There is one thing I love more than California, and that’s my little niece Mikaela, who happens to be, well, made in California! To say that I’ve adored her since she was born is kind of an understatement—truth is, I’ve been head over heels with her even before she could pop out of her mommy’s belly! My sister and I were taking a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk one excruciatingly hot afternoon in the summer of 2010, and that was when she first announced to me that she was preggo. So there I was soaking up the scenery, thinking of Tom Kapinos’s Californication because this was the very place where many of my favorite scenes from that series had been shot, especially that one scene some 8 minutes into the second episode of the fourth season where Madeleine Martin’s character little Becca Moody plays her electric guitar at the Boardwalk for some cash—and here was my sister telling me she was expecting, and that it was probably going to be a girl! Suddenly my mind was running wild with thoughts of what this baby girl was going to turn out like. Was she going to be the quintessential California girl, à la Lauren Conrad—you know, a sucker for the beach, adored dogs, obsessed with shopping and makeup, and with a megawatt smile that looked like it had a thousand summers written on it? That would be nice, I thought. But then as I walked further down the Boardwalk, past the Schwarzenegger types pumping iron at the Muscle Beach Gym, past the turban-sporting electric guitarist on roller skates, past the ageing hipsters taking a nap under palm trees (or holding up placards that advertised “Shitty Advice for $1!”), I realized that deep inside I didn’t want a California sweetheart for a niece—I wanted one who was hardcore, someone who got mad guitar skills, just like Becca Moody! And so for months that was the stuff my daydreams were made of: my niece playing her electric guitar for passersby at the Boardwalk—and it would be a song with a killer guitar solo, too, like, say, “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, or “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam—and me sitting on the bench behind her with a proud, arrogant smile on my face. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
What I failed to consider was that babies don’t just turn into guitar-toting teenagers overnight—they actually have to go through a phase called, well, babyhood, where all they like to do is coo, crawl, and cuddle. (Hey, we’ve all had poor sense of time at one point or another, right? LOL!) Not to say that this disappointed me, of course. When I returned to L.A. this year and saw this little munchkin waiting for me at the airport, my heart melted all the same. I mean, come on, look at those chubby cheeks! And those big, round eyes! And those plump legs! She had just turned one, so her coos were a little loud now, and she was slowly transitioning from crawling to walking now—the cuddling part didn’t come until a little later (she would not come anywhere near me during the first couple of days), but when it did I found it very hard to stop!
I thought it was kind of cute how she didn’t have a lot of hair on her yet. At first I found this a little alarming, but then my mom told us that that had been us, too—”It wasn’t until you turned 2 or so that you began to grow a full head of hair.” It was just amusing and awkward at the same time how people would come up to Mikee (that’s how we call her) and say, “What an adorable little boy!” and so I had to explain, every single time, that “She’s actually a girl!” It didn’t help that, every time we tied a bow around her head or made her wear headbands with girly girl detail (rosettes, lace trimmings, etc.), she’d only put them on for a few minutes before taking them off and tearing them apart! Such a monster when it comes to those head adornments, I kid you not—she thinks of them as the enemy!
She’s also a monster when it comes to French fries, and by that I mean she devours them like there is no tomorrow. Some folks’ brows are going to raise, because you really aren’t supposed to expose babies to that kind of stuff, but can you help it if it’s the only thing that makes their eyes light up and their mouths water? I’m not sure how it started, but we were at the Hollywood In-N-Out one afternoon, and while the rest of us were busy surreptitiously taking photos of Derek Hough (of Dancing with the Stars) and Maria Menounos (of Extra, formerly of Access Hollywood), she remained oblivious to the celluloid-crazy world around her and carried on with her fries, leaving none for us! Yes, she is very, very territorial about them—she will gladly share everything else, like her Apple Jacks or her Pinkberry or her Wetzel’s Pretzels, but she will never share her fries, thank you very much!
But dislike of headbands and French fry hoarding aside, she really was just a sweet little thing. Funny that she turned out to be the California sweetheart that I had initially wanted to take a pass on, yet I was enjoying it immensely. For one, I love that she turned out to be a water baby, squealing with delight every time we brought her to the beach, or some pool, or even if it was just the bathtub—and she could rock the bikini like no other, too! She also had a soft spot for dogs, and this one time she stopped a middle-aged dog walker dead in his tracks on the corner of Hollywood and N Orange so she could make friends with his chichi Chihuahuas. She also loved it whenever we took her shopping—which was 80% of the time—and even if she wasn’t old enough yet to choose her own clothes (of course) she was always willing to try on every single thing we picked for her, and she enjoyed rummaging through our shopping bags, too. Another thing she loved rummaging through was her mom’s makeup kit—my sister would leave the whole thing unattended, and five minutes later there’s lipstick and eyeliner and compact powder all over the place! And then there’s her smile—I don’t really need to describe it because you can see it in these photos, but if I really must then I will need to borrow a line from that one Collective Soul song: it’s got that “sunshine bright-eyed California cotton candy taste!”
So I never got the Becca Moody that I’d hoped for, and instead I got a little Lauren Conrad, but that’s totally fine. The Becca Moody phase will manifest sooner or later. Happy to report that her musical inclination is starting to kick in already! Just a couple of weeks back my brother-in-law (her dad) expressed that he wanted to get her a present, but was torn between a puppy and a guitar—he’d seen how much she adored dogs (the Chihuahua encounter in Hollywood), but could not discount the fact that every time he picked up his guitar she would stare dreamily and even try her hand at strumming. This problem was solved a few days later when he got her a guitar in the shape of a hound dog (by B. Toys) from Target! And speaking of Target, I must not discredit the fact that, during my last few days in L.A. and we would find ourselves in a Target to shop for camera accessories, she would gravitate towards the musical instruments department, pick up some drum sticks, and just start banging away at every surface in sight (we even got into trouble at one of the Culver City Targets when the salesperson approached us and asked us to “please watch your baby because these are very expensive drum sticks”)! And when we took her to Griffith Park so she could play in the grass she was quick to pick up two dead twigs the size and shape of, well, drum sticks, and that was all she played with the whole time! And when we took her for a stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk she was first to spot this miniature piano (that belonged to a piano-playing Malti-Poo called Coco), and rushing towards the thing was the first time she’s ever ran so fast in her life!
So now I don’t know: Is she going to grow up to be a guitarist, or a drummer, or a keyboardist? One thing is for sure: She is going to go places. And she is going to rock people’s worlds. I mean, she’s already got a head start—she’s already rocking mine!
Mikaela K. Arradaza | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on April 2012, and in San Diego, CA, and Van Nuys, CA, on May 2012
I was at a vintage/junk shop in Williamsburg helping a friend look for various curios/bric-à-brac for her redecorating project when I got stuck in a corner with piles and piles of antique chests and was reminded of my mom. She would’ve loved it here, I thought as I ran my fingers through the more gorgeous ones (especially those with intricate carvings, brass trimmings and bone inlays)—my mom has always had a thing for old chests and trunks. I inched away from that recess to rejoin my friend, only to bump into a wall of floor-to-ceiling vintage vinyl—David Bowie’s Low from 1977, The Clash’s London Calling from 1979, Michael Jackson’s Thriller from 1982, The Smiths’ eponymous debut album from 1984 and Meat is Murder from 1985, etc.—and the whole thing reminded me of, well, my mom again, her love of music, and how I’d been surrounded by her (and her father’s) collection of vinyl growing up. Well before I could explore the entire shop it occurred to me that it was going to be Mother’s Day in just a few days—and I was nowhere near my mother! I certainly picked the wrongest of times to put an ocean between us. (And my sister, who’d recently become a mother, I’d left in L.A.!) I was starting to feel bad about my choice of travel dates when I realized that, hey, I wasn’t exactly going to be mother-less (or sister-less) on Mother’s Day—although my mom was some 7,000 miles away (and my sister some 2,000), I still had someone to celebrate with here in New York, and she was right under my nose!
Anne Alegrado is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and is my perennial hostess in New York. It was her that I’d stayed with during my first visit to the Big Apple in the fall of 2009. At the time she and her little family had lived in a modest-size 24th-floor apartment off 3rd on the Upper East Side, just a mere four blocks away from Central Park’s E 72nd entrance. So I’d crashed in their couch, and that was when I had grown fond of her children, and witnessed firsthand how much of an amazing mother she was. I think I wrote about this in a previous post—about how Anne liked to grow her own vegetables in her Brooklyn backyard during the day (yes, they have since hightailed it from the Upper East), and then squeeze her way through throngs of sweaty rock fans at, say, Terminal 5 to watch Nine Inch Nails live in concert, after tucking her babies in bed. I don’t know about you, but I personally find this trait praiseworthy. This was actually the subject of conversation between a common friend and I, one rainy evening when Anne dragged us to a Chairlift concert at the Webster Hall—Anne was swaying her head to “Bruises,” and we stared at her admirably, agreeing that it was cool what she was doing, enjoying her big city life to the fullest without sacrificing her quality of motherhood. This was what prompted me to consider: Who better to celebrate my first Mother’s Day in New York with than this super cool mom right here?
Come to think of it, Anne reminded me of my mom in some ways, too. One thing I loved about my mom was that we shared the same taste in music, and that was me and Anne, too—we both loved the same rock bands, and we shared a concert bucket list (from which we’d just scratched the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails off of). And, like my mom, she, too, loved decorating and home improvement—in Anne’s case, it all started when she’d moved to that first apartment of theirs in the Upper East (apparently a first NYC apartment is like a milestone of sorts, and so you have to do it up, and do it up good), and then mushroomed when the move to Brooklyn had afforded her more room (and that’s literally speaking) to get creative. Now she was telling me about how she had every intention of going all-out Rita Konig—scouring the city for the best antique/junk shops, and even looking at design school catalogs to find out where the best short courses on interior design were being offered.
And so I told her I was spending Mother’s Day with her and her family, and that I had a Mother’s Day present for her in the form of a family photo session. It was a long overdue thing, anyway—when they’d visited Cebu a couple of months back I’d promised to take pictures of her and her kids, but then we’d had trouble reconciling our schedules so that plan had never materialized. I was afraid she would say no, thinking her husband Jovi and the kids had had something planned already. Turned out they had already made plans, alright, “but it’s just a simple Mother’s Day lunch at home, so, by all means, join us!” She said “simple,” yes, but I knew I was in for a real treat—never a dull moment when it’s her family we’re talking about!
Loved, loved, loved their new neighborhood. Can’t recall if it was Prospect Park South, or Kensington—it may have even been Greenwood, due to its close proximity to the Green-Wood Cemetery—but it was right by the Church Ave. station, somewhere in the right atrium of the heart of Brooklyn. I especially loved how the tree-lined streets and brick terrace homes—and the peace and quiet—lent the place a kind of suburban feel, very refreshing for me because all I’d ever seen in the past week or so were skyscrapers, high-rises, tower blocks, and the fast-paced life. It was like being handed a bunch of homemade cookies after days of having nothing but, say, tiered cakes! This cookie’s soft and gooey center I found once I walked up to Anne’s charming American foursquare, and there they were, her and hubby and their two kids, flocked in the kitchen making spaghetti with meatballs, and Devil’s food cake cupcakes. For the first time in a long time, I felt right at home.
My original plan was to take them outdoors for the shoot—I was thinking the Williamsburg waterfront, that area where the Domino Sugar plant stood like a beacon, because I wanted a kind of industrial feel to underscore Anne’s indie rock-loving persona; I even thought of Coney Island, inspired by that one pivotal scene from 2003’s Uptown Girls starring Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning (and so the kids could have a good time while I was photographing them)—but as I showed myself around their house, admiring every little detail, I began to feel it would be very remiss of me not to show this side of Anne, the young mother who worked very hard to create a lovely home for her family. Just like that, we decided to stay put. Most people cringe at the thought of being photographed in a domestic setting, but thank God Anne wasn’t like most people. I don’t know why people think being photographed at home is unglamorous. I mean, it’s all a matter of imagination! For her first set Anne and I decided to add a Bree Van de Kamp touch to it—you know, with one hand on the dishwasher, the other cradling a glass of Chardonnay. Needless to say, the photos came out gorgeous!
I was so happy I finally got the chance to photograph their daughter Ellis. Even if I hadn’t brought a camera and we’d made this nothing more than a “couch and a movie” kind of afternoon, I’d still be happy just being around the little girl. Two and a half years ago I’d waxed poetic about how Ellis was the most profound thing to ever happen to my first New York trip when she’d acted as my little tour guide and taught me to look at things through a little girl’s eyes—her referring to the Brooklyn Bridge as “the bridge from the princess movie” (Enchanted), her teaching me how to “do some mathematics” in your head to keep your mind off all that walking, and her showing me it was OK to take a power nap on your subway train from point A to point B, all these I’d kept very close to my heart, because these were the only ways I could have ever appreciated the real New York. It made my heart balloon that she still remembered me, but it delighted me even more to see how much she’d grown in just a few years. Thanks to a The Beatles songbook that she’d gotten from her mom, she was learning how to sing now; and thanks to an acoustic guitar that she’d gotten from her dad, she was learning to strum, too! And as if all that wasn’t enough, the folks had to get her a journal, too, and so now she was also getting her write stuff on! She showed me some of the stuff she’d written, and I’d never been prouder of a child in my life! She even wrote a little something about me as I was taking pictures of her in her bedroom! What a sweetheart! Asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, without hesitation she shared that she wanted to be a musician. I hope she ends up becoming a writer, though. Or, come to think of it, it wouldn’t be impossible for her to end up becoming both—not only was she being raised in such a nurturing and devoted home environment, she was also living in this incredible city where it was virtually impossible to be uninspired!
As for little Lucas, well, I wasn’t too sure where it was coming from, but he said he wanted to be a ninja when he grew up. You know, at first he didn’t even want to be part of the shoot—he saw me yank my camera out and then he ran as far away from me as possible—but then his mom tried to cajole him into it by telling him that “Uncle Angel here is a real ninja from California, don’t you know that?” Of course, the little boy didn’t believe her, even sized me up to see if there really was a single martial arts bone in my body (funny that whenever I am at the Narita or Nagoya airports people would come up to me and start talking to me in Japanese, but that there is no fooling a little boy). Ultimately it was Ellis who won the coaxing game by handing him a cup of yogurt. Yes, nothing like a little dairy product to make him weak in the knees, but don’t get him wrong: he really was serious about the whole ninja business. At one point I went down to their basement to check if there was anything in there that was photographable, but had to hurry back up because I could feel the asbestos falling from the ceiling, thanks to Lucas who wouldn’t stop practicing his flying kick on the floor directly above me! Happy to report, though, that he allowed me to take a few shots of him, and that no photographic equipment—or bones—were harmed in the process.
I’d never thought I’d enjoy photographing children this much. I’d never even thought I’d be photographing children, ever! I’d sworn to myself that I would never do anything that involved kids, thinking it would be too much of a pain in the backside to get them to sit still or whatever. But then I’d met my mentor Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography), and she’d taught me how to “make a connection” with these little ones: “Just let them be,” she’d opined, “[because] if you ask them to pose or move [in a certain way] you won’t get to capture who they really are—it’s like you’re telling them to quit being children.” That was exactly the formula that I stuck to right here as I was photographing Ellis and Lucas. Ellis didn’t want to pretend like she was reading a certain book? Fine. Lucas didn’t want to put a shirt on? Fine! I just basically let them call the shots. And, you know what, it kind of worked! Because that way it became all about me trying to find that child-like wonder in order to level with them—not them trying to “grow up” to level with me! I hope these photos show that happening.
We were supposed to take the shoot outdoors after doing two sets indoors. Anne wanted to take me to the neighboring Green-Wood Cemetery because “the vibe there is so…ethereal.” Unfortunately, by the time we got there the property had already closed for the day. A common friend who tagged along with us for the afternoon quipped that she was kind of thankful the place was closed because “taking pictures in a cemetery is kind of creepy!” I wouldn’t have complained, though. I mean, to be able to shoot at a place where great people like the neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story) have been laid to rest? That would’ve been something, right? Oh, well, there is always a next time. I was actually thankful we didn’t get to do it at the time—gave us the chance to just melt in the couch and pop in Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. I got to have my “couch and a movie” kind of afternoon, after all!
Thank you, Anne (and hubby Jovi!), for once again opening up your home to me, and for giving me a family away from home! One day I will find a way to repay you for your incredible hospitality. Until that day comes, let’s just settle for me documenting your little ones’ milestones as they journey through the years!
Roxanne Roldan-Alegrado and her children Ellis and Lucas | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Brooklyn, NY, on May 13, 2012
I don’t know, but do you think the universe is trying to tell me something by throwing planes my way? Of course, when I say “throwing planes my way” I don’t mean that in the literal sense, but, well, almost. It all began with my first commercial/catalog assignment (for Shandar), which entailed photographing one of the models in a hangar. A couple of months later I would find myself in another airplane shed to do an Amelia Earhart-inspired set for a “vintage travel”-themed engagement session. And now here I was at the Van Nuys Airport for a family session!
If the name Mayce Arradaza rings a bell, that’s because she’s responsible for hair and makeup for most of the shoots I did in California. I wanted to do something in return for all the help she’d extended , so I offered one afternoon to photograph her and her family. Her partner Arvin is a pilot and a flight instructor, so it was a little difficult to pin him down. When he finally found the time in his busy schedule to come home to California, he had to be at the Van Nuys Airport to see an old friend and colleague, and so we decided to tag along and just do the session right there.
It was pretty sweltering in the San Fernando Valley that day (I think we were up to the mid-80s by the time we got to the airport) that I almost felt bad that I’d asked Mayce to be bundled up in scarves—the inspiration was Lauren Conrad’s airport looks, you see, which consisted of tunics, black leggings, brown boots, and scarves—but she never complained. I told her to just stand still and not move too much, that way it wouldn’t turn into a sweaty, sticky situation, but it was impossible not to move because their little girl Aira was so hyperactive that day, darting from one corner to another, and somebody had to chase her around somehow!
Of course, no one was about to chide Aira—in fact, we encouraged her to run around some more. All this frolic was like an answer to our prayers, you see, because the little girl was usually very shy and didn’t like her picture taken. In the days leading to this shoot we’d taken her out a couple of times (to Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Pier, and even San Diego!) for a few test shots, but she just wouldn’t smile for the camera! There were times she’d even hide! Luckily she was in a very playful mood that day at the airport, and she didn’t mind me taking pictures of her at all! She even brought her own camera—a Fisher-Price—so she could take her own pictures, too!
At first I had no idea where Aira’s change of mood was coming from—I thought it had something to do with the fact that we bribed her with Wetzels Pretzels (she’s crazy about their Cheddar Cheese dip). As the afternoon progressed, though, it became very clear she was just happy to be around her airplane. And, no, I am not talking about one of the model planes that we asked her to play with for some of the shots—those belong to her Dad. I am talking about the real deal red-and-white 1981 Cessna 152 that we used as backdrop for this shoot! Yes, that is her plane! Arvin bought it for and named it after her. Exactly how many little girls can claim that their dad bought them a plane? My guess is not a lot! Aira is a very, very lucky girl.
Which brings us back to my original question: What is it about planes and hangars and airports, and why do I gravitate towards them? Does it mean that, like Aira, I’m lucky, too? I hope it’s nothing ominous or anything. I mean, they’re keeping me busy, so that should be a good thing, right? Let’s hope so. I should consider myself lucky, right, to be able to shoot at a storied location? How many people can claim that they’ve shot at a place where some of the more important scenes from 1942’s Casablanca were shot? My guess is not a lot!
Speaking of luck, I got real lucky that day when, on the way home from the airport, Mayce and Arvin decided to make a quick stopover at the LACMA so I could take a few shots of them with Chris Burden’s Urban Light—the installation of restored antique street lamps from various Southern California municipalities, at the museum’s entrance on Wilshire—as backdrop. Didn’t exactly have strobist equipment on me in order to be able to take decent night shots, and plus the whole thing didn’t exactly fit the aviation theme, but who was I to say no to this place? Here was my chance to tick one off my dream locations list! You’d think shooting at a legendary airport would be enough for me, but, no, I just had to get me some Urban Light!
Yes, Urban Light is one of those L.A. landmarks that I never get tired of. I don’t know, but just look at that whole thing, and tell me if it isn’t the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. To me, though, it’s more than just beautiful. They say it’s easy to lose yourself in a city like L.A.—there’s even a song that goes, “Remember, Hollywood’s not America”—and I sure can attest to that. Luckily I have this place to run to whenever I need to regain composure and borrow some optimism. I look up at those lamps and I am rejuvenated. To me, they represent a future that’s bright. And, unlike airplanes, they may not signify dreams that are about to take flight, but they sure do remind me of those that are standing tall.
Arvin Nacario Eslit, Mayce Aparis Arradaza and their daughter Aira | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Van Nuys and Los Angeles, CA, on May 24, 2012
When I told my friends that I wanted to photograph “a bunch of California girls,” most of them were quick to roll their eyes and quip, “Oh, it’s obvious you want a The Hills-inspired shoot!” or “Let me guess: Lauren Conrad in your mood board?” While I will admit that I am crazy about Lauren Conrad and her gang (it’s no secret, after all, that one of the main reasons for this recent trip of mine to the City of Angels was to meet her in person—you know, as a birthday present to myself), allow me to lay my cards on the table and say that my California cultural references do not stop at The Hills or Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. I also happen to be obsessed with, say, the L.A.-born photographer Herb Ritts, and I am constantly studying his body of work and always looking for ways to incorporate that magical Ritts touch into my own aesthetic (another reason for this trip was so I could see the Herb Ritts: L.A. Style exhibition at the Getty—ongoing until August 26, by the way, so go now if you haven’t yet). Bret Easton Ellis and most of his works are also very California to me. And, of course, I grew up to Beverly Hills, 90210 and Baywatch, which means that Shannen Doherty will always be my number one bad girl crush (sorry, Kristin Cavallari) and that Pamela Anderson will always be my favorite plastic (sorry, Heidi Montag). And I happen to be a fan of the, um, “manlier” shows, too, like Entourage, for example. But as far as TV shows about California go, Tom Kapinos’s Californication will forever be on top of my list, and that’s thanks to Madeleine Martin’s character Becca Moody, and Natascha McElhone’s character Karen van der Beek. Becca is the main protagonist Hank Moody’s (David Duchovny) acerbic, goth rock-inclined teenage daughter, and Karen is Becca’s grownup cool kid mom. Becca and Karen are not the quintessential California girls—but they’re my kind of California girls. Disaffected, not peachy. Witty, not ditzy. Pallid, not sunkissed. And none of that cotton candy, celluloid chic, too—like, no Juicy Couture sweatpants or anything like that. Becca is dead-on grunge with her flannels and vintage concert Tees, and Karen’s style is kind of downtown-meets-boho-meets-Coachella. Yes, they are, as you would call it, the other side of tinseltown, home of the hardcore. And they—not Lauren Conrad and her pretty posse—were exactly the kind of girls I had in mind when I said I wanted to photograph “a bunch of California girls.”
My prayers were answered when Maia Ramirez hit me up and asked me to photograph her and her daughters Mallie and Maxine, after seeing the work that I’d done for her brother Luigi’s engagement last year. Her message ended with a warning of sorts: “I have to tell you, though, the Mallie, my eldest, is kind of ‘tomboyish’—we’re gonna have a hard time convincing her to wear anything girly!!!” To which I responded, “Perfect!” Because wasn’t that a very Becca Moody thing to do—not “wear anything girly?” It was like I’d died and gone to heaven! Finally here was my chance to have a shoot inspired by the main girls of Californication! I wasted no time in sending her a list of clothes to prepare—flannels, big black grunge boots, beanies, and fishnet wrist gloves for the little girls, and Karen van der Beek-inspired pieces for Maia. At first Maia was concerned about the grunge look on her youngest, Maxine—unlike Mallie, you see, Maxine was the girly girl type, the kind who preferred ballerina flats over boots, and Disney princesses over, say, Queens of Dogtown. A compromise had to be made, and so I allowed Maxine to pair her flannels with sequined shorts instead of jeans—I had to say no to the ballerina flats, though, and only allowed her to wear leather Chuck Taylor-esque lace-up boots (with floral applique detail, of course).
Initially Maia wanted the shoot to take place in their hometown of Clovis, CA, which was some 4 hours northwest of L.A. (some 15 minutes northeast of Fresno), but I had to turn that down because I couldn’t find anyone to drive me there. Also, I really couldn’t imagine doing this whole thing anywhere else but in Venice Beach. As some of you who’ve been there may know, Venice is one of the more colorful and vibrant areas of Southern California, one of those places that have managed to establish itself as a cultural phenomenon by being egalitarian, mind-bogglingly eclectic and compellingly odd—I’d fallen in love with the place the first time I’d visited some three years ago, and there was nothing I wanted more now than a chance to take its pulse through pictures. Besides, it’s also where most of my favorite scenes from Californication were shot, especially that one scene some 7 or 8 minutes into the second episode of the fourth season where Becca is playing her electric guitar at the boardwalk for some cash (to save up for a place of her own), while Karen and Pamela Adlon’s character Marcy Runkle looked on—it was exactly this scene that I wanted to recreate for this shoot. Thankfully, Maia said yes to driving all the way from Clovis; she owed the girls a visit to Disneyland, anyways, and so she asked for our gig to be scheduled on the Monday following their Sunday date with Mickey Mouse and friends.
Sometimes materializing your vision is never easy, and this one right here was no exception. In order to effectively recreate that one rockin’ scene of Becca’s at the boardwalk, we needed heavy duty props, such as an electric guitar, a hard case, maybe even some amps. Thank God my brother-in-law Chester is a guitarist and had all these stuff handy (I think I must’ve had over a dozen guitars and cases to choose from, but I ended up picking the Dean Vendetta guitar and the B.C. Rich “casket case,’’ of course, because they were just so badass-looking)! But while the sourcing wasn’t a problem, dragging all that stuff around definitely was pain in the backside—I think I almost broke my two arms trying to carry them from the beachfront parking lot to the spot we were shooting at and back (and I had my camera bag with me, too)! All worth the backbreaking trouble, though, because the pictures from that set came out real good! And not so much because of the props as in terms of how Mallie and Maxine handled them. I didn’t even need to teach Mallie how to cradle the guitar—she just snatched the darn thing from my hands and in no time declared she was ready for her closeup! Who says little girls don’t know a thing or two about rocking out? I hope she grows up to be a guitarist.
Yes, what started out as something I thought I needed to do in a hurry quickly turned into one of those shoots that I didn’t want to ever end. On the 10 en route to the beach, all I could think of was, I gotta do this fast! I gotta to this fast! (I even had a cup of coffee before leaving my sister’s house, and coffee is not my favorite thing in the world!) I was thinking of the little girls, you see, and how I didn’t want to work them up too much, especially considering the fact that, well, these were little girls, and that they’d spent more than 8 hours under the sun at Disneyland the previous day (no Mickey Mouse ears are ever large enough to shade you against the brutal California sun, and I learned that the hard way). Once we got to the beach, though, Mallie and Maxine were suddenly so rejuvenated, and they couldn’t wait to step in front of the camera! And once I started clicking, it was as if they didn’t want to step away from my frame ever! Maxine, in particular, was such a hogger (for lack of a better term)—I’d take pictures of her big sister solo, and just two or three clicks and she’d be screaming, “OK, enough, Mallie! My turn! My turn!” To which Mallie would just nod and politely give way! Can’t remember the countless times I told her, “Maxine, you gotta wait your turn!” and the countless times she retorted, “But it already is my turn!” Swear to God, for every three pictures of Mallie, Maxine would have 20! This didn’t seem to bother the elder sister, though, because she’s chill like that—at one point she even told me, “I don’t really like my picture being taken.” The only reason she had no issues about doing this session, apparently, was ‘cause it was in her lane in that it was kind of “non-girly,” and she even lived up to her offbeat, tomboy cred by demanding, “[If you have to] take photos of me, [they have to be of me] standing right next to these really cool trash cans!” It was like I’d found my own personal Becca Moody! How else was I supposed to love this girl but to bits and pieces?
At one point it made me wonder where these girls’ energy was coming from. Were they solar-powered, and were they getting it from the scorching sun? Was it the fact that we were in a very groovy, lively place? Was it the corndogs? Were they getting it from Harry Perry (no relation to Katy Perry, I’m sorry), the turban-sporting electric guitarist on roller skates? Did they have a peppy song playing in their heads the whole time—”Overdrive” by Katy Rose, perhaps, which goes something like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m independence/ Yeah, yeah, I’m borderline/ Yeah, yeah, I’m California/ My mind’s all screwed and upside down/ But my heart’s on overdrive”? Of course, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that they got it from their mama! Maia was so fierce in front of the camera that I had it all too easy. Considering the fact that she wasn’t really comfortable with our theme at first, she put on a very good show! Yes, she admitted that at the onset she was kind of skeptical about the whole Californication/grunge thing, but then she chimped after a few shots, and then gave me her stamp of approval, saying that she liked it ‘cause “it’s a departure from the usual family photos!” Nothing makes me happier than subjects who allow me the liberty to carry out my vision despite our creative differences, and who give me the chance to prove that I’ve got something. For that I had to reward Maia with a bonus set—a pared-down, no-fuss “denim-and-whites” set, still very much California, but sedate enough for her to use as Christmas cards or whatever she wants to use them for.
I think I am getting the hang of this—you know, photographing families and children. I mean, it all seems so distant now, that part when I was only starting out and I actually swore to myself that I was never going to do anything that involved kids because, well, I was deathly afraid I was never going to get them to stand still, much less get them to do whatever crazy stuff I wanted them to do. But after shoots like this one right here, I guess you can’t help but ask for more! Now the problem is whether or not I’ll be able to find little ones who are as crazy and outgoing as Mallie and Maxine. I’ve been trying to avoid this, but I think now is a really good time to borrow a line from The Beach Boys: Don’t you just “wish they all could be California girls?”
Maia Mangubat-Ramirez and her daughters Mary Louise and Maxine Antoine | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 21, 2012 | Hair and makeup by Mayce Aparis Arradaza | Graphic print Tee, Matthew Williamson for H&M | Yellow high-low hemline sheer top, Forever 21 | Acid wash skinny jeans, Fire Los Angeles, at Nordstrom | Girls’ flannel shirts, Abercrombie Kids | Girl’s skinny jeans, Gap | Black sequined shorts, Gap
“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