “Hold on.” But then the only little voice I heard was Ellis’s, who was quick to quip, “Hey! This is the bridge from the princess movie!” And then I realized she was talking about a scene from Enchanted, in which Princess Giselle was finally reunited with her Prince Edward—which she’d thought was all she’d ever wanted—until, walking side-by-side with him on this very bridge, she realized it wasn’t the Prince she was in love with, it was McDreamy. And so I stood there and got into thinking: Do I hold on, or do I let go? In life, it’s easy to get stuck between two places—in this case, it was literally, between Manhattan and Brooklyn—or in a place that means two completely different things. And that can be a pretty sticky situation. It can cause you sleepless nights. Luckily, for some of us, we can just shake it off, and do something stylish. It’s OK to lose sleep, anyhow—especially when you’re in the city that never sleeps.
#48: The rooftop at Anne’s Upper East Side apartment (the Wellesley on E 72nd, between 2nd and 3rd Ave., a red-brick 35-story tower). I’d be up here every morning, barely out of REM sleep and not having had coffee yet, just soaking up the sun and the incredible view of the neighboring skyscrapers. Her family have since moved to Brooklyn so Anne could fulfill her dream of sitting on the apotheosis of domestic bliss (well, I kind of like the sound of “Brooklynite gardener,” too), so it’s safe to say I won’t be seeing this rooftop ever again. At least I have pictures that I can look back on.
#49: I hadn’t seen this girl Liz Marsh in, like, 10 years—so you can imagine my surprise when she called and said she had to kidnap me for a day! Always nice to be reunited with old best friends. It’s amazing how she’d managed to stay the same after all those years—same hair, same eye makeup, same laugh, same everything—while I’d become 60 lbs. heavier! Well, her taste in music had changed a bit, but in a good way. Nothing beats driving around West L.A. with Deftones blasting from the car stereo. Speaking of driving, another thing that hadn’t changed about her was, well, her driving! That girl could bust a U-turn (and I don’t mean a legal one) like a gangsta! Luckily, we didn’t get into an accident like that one we got into some 10 years back at the DTM /Reclamation area. I almost got killed, though, when she tried to stuff me with Brazilian barbecue (carneiro, picanha ao alho) at Pampas Grill and “Around the World” combos at Sushi A Go Go—as if I wasn’t fat enough already.
#53: That’s Kloodie, one of my best friends, on her wedding day late last year. I just had to squeeze this photo in. Her wedding dress was the most divine thing I’d ever seen—I mean, look at that! It’s a Jun Escario, by the way, in case you’re wondering.
#56: My friend Janice Larrazabal took me to the Getty to see Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties. It meant so much to me being there and standing face-to-face with the works of the likes of Mary Ellen Mark, James Nachtwey, and Philip Jones Griffiths. Griffiths was my father’s favorite photographer, you see, so, yeah, it meant the world to me. Click here to read more about that experience.
#58: Four months after Michael Jackson’s passing, Angelenos and tourists alike flock to the Staples Center/Nokia Theatre L.A. Live area to pay tribute by dancing to “Thriller.”
#61: On my fourth day in New York I met up with some of my best girl friends from college, Nila Seno, Jam Montecillo and Charmaine Nadela.
#62: After a grueling trip to see Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone in the Greenwich Village the girls and I rewarded ourselves with these divine cupcakes from the world-famous Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker and W 11th. Divine!
#64: I’d wanted to go back to the beginning, so off we went to the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District at the site of the city’s original settlement (downtown, right by the Union Station and the City Hall). I’d been in this area back in 2008, but never got the chance to see the mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles, so I made sure there was no missing it this time around. I said a little prayer, and then went on to explore the colorful Olvera Street. We were right for going on a weekday; we didn’t have to squeeze through crowds of tourists. It was a nice experience: The sound of Mexican guitar and people pronouncing it “Loce Ang-hel-es.”
#64: San Francisco’s J. Boogie on the ones and twos at the Do-Over. A must-do when you’re in L.A. between mid-May and early November, the Do-Over is a Sunday afternoon “backyard barbecue-style” party (they used to throw it over at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern down N El Centro, between Hollywood and Selma, a stone’s throw away from Roscoe’s on Gower, and now the whole thing’s been moved to the Cabana Club a little off Sunset, right by the Arclight). They call it the Do-Over—because, well, as one of the bouncers put it when I asked, “do it once and you’ll want to do it over and over again!” My first Do-Over experience was the bomb, thanks to J. Boogie right here. Famous for his blend of roots reggae, dancehall, Latin hip hop, jazz rap, soul, and new jack swing, he got the crowd swinging nonstop, from Max Romeo’s “Chase the Devil,” to The Fugees’ “Ready or Not,” to Buju Banton’s “Mr. Nine,” to Richie Spice’s “Youth Dem Cold,” to Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s,” to Lady G’s “Nuff Respect,” to Tony Rebel’s “Know Jah,” to Q-Tip’s “Breathe and Stop,” to Bill Withers’s “Lovely Day,” to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” to Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” to Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” Next in the lineup was King Britt from Philadelphia, who kept the classics coming. I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t danced to SWV’s “Right Here/Human Nature” in so long, and it felt pretty damn good to be able to do so again. I can’t believe they brought the Do-Over to Manila just last month (July 23)—I would’ve flown! Oh, well, I sent them a Tweet saying they should swing by Cebu the next time they visit this part of the world. Let’s see what happens (or maybe I should just let my event organizer friends to make it happen). #65: Oh, and did I mention the sangria at the-Dover was the shiznit? I could finish 5 carafes of that shit. Well, now I got a deadly stain on my white boat shoes, but I don’t care—I’d like to think of it as a remembrance of a West Coast life well lived.
#66: With my best friends Ronald Conopio and Julie Pongos enjoying supersized mojitos at The Abbey in West Hollywood. We’d dreamt of this very moment when we were kids—all three of us, together again, in the same ZIP Code, particularly one that starts with a 9 and a 0. And so there we were, picking up the pieces, from 90067 to 90069 to 90210. And the coolest thing about it was that none of this was planned! It just happened, just like that, like a comet, like laughter, like forgiveness, and all those other things you can’t explain—a lot like the day we first met some 20 years ago!
#67: It was dineL.A. Restaurant Week. My best friend Chiklet was in the mood for a little sophisticated Spanish, so she took me to The Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (no, we were not there to stalk Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom). Loved loved loved the Gazpacho estilo Algeciras, the Tortilla de Patatas, the Papas Canarias, the Jamón Serrano Fermin, the Buñuelos (codfish fritters, honey alioli), the Croquetas de Pollo, and the Beef Hanger Steak (cooked in its own fat and drenched in piquillo pepper sauce). Of course, you don’t need to ask if I liked the ambiance—everything was screaming Philippe Starck.
#69: My goddaughter Tabitha, cutest little thing on earth. This was taken last December when she and her mom Yna Varias came to visit me. I love that she loves to overaccessorize. She has those sunglasses in three different colors.
#72: Me and my best friend Julie with Chad Wolf, frontman of the band Carolina Liar. This was taken after the Rob Thomas/OneRepublic concert at the Gibson Amp, in which they were opening act. Ah, fucking crazy! I got to talk to him and lead guitarist Rickard Göransson and tell them about how their song “California Bound” was, like, my soundtrack for this trip—or, for all my Californian adventures, for that matter! “Well, thanks for finding us, man,” Chad told me as we were about to leave. You should’ve seen me. I was beaming the whole time. Another rock ‘n’ roll dream come true!
#77: One of my favorite couples, my cousin Randy and his beautiful wife Sue, who always make it a point to see me whenever I’m in California. Well, Randy is not really my cousin—our moms are just real good friends, so, there, we’re sorta cousins, which makes Sue my sorta cousin-in-law. LOL. I’d love to photograph them one day, just ‘cause their chemistry is amazing, not to mention they’re both very stylish. The plan is to do a session before their Cebu wedding (yes, they had a California wedding, but Sue wants to have a Cebu wedding soon). Well, Randy is a photographer himself (see samples of his work here), but he can’t do his own pre-second-wedding photos, can he? You guys, this is my sales pitch right here.
#80: My nephew Jamim. Well, his real name is Prince James, but we call him Jamim—a moniker that big sister Oona came up with when should could not pronounce James, and it stuck. He calls me Antle because he can’t pronounce uncle, but that’s alright with me because, really, if you come to think of it, it’s like a portmanteau of aunt and uncle. LOL. He knows alligators are green, and dragons are orange. He loves guitars and drums, and it is my intention to start him early. He smells like Irish Spring, which is why I like to hug him. A lot. He can be clumsy at times, and once he amputated my Deep Space Starscream, but I love him all the same. He is the only human being who sees the good in me, only calling me “Bad!” when I cut his spaghetti into small bits. How nice that somebody in this world is capable of looking at me with a fresh pair of eyes.
#84: My godson Ari is growing up too fast! One day he could barely crawl, and now he was running around The Grove my knees were shaking as I was chasing him around. His mom Cai had asked me to take pictures of him, but it was just diabolically difficult trying to make this one stand still. Note to self: When photographing a child, make sure you’re on Red Bull.
#85 and #86: Couple of photos from my visit to the Kentucky Horse Park. I had promised my cousin Amanda Liok, who loves horses to death, that I was gonna take a lot of photos for her. There’s a certain kind of magic when you look at horses. Maybe it’s their necks. Maybe it’s their manes. Or, could it be their rear ends that remind you of a woman’s behind when she is wearing the right stilettos? I don’t know. I just know it’s magical. But even more enchanting is when you get to know their names. One of the girls I talked to calls her horse Moonshine—who knows if she meant moonlight, or liquor, but this was Kentucky so it’s probably the latter—and that just took my breath away. Another girl calls her horse Alcatraz. Amanda has a couple of horses in her backyard, and all of them have beautiful names: Salsa, Moondance, Taco, Chili. I would love to be able to own a horse one day. Maybe I’ll call it Baroness, after my favorite G.I. Joe character. Or maybe I’ll call it Malibu, after my favorite beach city. Or maybe I’ll call it Lexington, after my favorite summer fling. Or maybe I’ll call it Ava Adore, after my favorite Smashing Pumpkins song. Whatever it is, it definitely won’t be “a horse with no name”—although I kind of love that song, too.
#88, #89 and #90: Who doesn’t love the Santa Monica Pier? I know I do. And not just because this was where Spencer Pratt proposed to Heidi Montag—hey, I was a Baywatch baby long before I became a The Hills hoe. But, of course, it wasn’t the David Charvet types I’d come here to ogle at. Sitting there and watching the birds crisscross the horizon, I thought to myself, “Wow, I would come here everyday if only I could.” There’s this incredibly talented singer-songwriter named Terry Prince (I just recently learned that he has Fililipino roots, too!) who performs there on a regular basis. That definitely added a nice bonus to our visit. I mean, California is the last place you’d expect to find an old soul when it comes to music, and yet here was one guy who was not afraid to share his stories of inspiration through his soulful voice and pared-down melodies. Everyone stopped and listened. My favorite song was “Imagine Love.” I regret not capturing it on video, but, here, someone else did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WZoH2UP4PI. It’s even more beautiful when you’re actually there, I promise. The first few lines of the song goes: “Imagine love/ Imagine heaven here on earth…” I did not need to imagine heaven here on earth. Thanks to the birds, the horizon, and him, I was already standing on it.
My father was a photographer. Well, he was a lot of other things, too—farmer, businessman, practical shooter/handgun enthusiast, tennis player—but it’s the photographer part that’s etched deep in my mind and the first thing I remember whenever I think of him. Was he a professional? Did he have paying clientele? I don’t know. All I know is I grew up tiptoeing around a loft scattered with cameras of all shapes and sizes—Polaroid Sun 600s here, a couple of Leicas there, 35 mm Nikon SLRs everywhere—and other photographic equipment, including tripods, one of them I’m sure I used as hobby horse at one point. When it wasn’t makeshift hobby horse time or Lego time or Atari time I could be found sprawled on the family room hardwood floor, leafing through piles and piles of his prints—some of me and my brothers in various stages of infancy, mostly of my mother in various states of fancy (apparently that was how the courtship had went—my mom skipping and jumping and dancing and laughing and beaming and singing and breathing, and my dad documenting her every move in film). Easily my favorites were his double exposures, and this one print of a chubby-cheeked me as a rotary dial was my favorite thing to bring to show and tell—never failed to elicit ooohs and aaahs from classmates whose baby pictures were humdrum. Of course, toting an instant camera helped boost my schoolyard cred, too. Apart from my dad’s personal work, I was also surrounded by works of genius—he loved collecting documentary photography books, a good chunk of them on war photography, including the first edition of Philip Jones Griffiths’s Vietnam Inc. I suppose there was a darkroom somewhere, possibly tucked between the storage where our plastic model kits sat in various states of disrepair and this room where a small group of his workers packed all sorts of stuff (from chocolate tablets to banana chips), but in the time of A Nightmare on Elm Street you wouldn’t dare consider exploring rooms that were, well, dark, even with trusty old Atari joystick in hand. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d gone looking for it anyway, Freddy Krueger be damned. Oh, well, it bites that you can’t turn back time.
Around the time I turned ten or so I decided I was old enough to get into hobbies outside, well, hobby horses (and Galaga and Donkey Kong Jr.), and taking from my parents’ interests seemed the most practical. From my mom I took her love for music, and went on to learn the piano—the only thing that rivaled the photography books for shelf space was sheet music (her father was a music teacher). For some reason, though, it wasn’t taking pictures that I decided to take on from my dad—instead, I asked him to take me to tennis clinic. I don’t know, perhaps as early as then I’d seemed to know that the former was going to be expensive—a box of Polaroid film alone would cost more than an entire summer of tennis lessons, not to mention they were very hard to come by in the small town where we lived. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d gone for it anyway—if he could afford to buy me some swank racquets there was no reason he couldn’t afford to get me a good beginner’s camera. Oh, well, it bites that you can’t turn back time.
By the time I reached early teenagerhood I stopped playing the piano and dropped the tennis racquets and started toying with my maternal grandfather’s typewriter. I wrote furiously, neurotically, although no one really read my works, save for my maternal grandmother, who would nod in approval every time even when my syntax was flawed and my figures of speech all over the place. Yes, my early works, as you would’ve suspected, were just a tendril short of crap—how deluded was I when I attempted to create, for example, a local version of Sweet Valley High? It all got a little better in time, though, as I slowly outgrew my fondness for implausibly sunkissed blonde twins, and I got published for the very first time in The Philippine Star’s youth lifestyle section when I was 15. Three or so years later I became an editor at a local daily’s youth lifestyle section, and soon after became associate editor and youth section editor at a local magazine. Somewhere in the midst of all this frenzy, I became a stylist, too—I’d figured, to be a credible fashion journalist one had had to walk the talk. This was the time I got to work with some of the most amazing photographers I know. Jon Unson was an incredible to work with—not only did he encourage me to push the envelop in each and every shoot I styled, he also made sure each session was going to be educational (he was always explaining to me what he was doing and what he was aiming to achieve, was always eager to let me in on the planning and conceptualizing stages, and his vast collection of rare art and fashion magazines became my library for a year or so). And then there was Wig Tysmans, whom I’d been commissioned to work with for two fashion editorials for the now-defunct glossy CeBu!, who took us outdoors and gave us a crash course on light and luminance—I remember him talking about “the magical hour,” that sliver of time between when the sun starts to set and when it disappears completely, and I just stood there open-mouthed as it all unfolded, and as he seized ten different hues of a sunset in a single frame. During this period I was living alone, away from family, and being around these gifted and generous people who made work feel like it wasn’t work, and who taught me everything I’d failed to learn from my father, made me feel like I was home. My parents would visit from time to time, and I’d tell my dad about these extraordinarily talented people I was working with and their fascinating craft, and then he’d tell me, “Don’t say I never gave you a camera!” It appeared that he’d given me his Nikon N8008 when he’d arrived from a trip to Vegas in the early ‘90s, but I’d turned it down, saying all I’d wanted was a new typewriter. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d taken it anyway. Oh, well, again, it bites that you can’t turn back time.
It would take another couple of years for me to get my very first camera, a Nikon Zoom 500 or something that looked like it—yes, compact, and secondhand, because I was living from meager paycheck to meager paycheck at the time—which I lost four months later on a trip to Manila to stalk the boundary-pushing streetwear designer Cecile Zamora and the equally fierce stylist/DJ Angelo Villanueva. Two years later I got my first digital camera, a Kodak DC3200—again, compact, and secondhand, because it was all I could afford. Boxy, heavy (it required 4 AA batteries), and in the dullest shade of gray (the color of a battleship), it looked (and, I should add, sounded) more like a toy than a camera, but it did the job pretty well, save for the overactive flash, and so it stuck with me for a good four years—such a trouper, I know! I was gonna say the thing served its purpose as a good personal camera, but it would be remiss in my part if I said I never used it “professionally,” because the truth is I sort of have—in my one-year stint as lifestyle editor for a local weekly in my hometown, we used it for a good number of features that required accompanying portraits, even travelogues. Were they show-stopping images? Well, not quite. But I thought they were pretty decent—for newsprint, at least. And then my dad stepped into the picture. Yes, it was around this time that he started to pay attention to my work; normally, you see, he wouldn’t touch on the subject of my writing, but since this time around my work involved accompanying pictures he began to feel the need to pitch in. “You whites are burnt out—what are you doing about that?” “Watch your lines—composition is important.” “Your photos are almost always published in black and white, so understanding contrast is key.” “Practice a little bit of framing; it can be flattering.” For the first of these feedback sessions I kind of listened, but for what followed I took less and less to heart. Because this was a parent there was this childish tendency for me to suspect that he was just taking advantage of the situation to point out the things I was doing badly. Also, with the dearth of stuff to write about in a small town, I had to focus on digging for stories rather than spend time learning a new craft—besides, I would rationalize, people knew me as a writer, not as a photographer or art director, so they wouldn’t care if the visuals were mediocre as long as the writing was pretty damn good. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d paid close attention to what he’d had to say, hung on to every word, taken down notes. Oh, well, it bites that you can’t turn back time.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2008 that I learned to recognize the value of photography as a tool to help me see the world and tell stories in ways that could be markedly different from the written word. I was on my very first trip out of the country, and was therefore saddled with the task to document every little experience for those waiting at home. “Your camera ready?” my dad had asked days before my flight out. Naturally, I’d assured him, two cameras, in fact. “You sure you don’t need a new one?” he’d asked, and to this I’d shaken my head, and he’d said OK, fine—knowing me, he’d probably had a sneaking suspicion I’d only put them in my checklist to make sure something was there to document my outfit opportunities, anyways, so he’d fought the urge to push. And, true to form, during my first few days in Los Angeles, all I did was shop and have photos of me in my new clothes taken, under the false illusion that maybe a profile picture of me wearing some Urban Outfitters and against some kickass stencil graffiti down N La Brea would land me a spot in the MySpace Muses section of WhoWhatWear.com (and how depressing is that, right?). And then the day came when everyone I knew was too busy to show me around, and so I was left with no choice but to go around on my own, walking (yes, walking, a breach in convention by New Wave standards since Missing Persons had declared that “nobody walks in L.A.”) a half mile from my friend’s Wilshire Center neighborhood to Melrose, and another two miles down Melrose looking for the People’s Revolution offices to stalk Kelly Cutrone. With no one there to take pictures of me, for the first time in a long time my camera was turned away from, well, me and actually saw the world. Melrose, particularly that section between La Brea and Fairfax, was quintessential, dead-on L.A.—equal parts offbeat and classic, crass and urbane, languid and dynamic, cluttered and tidy, unworldly and worldly, it was like being caught between two places, definitely unlike anything I’d ever seen in the movies or television. Falling more and more in love with the city with every step I took, I yanked my camera out of my tote and just fired away, taking pictures of every nook and cranny, of every hustle and bustle, of every passerby suspecting or unsuspecting. I snapped and snapped, more obsessively by the minute, for the record, for me to look back on, for others who’d ever wondered. It was an epiphany of sorts: Here was a prompt, convenient, all-encapsulating way to document—a pen and journal, albeit brave, wouldn’t have sufficed. So I didn’t get to spot Ms. Cutrone, but I stumbled upon a new hobby—not bad at all. Instant-replaying my shots as I called it a day, waggling at the few hits and snorting at the hundreds of misses, I thought of how much painless all of this would’ve been had I taken my dad up on his offer to buy me a better camera. But, oh, well, I was here, and there was no turning back the hands of time.
One of the last conversations I had with my father was about cameras. I was home visiting, having just returned from the City of Angels, and was showing him my shots from Melrose, a.k.a. my feeble attempt at street/documentary photography. They were nowhere as good as his shots from Vegas/Reno from years back, of course—or any of his shots, for that matter—but he gave me his stamp of approval, and declared I was ready to graduate from point-and-shoot to SLR. At first the idea of a heavy black box that needed to have its own bag (or to be carried around your neck) and that required careful handling and that entailed a number of accessories frightened me, but then I figured, hey, if I had to jump at this I had to go all out. So I told him I was willing to take him up on his offer to get me a new camera this time, if it still stood, and, to my dismay, he said yes, but on one condition: it had to be film-based. “Do they even sell those still?” I whimpered. But then again I’d seen it coming. The thing about my dad was he kicked it old school, tenaciously, almost to a fault—never got tired of his Jeep CJ, for example, which he’d had since his adolescent years, in favor of compact cars or other more sophisticated forms of transportation. And so it was no surprise that he wasn’t a huge fan of digital photography. With film, he said, “you are forced to have this discipline, to exercise restraint, and it gives you room to really study your bad shots—unlike digital, where you can take a hundred shots of a single frame and just discard the 99 that are bad and keep the one that’s good.” He had a point, but I remained obstinate. “If you want to be good at this, you have to learn it the hard way,” he’d added. After much prodding, though, he agreed to meet me halfway—i.e., I was to get myself a DSLR body, and he would buy me all the lenses that I wanted. Sounded like a deal to me. I was excited that I was about to start a new creative journey. And he was kind of thrilled, too—if not at the idea that, finally, he and I had something in common (after failed attempts to get me interested long enough in tennis, or at all in trips to the farm, family business stuff, or pistols), then at least at the idea that his prodigal progeny was going to be needing to see him more frequently than the usual twice-a-year. Am I making this stuff up—the part about him being kind of thrilled? People are going to ask that, knowing my father was nothing if not hard to read. Well, the answer is no. Before we said goodbye, I asked for a photo with him, which my friend Carlo took. My dad, he was never fond of being in front of a camera, always preferred to stand behind it—he was never a smiley person, too, and was always stiff, even when the situation called for one to be tender. But he said yes to this one photo, and even managed to put on a half-smile.
Little did I know that that was going to be the last photo of me and my father. He would pass away, in a freak motor accident, a little over three months later, just three days shy of my thirtieth birthday, which was when I’d originally intended to get myself a present in the form of the camera body that we’d talked about. It’s sad when the cookie crumbles, but even more heartbreaking when your world falls apart. In the wake of his death it all hung like a dark cloud over me, the promises that never came to fruition—not just the more prosaic ones like the camera situation, but the graver things, too, like my promise to be a good son and a good brother, and everything else in between. I began to wonder how the feminist artist Kiki Smith, daughter of American modernist sculptor Tony Smith, must have felt when her works were put alongside a retrospective of her father’s, some twenty years after his passing—“I remember being embarrassed because he had a beard or drove strange cars,” she had been quoted as saying. In my eulogy for my dad I touched on the subject of my self-imposed semi-estrangement from him and the rest of my family. It was no secret that I had distanced myself from and turned my back on him in more ways than one, and I would reason that that was because I was trying to be my own person, but, really, the truth was I terrified that his idiosyncrasies would rub off on me—not knowing that the more I’d ran the more I’d taken parts of him with me, and I had only been wasting my time, throwing away what had promised to be a relationship inundated by creativity. Tearfully I expressed my regret in front of friends and family. But no amount of tears could turn back time. All that was left to do was to move forward, and hope that, no matter how tragic things had turned out, a wonderfully consoling outcome was waiting for me somewhere, somehow. The good son and good brother parts I am still working on up to this very day, as I am writing this. The camera, though, I got to pick up last year, some fourteen months after his passing, and it’s never left my side ever since—a part of my father that has stuck with me, and that is going to be stuck with me, hopefully for a very long time. Of course, the aforementioned last snapshot of me and him is stuck with me, too—as a soothing reminder that, while we are not able to turn back the hands of time, at least some things can be, well, frozen in time.
I guess that’s what’s good about love in the time of the camera.
It hasn’t been easy having to learn the ropes on my own. Sure, there are people around me who’ve been doing this a long time, but every time I push my luck a door is slammed on my face. No hard feelings, especially since I’ve come to understand that times have changed, and are changing—advancement in digital photography has made the craft accessible to almost everyone, and as the landscape becomes oversaturated people are looking for more and more ways to stand out and be cut above the rest, and unfortunately for some one way to do that is to hold back on the sharing. The deplorable part is when people accuse you of being a “copycat,” thinking they own the craft just because they happened to pick up a camera a few years before you could do so yourself. I was unlucky enough to have undergone such travail. There were days it would get so bad and I’d find myself giving up cold turkey. But somehow during these days memories of my father would manage to manifest, and so I’d pick my head up. Case in point: Just a couple of months ago I was in L.A. visiting my sister, and I was this close to selling my camera to a friend from college, but then I made a quick trip to the Getty, and at the time Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties was on exhibition, featuring the works of the likes of Mary Ellen Mark, James Nachtwey, and Philip Jones Griffiths, and then I was brought face-to-face with a print of Griffiths’s seminal image of a Marine talking to a Vietnamese peasant girl in a paddy field, my dad’s favorite image from Vietnam Inc. And just like that I decided to keep the camera. It’s kind of a bittersweet thing, really, how he’s no longer here to teach or guide me, and yet it’s like he’s all around me, just pushing.
You might be wondering why I chose to tell this story to inaugurate my blog. Well, the principal reason is a rather simple one: Today is Father’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than by paying homage to my old man? There is a collateral reason, though, that I feel needs to go on record. You see, ever since I got a camera I have been getting a lot of flak from friend and foe alike, saying that I only got interested in photography because of a boy. While I will admit that, for a time there, I was head over heels with a guy who happens to be a photographer—and a very, very talented one at that—he wasn’t, isn’t and will never be the reason that I got myself into this. Does this boy inspire me? Well, yes. But then so do a lot of other stuff, like the Pacific Coast Highway, grunge, horse names, Beat poetry, birds, Catherine Deneuve, Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. And that’s just talking about right now. Maybe tomorrow it’s going to be, well, “Maybe Tomorrow” by Stereophonics. My point being that, while inspiration is a critical part of every creative process, it is often fleeting, temporary, and can be substituted at a snap of your fingers. A birthright, however, is steadfast and headstrong, has no hiding place, and is not something you can just shake off or put away. Trust me, I am tempted to attribute this whole thing to affairs of the heart, but there’s no denying that there’s no affair quite like a family affair. And so, once and for all, to dispel the rumors and to disabuse some of you of that notion, let it be known that I’m doing this not because of a boy, but because of a man.
This blog is dedicated in loving memory of my father, Jose Francisco Serafica Kangleon. I am probably never going to be as good as him—or anyone in this field, for that matter. I am probably never going to get people to stop and say oooh and aaah. I am probably never going to get people to show some respect. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop soldiering on. Some people are going to do a cursory glance-over at my work, dismiss it as amateur, perhaps even make ominous forecasts about it, but that’s alright. Because maybe it is amateur, maybe terribly so even. I will come clean and admit that I’ve never attended a single photography workshop, that there’s no more technical know-how in me than in an intermediate-level child photographer (I mean, I look at my lens blower and I am baffled by it!), and that I do not have the discipline or patience to organize my camera bag or my mood boards or my shooting schedule. More often than not I rely on whim and not on white balance, forget to mind my composition in favor of caprice, attach importance to accidents vs., say, aperture. Pretty clumsy, you might say. Like on this one late afternoon two years ago, in the fall, I was walking towards the corner of Wilshire and S Manhattan Pl looking for The Wiltern (to see if I could score tickets to an Aimee Mann/Fountains of Wayne gig), and I stopped dead on my tracks and pointed my camera to the sky upon remembering it was my dad’s birthday, his first since his passing. The resulting picture was not of his face among the clouds, of course—it was of a flock of birds, gracefully gliding through rays of the California sunset, almost Hitchcockian, top-to-bottom surreal. Is that sort of stuff amateur? Maybe so. I don’t know. All I know is that it’s magical. And I have my old man to thank for it.