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
Not a planned shoot or anything—just me taking pictures of my fine homegirls Melanie and Michelle Ediza as they showed me around their new home, also known as New York City. So lucky that my travel dates coincided with the end of their spring term—with school out of their way (for a couple of days, at least), they had no excuse not to make time for me! “Come on, you’ve been to that place before—give those girls a break and show yourself around,” a common friend had quipped as I was booking my plane tickets. When will people understand that the point of going to a city like New York is to be with people who love the place as much as you do? I mean, it’s not called “the Big Apple” for nothing—small apple, knock yourself out and enjoy it on your own; but a big one is definitely meant for sharing. Besides, there was one part of the city that I never got to see during my first visit, and that’s Brooklyn—and these girls lived right by the Marcy Avenue station, which was just perfect! Funny thing, ’cause on the plane to JFK all that ever played in my head where those lines from that one Estelle song that goes: “Let’s go on the subway, take me to your hood/ I’ve never been to Brooklyn and I’d like to see what’s good…”
The hood in question being Williamsburg, and, boy, did I get to see what’s good! Fell in love with the quirky little storefronts down Bedford Ave., and the quaint little sidewalk and rooftop cafés that lent a deliciously eccentric touch to brunch hour. But, of course, none of these were as enthralling as the people that you bumped into on the streets—the guys looked like they were clones of a circa Midnite Vultures Beck, and like they were headed to some experimental rock jam session in some ultra-obscure basement; and the girls looked like they’d just stepped out of a Free People catalog! It was official: I had walked into hipster, grownup cool kid territory. And none of this bohemian coolness was contrived, too! If someone looked like an artist, there was a 99% chance he really was an artist. Yes, this was where paint-splattered jeans were authentic (it was in the early ‘90s that the area became publicly known as an “artists’ colony,” when about “an estimated 2,000” of them hightailed it here from Manhattan to eschew the hype and the perversely rising rents—as Brad Grooch wrote in the June 22, 1992 issue of New York, “Bohemia has always been 90 percent low-rent and 10 percent dream”). There was an obvious joke here that I tried so hard to restrain from making, and that was that, with their uptown girl style sense, Melanie and Michelle almost seemed like misfits in this part of town—I, however, had no trouble blending in, what with my acid wash denim vest with the insignia of the ‘70s horror punk band Misfits handpainted on the back (yes, the Misfits factor made me not a misfit!). Still, the girls couldn’t imagine settling anywhere else—why look further when they were digging the artsy, offbeat vibe (Melanie for one seemed to have gotten in touch with her muse, and she was getting her write stuff on now, not to mention she was also starting to get into painting), it was peaceful enough at night, and they were surrounded by good eats (one of their favorite places to take me for late dinner was this Dominican cuchifrito restaurant some 5 minutes away from their apartment that had something that tasted like our lechon kawali)? And even if it wasn’t their scene in terms of fashion, Michelle still knew where the cool consignment shops were, and she even took me to one where I got to buy boots that looked like they could’ve once belonged to Patti Smith (or Johnny Depp) for only $22!
Of course, we didn’t make it all about Brooklyn—70% of the time we spent taking Manhattan, too. I loved how there was a “division of labor” that took effect when it came to showing me around the island: Michelle was assigned to take me to the East Village, Gramercy, the Flatiron District, Korea Town, and Midtown, while Melanie took it upon herself to drag me to the Lower East Side, SoHo, Nolita, Bowery, Chelsea, the West Village, the Meatpacking District, Central Park, the Upper West Side, and the Upper East Side. So I’m writing this and making it sound like I was working them up pretty bad, but trust me when I say that they were very sprightly about the whole thing and approached their “tourist guide” duties with much gusto, and that it was me who nearly had a breakdown due to all that walking! I wouldn’t even wake up early—trust me to oversleep in the City that Never Sleeps—and they would tell me off for wasting time! Swear to God, there were times I felt like I was being punished, like when they’d insist I had to grab something to eat in every single neighborhood we stopped to see—normally I wouldn’t complain because, like them, I can eat everything in the world and gain only 1 pound, but it slows me down when I’m bloated, you see (of course I didn’t feel this way about when they introduced me the Halal guys down 53rd and 6th, and to Café Habana and Rice to Riches in Nolita—I would eat that stuff all day, everyday, if I had my way)! Still, I was grateful for their “iron hand” treatment—I mean, I’d probably end up seeing only 10% of the city if not for them!
Speaking of “iron hand,” did I mention that one Saturday evening found us at the Bowery Hotel’s Library Bar, with Zooey Deschanel just a maraschino cherry’s throw away from us? Yes, I legit foamed in the mouth, and was about to jump out of my seat to have my picture taken with the (500) Days of Summer and New Girl star, but Melanie shot me a glance that said, “Don’t even think about it,” so I had no choice but to sit my ass down and settle for my glass of Hemingway. But strictness aside, Melanie and I did get to enjoy a lot of lighthearted, LOL moments—like when we went to the Met together to check out the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Costume Institute (ongoing until August 19, so if you’re in New York right now do check it out while you still have the chance), only to find out that the style of dress that we loved was actually called “ugly chic!” Nothing was funnier, though, than when we were standing somewhere in Broadway and W 81st, and then I ducked because I thought I felt an earthquake, and then Melanie just cracked up and said, “That was the 1 train under your feet, my dear!” Thank God not a lot of people were around to witness my stupidity!
My most memorable Manhattan moments with them, though, were those that had to do with our favorite Sex and the City hotspots (yes, no need to spend $48 on the SATC tour package ‘cause these girls got me covered). Wasn’t it only a couple of years back when we’d all went to watch the Sex and the City movie and cry over it together? And now here we were, Michelle and I, inside the New York Public Library, standing on the very staircase where Carrie Bradshaw had dragged her fabulous Vivienne Westwood wedding dress in shame after finding out Mr. Big had decided to stand her up. “Don’t get too ‘Carrie-d’ away, love!” Michelle screamed laughingly, perhaps because she sensed that I was about to cry. Of course, the trophy went to Melanie when, after a sumptuous late lunch at Le Charlot (the “little Paris off Madison”—and, yes, their crab and avocado salad is to die for), she asked for us to pay a little visit to the Ladies’ Pavillion at the Hernshead over at Central Park West. I’m sure most of you have never heard of this place before, but it’s where Carrie and Miranda, approximately an hour and 56 minutes into the first movie, sat down with pretty little Granary bread sandwiches and juices from Pret A Manger (they’re yummy, by the way) to discuss the issue of forgiveness, of putting things behind them and letting the past be the past, with India.Arie’s cover of Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” playing in the background. This was my second time here, since I’d made it a point to see the place during my first New York trip some three years ago, but I guess this was Melanie’s first time despite having lived here for over a year now. I just thought it was cute how, right before we stepped into the foothpath that led to the Pavillion, she yanked her iPhone out so she could play “The Heart of the Matter”—nothing like good old-fashioned background music to set the mood, right? Now it’s impossible for me to think of that place—or to listen to that song—without thinking of her!
I love visiting friends from home in their new cities. It reacquaints you with the part of them that you miss the most, and acquaints you with the part of them that’s brand spanking new. Most people are gonna say that’s a pretty sticky situation to be stuck in—i.e., when you’re face-to-face with who a person used to be, and who they’ve become or are about to become. I say it’s the ideal situation, though, because then you get to enjoy the best of both worlds (not to mention it’s a great way to ensure you don’t get dropped from the equation as they make the transition). It’s kind of like being caught between two places. Like when you find yourself smack in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, for example—you look at Brooklyn, and then you look at Manhattan, and you can’t decide which view is more captivating, and so you just smile dreamily and soak both up. I loved the Melanie and Michelle in Cebu—the diligent, dreamy-eyed family-oriented sweethearts—but I also happen to love the Melanie and Michelle in New York—fearless, adventure-loving and independent young women, who were not afraid to laugh at themselves, and who were easily inspired. Again, it’s like when you’re made to choose between Brooklyn and Manhattan: you just don’t.
Melanie and Michelle Ediza | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in New York, NY, on May 8-16, 2012
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)
Am I boring you yet? You know, with all these journal-type posts? That question, of course, goes to those who know me personally—friend or foe, I must say—because I just know that a couple of brows are going to raise, and they’d be, like, “Tell us something we don’t know,” or, “Show us something we haven’t seen!”
I can’t exactly blame them. It’s no secret that when I put up this blog a little over two months ago I declared that I was going to be using it as a vehicle for my foray into photography. An inconvenient truth, as it turns out now, but it’s the truth anyhow. It’s only natural that people are expecting this to be more of a photoblog than anything else.
But you gotta cut me some slack. One thing I can tell you right now is that, being new to this whole blogging thing and all (I’m not even sure if I can spell blogosphere correctly—did I get that right?), I’m not sure if it comes with a set of rules, and if it does, where to get a reliable handbook. You must remember that, in the beginning, I wasn’t exactly sold to the idea of blogging. I’d never thought I’d live to see the day that I would be putting up a blogsite. For eons my friends had been badgering me to start a blog, and always I’d rebuffed them by saying, “I’m a writer, not a blogger.” My contention was that to those of us who had seen our work on newsprint or some other sort of physical medium a little over a hundred times pre-Internet era, the idea of intangibility was frightening, not to mention the notion of self-publishing a little unceremonious, slapdash and narcissistic. And so when that day came when I had to erect this whole thing, I didn’t have a single clue what I was doing, much less if I was doing it right. Safe to say that until this very day I’m still clueless! Which is why I rely on friends who’ve been doing this a long time to give me some direction (one of them my writer friend Debbie Rojonan, who maintains two blogs—including Balaki Ko, which aims to encourage penning poetry in the vernacular—and whose Tweet from months ago that said “Where in the social media engagement pyramid are you? Still a lurker? Move up. Share, comment, produce, curate. It’s the information age” was what had given me that much needed thrust).
To cut to the chase, the consensus was that, no matter what your reasons for putting up a blog, it has to show the world your character, a dose of your personality, and ensure that your identity doesn’t get “lost in translation” in the process. This tenet is especially crucial for someone like me, a startup photographer, because it offers people who have not met me or heard of me yet a window into what it’s going to be like working with me. I’ve decided the best way to do it is through snippets from my journal—not only does this give my audience a peek into my progress in learning the craft, it also shows what inspires me, in the hopes of perhaps catching the eye of those who are inspired by the same things, and of eventually paving the way to winning collaborations.
That being said, you’re going to have to get used to this, because from here on out, at least once a month, this is what you’re going to be getting from me. What it is is I’ve elected to tap into Instagram to help me carry this whole thing out. (I’m sure all of you know what Instagram is, but to those of you who don’t, it’s the free app for iPhones that lets you take snapshots, apply filters to them, and then instantly share them with friends.) And so, you see, it’s not going to be all writing, and somehow I’ve managed to figure out a way to carry on in the same lane! Instant photos are still photos, whether you like it or not!
One day I will eventually get to that point where I get to do what most seasoned photographers do—that is, just STFU, post the damn photos and then let them do the talking. Wouldn’t that be nice? But I know I got an awful lot of work to do before I can turn up at such plateau. In the meantime, I’m just glad I can share with you the little things that make this work in progress an exciting one and this journey worth the while.
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The beginning of this month saw me getting the New York blues. I was browsing through my good friend Kathleen’s Facebook photo album of her trip to the City that Never Sleeps, feeling sorry that I wasn’t in any of the pictures. I was supposed to go with her on this trip, you see. We’d talked about it for a year—the plan was for me to leave for L.A. late May, and then meet her in the Big Apple a month later—but, as luck would have it, her vacations dates were approved, while mine got the red light. To say that I wallowed in pain would be saying the least. My brother would find me crouched in the breakfast nook, just staring blankly at my I Heart NY keychain and the MTA subway/commuter railroad map (01) from my first trip. I even hung my $3 I Heart NY souvenir shirt in my bedroom window (06) just so I could stare at it before falling asleep. It all turned out fine, though, because while I couldn’t go to New York, it was New York that found its way to me!
Yes, my friend Anne Alegrado and her family (04, 05), my gracious hosts during my first NY trip some two years back, came to Cebu for a quick vacation early this month. It was nice to be within hugging distance with her again, and with her daughter Ellis (02). Remember Ellis from my previous post? The little girl who took me to the Brooklyn Bridge—or, as she called it, “the bridge from the princess movie” (she was talking about Enchanted)? Yes, that girl. She remembers me as “the uncle who slept in our couch and walked me to school couple of times.” Last time I saw her she was into, well, “princess movies” and mathematics. Now she’s into ballet and yoga (03). Proud mother Anne was happy to report that the little girl was learning to play the guitar, too! “[Her Dad] Jovi bought her a Beatles guitar chord songbook,” Anne shared, and then Ellis wasted no time in singing to me her favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” from Abbey Road (07). She knew all the words, and sang in perfect tune! It makes me happy seeing my friends’ kids grow up like this—I’m never going to have kids of my own, so moments like this are the closest I can get to feeling like a proud parent. Our reunion had to be cut short ‘cause they had lots of other people to see—and plus they couldn’t stay long in Cebu ‘cause they had a European trip to embark on (as of this writing they’re in Madrid, I guess). For days I couldn’t get Ellis’s rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” out of my head. It inspired me to take this snapshot of a sunrise one morning (08). To me, the song represents her future, one that’s definitely going to be bright. I hope I live to see the day when she gets there—remind me to bring sunglasses!
Not really big on taking photos of flowers, but I was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen (it was the 136th anniversary of his death the beginning of this month) and the stories I’d grown up with—particularly that one that told of a butterfly looking for a flower to become his bride, and it was a daisy named Marguerite he first approached for guidance as she was “the wisest one.” I’m not really sure these were daisies (09, 10), but they were gorgeous.
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My favorite pieces from fashion designer Dexter Alazas’s most recent collection (12)—he calls it the “peacock collection.” Always I’ve been a sucker for tasteful melees of ornamentation, and these pieces are testimony to Dexter’s mastery in this department. I would love to be able to use them for a shoot one day—that is, if no one beats me to it and I can find a client who can fit into them! I love visiting my friends’ ateliers and browsing through the racks. Dexter’s atelier (11, 12) is special because not only does he put on display his newest creations, pieces from his past collections are within reach, too—and these things, they have a way of taking you back (I think he still has this one gala gown that was used during a shoot I had with the photographer Wig Tysmans and the model Melanie Ediza for CeBu! Magazine some 10 years back.) Rumor has it that for his 15th anniversary two years from now Dexter will be putting up a retrospective. If there’s any truth to that at all, then I’m not the least worried—his archives are carefully arranged, and so curating is going to be a no-brainer.
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The indefatigable Ms. Marlene fitting me into a Dexter Alazas barong Tagalog (13, 14). This was my first time ever to slip into a barong. Always I’d been a suit person. My sister saw these snapshots and exclaimed, “Never thought I’d see the day!” I mean, I still remain partial to suits, but this time I had to make an exception—I was about to attend one of the most important wedding of my life, and the dress code called for traditional Filipino for the gents. The things you would do for a best friend getting married are nothing compared to the things you would do for two best friends getting married to each other! Well, that, plus the fact that, as you get older, you strive to be more polite in social functions—and that includes playing close attention to the dress codes. Turned out wearing a barong wasn’t too bad after all—the only downside is that you can’t smoke a lot or be around smokers ‘cause one flick of ash on the material and then you’re dunzo.
But enough about barongs and dress codes and stuff. Let’s talk about Ms. Marlene. Most of you don’t know her, but I have so much respect for her. She’s, like, the Cebu fashion industry’s best kept secret. She’s non-exclusive; she works for quite a handful of local design houses. The reason she is indispensable is that she sees eye-to-eye with these designers. A designer gives her a sketch, or an idea, and she executes it flawlessly. She is very diligent, too—working long hours, especially when it’s show season. She and I go way back—always at my side whenever I was commissioned to style a Kate Torralba fashion show, and always ready with her quick fix kit for instances that required last-minute alterations and I refused to let pins and binder clips do the trick. I look up to people like Ms. Marlene—the people who work behind-the-scenes tirelessly and fervently to bring beautiful clothes to life.
New York just wouldn’t stop coming to me. This time it was in the form of Nila Romano and Dr. John Seno, who flew into town early this month so they could get married in front of family and friends (17-28). Well, technically they’re not from New York but from New Jersey, but they live in a town called West New York, which is nestled right by the Hudson River and is considered a part of the New York metropolitan area—you can see the Upper West Side of Manhattan if you face east—so, yeah, they’re still New Yorkers to me. (Nila was also one of the few people who showed me around the Big Apple when I was there during my first visit two years ago.) This wedding was special to me—I’d waited for it like it was my own. I’d been with this couple, you see, since the beginning, since the courtship stages, and I’d witnessed the whole thing blossom into a beautiful, strong bond. Fifteen years! That’s how long they’d been together! Very few relationships get to stand the test of time. It’s a connection cemented by his unwavering faithfulness and her eternal optimism. Nila’s older sister Dory Cusi, who’d flown in from SoCal, would later toast to many of John’s finest qualities and heroic deeds, including how, when Nila couldn’t fly to the Unites States yet, he single-handedly chaperoned Dorly’s little children across the Pacific so they could finally be reunited with their parents—“and that’s when I knew he was the right guy for my sister.” They tied the knot at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral (21-23)—it was my first time to step inside that church, and it was glorious. The bride wore a dazzling floor-sweeping strapless sweetheart-neckline gown that they’d snatched in Manhattan. John’s mother had commissioned a choir to sing “Ave Maria” as Nila’s walk-down-the-aisle song. The whole thing was so surreal I was brought to tears. A great bonus was that I got to be reunited with my some of my closest friends from college, and with the rest of the Seno family, especially John’s brothers Joey (25, delivering his best man’s speech) and Rico (26), both of whom I had become close to as John and I had lost touch.
Just a couple of photos from a recent engagement session that I did (29-32). This one took two days because we had to go up the mountains! Yes, it was grueling! The pictures came out pretty good, though, thanks to the fact that this was the first engagement shoot wherein I had absolutely nothing to do with the styling—i.e., someone else took care of the clothes, leaving me with nothing else to attend to but my camera! I should do this more often—you know, just take pictures and leave all the other aspects like the styling and the props to others. It gets you focused like that. I am unable to upload that set on here just yet ‘cause I am not allowed to publish the photos until the days leading to the wedding, so you will have to stay tuned.
Every Wednesday morning my friend Jeff and I make it a point to visit the Carmelite Monastery down Mabolo (just a good 10 minutes’ walk from our office) to light a few candles and say a little prayer (33-35). (By the way, last week, August 24, was the 48th anniversary of the consecration of the Monastery.) I can tell you that not one prayer has been unanswered. More often than not I pray for good health for me and my family. Sometimes I pray for good shoot weather, and I almost always get it! Of course, I go to the Redemptorist Church, too (36)—I live right next door!
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So a friend brought me to a place that specialized in bespoke menswear (37). I can’t disclose the name of the institution ‘cause I’ve kind of been sworn into silence, but they’ve been making bespoke suits and barong Tagalogs for a privileged group of Cebuanos for years, relying mostly on astute word of mouth. I ran my hands through some of the suit jackets laid on the dress forms and was amazed by the precision and the sharpness—what great handiwork! I hope to make an appointment soon.
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That’s a tally of my daily cigarette consumption right there (38). I was really sick beginning of this month, and when the doctor asked me “How many sticks do you smoke in one day?” I could not answer her. And so she told me that I “better start keeping track.” And so here we are. Turns out I am a pack-a-day smoker. Yikes. The good thing about keeping a record, though, is that it kind of disgusts you every time you look at it, and so it kind of keeps you in check. I am not in a struggle to quit or anything—I just really want to minimize my burning up is what it is. Smoker’s cough is not exactly music to anyone’s ears—even to the smoker himself.
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One of my best friends from high school, Rhoderick (39), blew another birthday candle this month. While I could count the candles, what I couldn’t count was how many times this person had been there for me and my family throughout the years, so I knew it was time to give back. I threw a little birthday dinner for him at my place, and we had habichuelas (his favorite), among others, and I made Do-Over-style sangria, too! I’m happy to report I’m getting good at this thing—that is, cooking and entertaining at home. Sure, it’s labor-intensive and time-consuming, but it gives little celebrations a great punch of importance and a touch of individuality, as opposed to, say, just dragging someone to the usual restaurants. Just a little something I picked up from my recent obsession with Rita Konig (I talked about this briefly in my previous post). It is not my intention to do this more and more, but to do it more often than not, maybe at least once a month. You see, there was a time I could not cook, even if it meant saving my life. To borrow a line from Carrie Bradshaw, “The only thing that I have ever successfully made in the kitchen is a mess.” But I’m not twenty-something anymore, and now that I am running my own household I am somehow responsible for injecting a little, um, wisdom into it. Those closest to me will laugh when they read this because they know I am a first-class slob. But, hey, I am working on that, too. One step at a time! This year it’s all about cooking for me, and maybe next year it will be cleaning (LOL). Here’s a serving of the vegetable/seafood pesto pasta that I whipped up some two weeks ago (40). Yes, my brother loved it, and I’m making it again this week.
One of my all-time favorite shirts: a black and white “she-Che” raglan (41) from Cecile Zamora’s Defect that my best friend Yna Varias gave to me for Christmas ’99—yes, it is 12-years-old, and I still wear it like I only got it yesterday!
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Herb Ritts is, like, my all-time favorite photographer. As a young boy growing up in a small town, I would flip through my Mom’s and my aunts’ old Vogues and be mesmerized by his work. The first time I knew I was going to make fashion a huge part of my life was when I saw the cover of American Vogue’s April 1993 issue—Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Stephanie Seymour all playful, wearing candy-striped crop tops by Marc Jacobs paired with white Daisy Dukes, photographed by Herb Ritts. I would later find out it was him who’d directed two of my all-time favorite music videos, too: Madonna’s “Cherish” from 1989, and Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” from 1990. Ever since then I’d become obsessed with his style, his penchant for black-and-white and the way he’d approached chiaroscuros. I remember crying so hard when he died in December of 2002. Three weeks ago, on the week of his birthday (August 13, he would’ve turned 59), I paid tribute by setting my favorite Herb Ritts photograph (“Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage, 1990″) as wallpaper on my phone (42, 43). Around the same time, the Getty announced that they had just acquired 69 Herb Ritts photographs, and that they were planning to put up a retrospective in the spring of next year—God, I hope I’ll be in L.A. in time for that!
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Another person whose demise brought me to my knees: the Filipino actor Rico Yan. I was watching Got 2 Believe, his last movie, in which he’d played a wedding photographer. I had to grab my phone and take pictures of freeze-frames (46, 47) of him crying. He was most beautiful when he cried.
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So, remember last month when I talked about how I stockpile on Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Green in Lemon Jasmine? I got an e-mail from someone who blogs about teas asking why I loved them when there were a lot of better tasting sleep-inducing teas out there. Here’s my answer: They come in string-less, tag-less, staple-less pillow-style teabags (44)—in short, they are environment-friendly.
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Another e-mail I got was from someone who wanted to know how the oversize mustard grandfather cardigan that I let a client wear for a nautical-themed set qualified as, well, nautical. My answer: I know that when we say “nautical fashion” we are quick to think blue-and-white stripes, and then a little red highlights here are there, but what some of you don’t know is that yellow is part of the basic sailorman palette, too—owing to the yellow slickers that sailors use (I did a little bit of research and found out that the yellow “resulted from treating canvas with linseed oil to make it waterproof”). Also, I did take a closer inspection at the buttons of that cardigan: they were gold-colored, like those of the traditional Service Dress Blue uniforms, and they had these embossed yacht anchor details, too (48)—you can’t get any more nautical than that.
This past month was special for a lot of different reasons, but this one right here could be the biggest highlight of them all: A little over two weeks ago I started my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy Photography. Single-handedly run by the beautiful and brilliant Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon (49, 50), Shutterfairy is one of the best-known boutique wedding/lifestyle photography firms in this part of the country. I had been an avid follower of her work, even before I could get a camera of my own. It was a bold step in my part deciding to pursue this apprenticeship. Towards the end of June, after five or so solo shoots, I’d felt I’d needed to push myself some more, and that all this business about being self-taught was getting old. I’d read somewhere about Victor Demarchelier, Patrick Demarchelier’s son, being his father’s principal assistant. “There are [other aspects of photography] that you can grasp faster as an assistant,” he had been quoted as saying. How cool is a father-and-son team? But my father was no longer here to teach me, so I had to look outside the family circle. I pulled a couple of strings, managed to get good viva-voce recommendations, sent a letter of application, and in no time found myself under Mai’s wings.
My first session with her was for an engagement shoot. We were going to be shooting at a farm up the mountains in Carmen, some two or so hours northeast of Cebu. As luck would have it, the couple we were going to be shooting were from New York—I swear to God, the New York streak just kept on coming! Cherry, who has roots from Cebu, was about to marry her fiancé Christian (56) in less than a week. I asked why they decided not to have their engagement photos taken in their new hometown of New York, and she said it was Christian’s idea for them to be taken here, in this very farm, ‘cause he’d fallen in love with this place when they’d first visited about a year ago. What was not love? I looked around me and I couldn’t keep my jaw from dropping—everywhere you turned it was picturesque (49-56). The place is called Noah’s Farm, and it is owned by Cherry’s sister, Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who likes to take her family up there once in a while when they want to shy away from the city life.
What I did was mostly help the couple with their outfits and scout for settings, but I did take a couple of pictures, too, ‘cause Mai would be, like, “Where’s your camera? Why aren’t you taking pictures?” I can’t post any of my photos from that day on here yet, ‘cause I have yet to get approval from Mai and, well, the clients, but, here, feel free to go to the Shutterfairy blogsite to view Mai’s gorgeous set from that day.
Remember two months ago when I inaugurated this blog and I talked about how photographers these days, in an effort to stand out and be cut above the rest, “hold back on the sharing?” Well, I take that back now, because Mai here was just amazing. She answered all my questions, even those that I did not ask out loud (it was as if she was reading my mind!), and she was always pushing me to get to the work at hand. I will write more on the things I’ve learned from her in my future posts. Right now let me just soak up in the awesomeness of how lucky I am to have found a mentor who is as generous as she is talented.
I have quite a number of Nike Dunks, but this pair right here (57), I must say, is my favorite. The sangria/saffron combo always does it for me.
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OK, so I’d been hearing through the grapevine that there was this store in Cebu that sold items from IKEA, but I’d never really paid attention to the buzz. And then I chanced upon the store myself. The store is called Förskö (60), and they are located at the second level of the Banilad Town Centre. I must’ve foamed in the mouth a little when in the corner of my eye I saw the IKEA logo. Never in my wildest dreams had I seen this coming! Not a lot of stock in there, though, and their space isn’t large enough to accommodate the showroom types of displays that IKEA is known for, but they do have a couple of winners, including the LACK side tables (the solid painted versions and the clear lacquered birch effect versions), the silver TERTIAL work lamp, and the MAKROS pendant lamp (58) that I loved from the 2011 catalog. They also have the KNAPPA pendant lamp (59) which I don’t remember from the 2011 catalog, so presumably it’s from a newer line. If you can’t find anything you love, that’s alright—just flip through the pages of the catalog, point at something, and they’ll place the order for shipment later! I’m thinking of getting the NASUM storage baskets (in clear lacquered banana fiber weave). We’ll see.
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The fresh carabao’s milk pastillas (64) from Carigara, Leyte, are simply the best. You should try them.
I forgot to mention my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy comes with a huge bonus: For package deals—e.g., engagement session plus day-of-the-wedding coverage—Mai works with a husband-and-wife team, Paul and Charisse Calo (71), a.k.a. Calography. I met Charisse (66) during the previously mentioned first session with Mai, and I would get to work with both her and her better half a couple of days later during my second session. Both teams were commissioned to do the engagement photos of visiting Zamboaga-based couple Al and Pie (67, 68, 69, 72) who were going to be married in two months. It was fun for the most part because Paul turned out to be the adventurous, adrenaline-driven type, and there was never a dull moment because we were always moving from one location to another. Even more amazing was the camaraderie between the two teams, and that they saw eye to eye and there was never a conflict of ideas. That day I learned some of the technicalities of shooting under harsh lighting conditions, like minding my ISO and all that other good stuff. It’s so cool that I get to pick at not just one brain but three! I cannot wait to work with them again. Click here for a couple of Paul’s and Charisse’s shots from that session.
Proud of myself because this month I kept true to my promise of buying more books and fewer magazines! In fact, no magazine purchases at all this month! (Well, next month is a going to be a different story altogether, as I am determined to grab the September issue of Vogue—Kate Moss on the cover, my dears, and an exclusive coverage of her wedding to Jamie Hince!) So my brother Jake came across this bookstore that sold hard-to-find volumes at steeply discounted prices, and I wasted no time in checking it out. The photography shelf was what I checked out first (73), but it turned out all it contained were books on graphic design and illustration—the salesperson told me they were running low on photography titles, but I enlightened her that maybe all they needed was a little rearranging, because I did find this one baby, Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan by Douglas R. Gilbert (with text from music journalist Dave Marsh and a foreword by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian), in the shelf labeled Fashion. I couldn’t believe they were selling this book for, like, less than Php 200. I loved all the photos in it, but my favorite was this one photo of Dylan singing to the poet Allen Ginsberg in some kitchen while Sally Grossman (better known as the lady in red on the cover of Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home) looked on (74). As I did more digging I was able to unearth a copy of Vivienne Tam’s China Chic (75). For years I had been looking for this title, and finally here I was holding a copy of it with my bare hands. My first impulse was to add it to my cart, but then after leafing through the first few pages I decided it wasn’t for me. No disrespect—Vivienne Tam is one person I look up to, along with other Asian and Asian-American designers like Anna Sui, Vera Wang, Jason Wu, and Alexander Wang. But this book was just not me at all—best left to Winnie Narazeths of the world. Perhaps Anna Sui by Andrew Bolton would be more in my lane, what with her rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic and all. So, no, I do not regret not buying this one. One thing I do regret not getting was this huge Collector’s Library Edition volume of Oscar Wilde’s works (76). I’d turned away from it in favor of a book on the makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin. Asinine move in my part, really, and I should’ve listened to my writer friend Xiomara Demeterio-Glindmeyer when she said, “I would grab Wilde in a heartbeat.” I was tempted, you see, by the immediate practicality the Aucoin book had offered—like, hey, I was going to be doing shoots for a living, so best to grab the one that would teach me a thing or two about makeup, a very important aspect of every shoot. I realize now, of course, that the Wilde book would’ve been the more practical choice—the Aucoin book, easy to find, whereas the chances or finding another Wilde book in this part of the world, close to impossible. Oh, well, you live, you learn.
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Just a couple of days ago I was reunited with someone I hadn’t talked to or seen in a very long time—I’m talking about the singer/songwriter Cattski Espina (77, 78). She had just finished titling and tracklisting her new album (to be released really soon!), and now it was time to get to work on the album cover. She had commissioned Shutterfairy to do her portraits, and since Mai was in Manila for a family thing I took the liberty of setting up the pre-shoot meeting myself. What was supposed to be a quick discussion turned into 3- or 4-hour meeting, ‘cause there was a lot of catching up to do in my part. I confessed that the last album I’d heard about was Vacuum My Inside (released late 2003), the follow-up to their 2001 debut Cattski EP. Turned out that I’d missed out on a third album (a 2009 release called Sound Minds Speak Volumes) because this thing she was about to launch was her fourth. I also learned that she was on her own now—this new release was going to be the first from Cattski the solo artist; Cattski the band was no more. “Which is why I’ve decided to call it Zero,” she shared, “because it’s like I’ve gone back to zero.” I’m not allowed to let anyone in on the details just yet, but suffice to say that, like the album title, the recording is going to feature a pared-down sound—a departure from the heavier sounds in her previous works. “More electronica than rock,” she pointed out. This called for a brand spanking new look. We got to work, and I was happy with the styling concept we were able to come up with. The shoot’s this weekend, and I’m excited. I can’t wait to see how it’s all gonna turn out.
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Cattski couldn’t help but notice the wallpaper on my phone. I told her that this was my own little way of paying tribute to someone. Couple of weeks ago it was Herb Ritts (42, 43), and these days it was Aaliyah (79, 80). It was the 10th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death last August 25. Can you believe it’s been 10 years? Feels like it was only yesterday that I cried myself to sleep, after seeing the news on the plane crash that killed her. In her song “Try Again” from the soundtrack to Romeo Must Die, Timbaland ad libs, “It’s been a long time/ We shouldn’t have left you/ Without a dope beat to step to.” Well, at least Aaliyah didn’t leave us without a dope beat to step to. Up to this very day I still dance to “Back and Forth” in my room, the same way I used to do it back in ’94, and it’s something I’m not ashamed of. Nothing wrong about getting up and letting “this funky mellow groove get you in the mood”—yes, “you know it’s alright.”
Just when you think I’m done with this crap, here I am again with another set of Poladroids.
Blame it on design It Girl Rita Konig. I was at three different bookstores this month looking for a copy of her book Domestic Bliss but couldn’t find one (don’t they stockpile on anything other than teenage vampire horseshit these days?), so I was forced to dig up the archives at NYTimes.com to revisit her old columns (she no longer writes for them, by the way; I think she has since moved to the Wall Street Journal). For once, I was beginning to obsess about decorating, and not spending too much time looking at photoblogs. I read about her penchant for charming pieces of tobacciana (a pink glass ashtray that gets to go with her wherever she goes, cute little glass match strikers, etc.), and her quirky yet practical method of entertaining (“I don’t have a dining table, but I do have a coffee table, a newly upholstered sofa and a kitchen large enough to cook in, so dinner is eaten off of large art books on laps, or sitting cross-legged at the coffee table”). But what really struck a chord with me was her article on “sticking photos straight up on the wall,” pointing out “how unfashionable it has become to put framed photographs on tables,” and so what she does is she puts up a Polaroid wall in her kitchen. What a novel idea! Not to mention practical and stylish!
Well, the practical part is almost debatable. For one, nobody could figure out where my Dad had kept his old Polaroid Sun 600s (if he’d even kept them at all), and even if we knew, it would be fiendishly difficult to obtain instant film in this part of the world. But, hey, there’s always Poladroid, right?
Here are some of the Poladroids that I am considering printing and putting up against my kitchen wall, again, created using random snapshots from my trips from the last three years. Of course, this means I’m going to have to print some of the ones that I made last month, too. They won’t look like actual Polaroids when they’re printed, but they will, from afar (I love that I kind of have that Rita Konig kind of thinking now!).
You guys have a good weekend now! Remember, inspiration is everywhere—even in the things that you settle for when you still haven’t found what you’re looking for (am I even making any sense here?).
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#46 and #47: At the Brooklyn Bridge with my friend Anne Alegrado’s daughter Ellis, a.k.a. my uptown girl. This was my first morning in New York, and they took me to the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d always wanted to see the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d always thought, Oh, that’s where you fall in love all over again. Thanks to that one pivotal scene an hour and 59 minutes into the first Sex and the City movie wherein Miranda and Steve decide to let back together and leave the past behind, with Al Green’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” playing in the background. “Very logical, yet poetic,” Carrie had said about the choice of rendezvous. So when I got there, I expected it to hit me—I thought of those who’d broken my heart, or those I’d hurt, and waited for a little voice inside of me to say, “Hold on.” But then the only little voice I heard was Ellis’s, who was quick to quip, “Hey! This is the bridge from the princess movie!” And then I realized she was talking about a scene from Enchanted, in which Princess Giselle was finally reunited with her Prince Edward—which she’d thought was all she’d ever wanted—until, walking side-by-side with him on this very bridge, she realized it wasn’t the Prince she was in love with, it was McDreamy. And so I stood there and got into thinking: Do I hold on, or do I let go? In life, it’s easy to get stuck between two places—in this case, it was literally, between Manhattan and Brooklyn—or in a place that means two completely different things. And that can be a pretty sticky situation. It can cause you sleepless nights. Luckily, for some of us, we can just shake it off, and do something stylish. It’s OK to lose sleep, anyhow—especially when you’re in the city that never sleeps.
#48: The rooftop at Anne’s Upper East Side apartment (the Wellesley on E 72nd, between 2nd and 3rd Ave., a red-brick 35-story tower). I’d be up here every morning, barely out of REM sleep and not having had coffee yet, just soaking up the sun and the incredible view of the neighboring skyscrapers. Her family have since moved to Brooklyn so Anne could fulfill her dream of sitting on the apotheosis of domestic bliss (well, I kind of like the sound of “Brooklynite gardener,” too), so it’s safe to say I won’t be seeing this rooftop ever again. At least I have pictures that I can look back on.
#49: I hadn’t seen this girl Liz Marsh in, like, 10 years—so you can imagine my surprise when she called and said she had to kidnap me for a day! Always nice to be reunited with old best friends. It’s amazing how she’d managed to stay the same after all those years—same hair, same eye makeup, same laugh, same everything—while I’d become 60 lbs. heavier! Well, her taste in music had changed a bit, but in a good way. Nothing beats driving around West L.A. with Deftones blasting from the car stereo. Speaking of driving, another thing that hadn’t changed about her was, well, her driving! That girl could bust a U-turn (and I don’t mean a legal one) like a gangsta! Luckily, we didn’t get into an accident like that one we got into some 10 years back at the DTM /Reclamation area. I almost got killed, though, when she tried to stuff me with Brazilian barbecue (carneiro, picanha ao alho) at Pampas Grill and “Around the World” combos at Sushi A Go Go—as if I wasn’t fat enough already.
#53: That’s Kloodie, one of my best friends, on her wedding day late last year. I just had to squeeze this photo in. Her wedding dress was the most divine thing I’d ever seen—I mean, look at that! It’s a Jun Escario, by the way, in case you’re wondering.
#56: My friend Janice Larrazabal took me to the Getty to see Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties. It meant so much to me being there and standing face-to-face with the works of the likes of Mary Ellen Mark, James Nachtwey, and Philip Jones Griffiths. Griffiths was my father’s favorite photographer, you see, so, yeah, it meant the world to me. Click here to read more about that experience.
#58: Four months after Michael Jackson’s passing, Angelenos and tourists alike flock to the Staples Center/Nokia Theatre L.A. Live area to pay tribute by dancing to “Thriller.”
#61: On my fourth day in New York I met up with some of my best girl friends from college, Nila Seno, Jam Montecillo and Charmaine Nadela.
#62: After a grueling trip to see Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone in the Greenwich Village the girls and I rewarded ourselves with these divine cupcakes from the world-famous Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker and W 11th. Divine!
#64: I’d wanted to go back to the beginning, so off we went to the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District at the site of the city’s original settlement (downtown, right by the Union Station and the City Hall). I’d been in this area back in 2008, but never got the chance to see the mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles, so I made sure there was no missing it this time around. I said a little prayer, and then went on to explore the colorful Olvera Street. We were right for going on a weekday; we didn’t have to squeeze through crowds of tourists. It was a nice experience: The sound of Mexican guitar and people pronouncing it “Loce Ang-hel-es.”
#64: San Francisco’s J. Boogie on the ones and twos at the Do-Over. A must-do when you’re in L.A. between mid-May and early November, the Do-Over is a Sunday afternoon “backyard barbecue-style” party (they used to throw it over at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern down N El Centro, between Hollywood and Selma, a stone’s throw away from Roscoe’s on Gower, and now the whole thing’s been moved to the Cabana Club a little off Sunset, right by the Arclight). They call it the Do-Over—because, well, as one of the bouncers put it when I asked, “do it once and you’ll want to do it over and over again!” My first Do-Over experience was the bomb, thanks to J. Boogie right here. Famous for his blend of roots reggae, dancehall, Latin hip hop, jazz rap, soul, and new jack swing, he got the crowd swinging nonstop, from Max Romeo’s “Chase the Devil,” to The Fugees’ “Ready or Not,” to Buju Banton’s “Mr. Nine,” to Richie Spice’s “Youth Dem Cold,” to Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s,” to Lady G’s “Nuff Respect,” to Tony Rebel’s “Know Jah,” to Q-Tip’s “Breathe and Stop,” to Bill Withers’s “Lovely Day,” to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” to Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” to Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” Next in the lineup was King Britt from Philadelphia, who kept the classics coming. I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t danced to SWV’s “Right Here/Human Nature” in so long, and it felt pretty damn good to be able to do so again. I can’t believe they brought the Do-Over to Manila just last month (July 23)—I would’ve flown! Oh, well, I sent them a Tweet saying they should swing by Cebu the next time they visit this part of the world. Let’s see what happens (or maybe I should just let my event organizer friends to make it happen). #65: Oh, and did I mention the sangria at the-Dover was the shiznit? I could finish 5 carafes of that shit. Well, now I got a deadly stain on my white boat shoes, but I don’t care—I’d like to think of it as a remembrance of a West Coast life well lived.
#66: With my best friends Ronald Conopio and Julie Pongos enjoying supersized mojitos at The Abbey in West Hollywood. We’d dreamt of this very moment when we were kids—all three of us, together again, in the same ZIP Code, particularly one that starts with a 9 and a 0. And so there we were, picking up the pieces, from 90067 to 90069 to 90210. And the coolest thing about it was that none of this was planned! It just happened, just like that, like a comet, like laughter, like forgiveness, and all those other things you can’t explain—a lot like the day we first met some 20 years ago!
#67: It was dineL.A. Restaurant Week. My best friend Chiklet was in the mood for a little sophisticated Spanish, so she took me to The Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (no, we were not there to stalk Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom). Loved loved loved the Gazpacho estilo Algeciras, the Tortilla de Patatas, the Papas Canarias, the Jamón Serrano Fermin, the Buñuelos (codfish fritters, honey alioli), the Croquetas de Pollo, and the Beef Hanger Steak (cooked in its own fat and drenched in piquillo pepper sauce). Of course, you don’t need to ask if I liked the ambiance—everything was screaming Philippe Starck.
#69: My goddaughter Tabitha, cutest little thing on earth. This was taken last December when she and her mom Yna Varias came to visit me. I love that she loves to overaccessorize. She has those sunglasses in three different colors.
#72: Me and my best friend Julie with Chad Wolf, frontman of the band Carolina Liar. This was taken after the Rob Thomas/OneRepublic concert at the Gibson Amp, in which they were opening act. Ah, fucking crazy! I got to talk to him and lead guitarist Rickard Göransson and tell them about how their song “California Bound” was, like, my soundtrack for this trip—or, for all my Californian adventures, for that matter! “Well, thanks for finding us, man,” Chad told me as we were about to leave. You should’ve seen me. I was beaming the whole time. Another rock ‘n’ roll dream come true!
#77: One of my favorite couples, my cousin Randy and his beautiful wife Sue, who always make it a point to see me whenever I’m in California. Well, Randy is not really my cousin—our moms are just real good friends, so, there, we’re sorta cousins, which makes Sue my sorta cousin-in-law. LOL. I’d love to photograph them one day, just ‘cause their chemistry is amazing, not to mention they’re both very stylish. The plan is to do a session before their Cebu wedding (yes, they had a California wedding, but Sue wants to have a Cebu wedding soon). Well, Randy is a photographer himself (see samples of his work here), but he can’t do his own pre-second-wedding photos, can he? You guys, this is my sales pitch right here.
#80: My nephew Jamim. Well, his real name is Prince James, but we call him Jamim—a moniker that big sister Oona came up with when should could not pronounce James, and it stuck. He calls me Antle because he can’t pronounce uncle, but that’s alright with me because, really, if you come to think of it, it’s like a portmanteau of aunt and uncle. LOL. He knows alligators are green, and dragons are orange. He loves guitars and drums, and it is my intention to start him early. He smells like Irish Spring, which is why I like to hug him. A lot. He can be clumsy at times, and once he amputated my Deep Space Starscream, but I love him all the same. He is the only human being who sees the good in me, only calling me “Bad!” when I cut his spaghetti into small bits. How nice that somebody in this world is capable of looking at me with a fresh pair of eyes.
#84: My godson Ari is growing up too fast! One day he could barely crawl, and now he was running around The Grove my knees were shaking as I was chasing him around. His mom Cai had asked me to take pictures of him, but it was just diabolically difficult trying to make this one stand still. Note to self: When photographing a child, make sure you’re on Red Bull.
#85 and #86: Couple of photos from my visit to the Kentucky Horse Park. I had promised my cousin Amanda Liok, who loves horses to death, that I was gonna take a lot of photos for her. There’s a certain kind of magic when you look at horses. Maybe it’s their necks. Maybe it’s their manes. Or, could it be their rear ends that remind you of a woman’s behind when she is wearing the right stilettos? I don’t know. I just know it’s magical. But even more enchanting is when you get to know their names. One of the girls I talked to calls her horse Moonshine—who knows if she meant moonlight, or liquor, but this was Kentucky so it’s probably the latter—and that just took my breath away. Another girl calls her horse Alcatraz. Amanda has a couple of horses in her backyard, and all of them have beautiful names: Salsa, Moondance, Taco, Chili. I would love to be able to own a horse one day. Maybe I’ll call it Baroness, after my favorite G.I. Joe character. Or maybe I’ll call it Malibu, after my favorite beach city. Or maybe I’ll call it Lexington, after my favorite summer fling. Or maybe I’ll call it Ava Adore, after my favorite Smashing Pumpkins song. Whatever it is, it definitely won’t be “a horse with no name”—although I kind of love that song, too.
#88, #89 and #90: Who doesn’t love the Santa Monica Pier? I know I do. And not just because this was where Spencer Pratt proposed to Heidi Montag—hey, I was a Baywatch baby long before I became a The Hills hoe. But, of course, it wasn’t the David Charvet types I’d come here to ogle at. Sitting there and watching the birds crisscross the horizon, I thought to myself, “Wow, I would come here everyday if only I could.” There’s this incredibly talented singer-songwriter named Terry Prince (I just recently learned that he has Fililipino roots, too!) who performs there on a regular basis. That definitely added a nice bonus to our visit. I mean, California is the last place you’d expect to find an old soul when it comes to music, and yet here was one guy who was not afraid to share his stories of inspiration through his soulful voice and pared-down melodies. Everyone stopped and listened. My favorite song was “Imagine Love.” I regret not capturing it on video, but, here, someone else did:
. 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.
You know the feeling when you’ve discovered something totally rad, and then you become so obsessed with it to a point you wish you never found out about it in the first place? Well, that’s kind of how I feel right now about the Poladroid (yes, you’re reading it right, with the extra D—how’s that for “throwing some Ds” on something?).
To those of you who’ve never heard of it (although I’m sort of convinced no one’s never heard of it ‘cause it’s been around for more than two years, and I’m last to find out about it ‘cause I’ve been living under a rock), the Poldaroid is, well, a Polaroid simulator that allows you to turn any photo into a digital Polaroid. You can download the application for free (for now, at least). The way it works is you launch the application by clicking on the desktop icon (duh), and a larger icon of a camera that looks like a Polaroid One600 Job Pro pops out; you then just drag and drop your JPEGs one by one into that camera icon, and—voilà!—it ejects your virtual Polaroid! Now, that’s not the finished product that you’re getting the moment it’s ejected—you have to shake it until it’s developed! Yes, just like the real thing, my friend!
It’s kind of fun at first, but after a while it just hurts like a bitch. If you don’t want to run the risk of getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you can just wait a couple of minutes without doing anything, and it’ll develop eventually. But, really, why do nothing when shaking is so much fun! What I did was I put OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” on repeat in my iTunes—“Shake it like a Polaroid picture!”—and that was it, the whole thing was easier to endure! LOL.
Seriously, you guys, it’s kind of a fun way to make your old photos look new, or your new photos look old—whichever way you wanna look at it. Or, to make your sucky photos look awesome, or your awesome photos look sucky—whichever way you wanna look at it.
Here are some of the virtual Polaroids I created using Poladroid and random photos from my trips from the last three years. I’ve also included some snippets from my journal. Enjoy, and you guys have a good weekend!
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#01: My first visit to L.A. was in the summer of 2008, and it was Yoda who showed me around town. My brother-in-law Chester collects toys (Star Wars, Transformers, G.I. Joe, etc.), and while everything else sits in glass door cabinets at home, this Yoda gets to go everywhere by being a permanent fixture in his car. Very recently Chester became a father when my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby girl a couple of months ago. They named her Mikaela, after Megan Fox’s character in the Transformers movies. While I appreciate that they didn’t choose to name her after a female Star Wars character, I am glad that she gets to grow up in a room and in a car that screams “May the Force be with you.” I hope she doesn’t grow up too fast, though—I would love for her to be my cuddly Yoda the next time I visit.
#02 and #03: I love DTLA, especially that section of Broadway between Olympic and 3rd where the historic theaters stand tall in all their majesty. Next to Melrose, it is quintessential L.A. We couldn’t make it to the Million Dollar Theater, though, ‘cause they’d closed that area at the time, and there were artificial rain equipment everywhere—I think they were filming Inception or something (at least for a while there I was breathing the same air Leonardo DiCaprio was breathing).
#04: That’s me being silly somewhere in the outskirts of Chicago.
#05: My friend Rhino’s sister invited us to her home in Buena Park, CA, for a traditional Filipino dinner. The house cat kept staring at me like I was some sort of illegal alien.
#06: My friends wonder why I am always 10 or 15 lbs. heavier after a trip to California. Ben & Jerry’s for breakfast, every single day, that’s why.
#07: I am happy to report I buy more books now, and fewer magazines. This one right here—Billy Corgan’s collection of poetry—was a real find, and has so many gems that I keep coming back to (my favorite is “In the Wake of Poseidon”). I intend to pass it on to my nieces and nephews when they’re old enough to read.
#09: I can’t say I didn’t love Lexington the first time around. People had been telling me, “Ah, no outfit opportunities for you,” but they were wrong—with open fields and never-ending split-rail and horse fences everywhere, the mood was just right for “She could be a farmer in those clothes!” Yes, what was once derogatory can sometimes be flattering—especially if the backdrop is as picturesque as this.
#10, #11 and #12: Speaking of Billy Corgan, yes, I got to see the Smashing Pumpkins live in concert. I cried like a little girl when they played “Tonight, Tonight.” I’d been dreaming of that moment for so long, so, no, it’s not something I’m ashamed of—the crying part, I mean. I think I might have also shed a tear or two when they played “Again, Again, Again (The Crux)” (from their American Gothic EP) and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” At first I kept thinking it would’ve been cooler if it were the original lineup I’d come to see—you know, with D’arcy and James Iha—but Ginger Reyes and Jeff Schroeder undeniably exceeded my expectations. (I should say Ginger was hot, too! I almost turned lesbian!). They couldn’t have picked a better venue: the Louisville Palace was stunning! The outside was gorgeous, but not nearly as striking as the theater room inside, where there were cathedral-like fixtures, plush red seats, and a ceiling that was made to look like nighttime sky—it was as if I was in the set of the “Tonight, Tonight” video! My favorite part of the show was towards the end, when the band played “We Only Come Out at Night” and a cover of Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” with kazoos! I thought it was cool, too, that Billy Corgan climbed back on stage a few minutes after the show to do a second curtain call—with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top! F***ing awesome! Music’s two greatest Billys, in one stage, waving at us! Just like that, I knew I’d become a part of music history, and that I was gonna remember this night for the rest of my life.
#13, #14 and #15: One of the highlights of my 2009 Californian adventure was our trip to Laguna Beach. I’d been obsessed about this place ever since Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County came out in 2004. (I have this delusion that in a past life I was Lauren Conrad, or will be in a future life—I will always be head over heels in love with that girl, and not in that kind of way.) My best friend Elaine “Chiklet” Imperio, who lives some 35 minutes away from Laguna, drove to meet me there. It was a special kind of reunion because I hadn’t seen this girl in ages (almost 10 years!). She took me to this little nook tucked between the village shops and the galleries called Brown’s Park, where a dainty little walkway led to an overlook that offered the most breathtaking view of the Pacific and that had stained glass fence rails that bore exquisite verse: “In this fleeting moment/ what extravagant respite/ as booming surf speaks its/ mystical passage across/ the undreamed depths.” Along the walk there’s also this nondescript plaque that carries a poem by Joseph E. Brown, who bought this little spot circa World War II (his son Joe Brown would make the property open to the public some 50 years later). Here’s how it goes: “Let me live in a house/ by the side of the sea,/ Where men and women wander by/ Where there’s beauty and grace and excitement that’s free./ On the beach, in the sun let me lie./ Let me listen to the ocean’s melodious roar,/ and its rhythm, so soothing to hear,/ As the foam-covered waves/ seem to reach for the shore/ Under skies that are sunny and clear.” Up to that point I’d never thought I’d find a place so full of poetry—both figuratively and literally. Immediately I made a deal with my sister: When I die, this is where I want my ashes to be scattered.
#19, #20, and #21: One of my best friends Cryse left Cebu to move to California for good some time late last year—but not before he could take us to a series of roadtrips to his favorite Cebu beaches, beginning with Moalboal down south.
#20: I love this photo of my fellow stylist Meyen that I took. It inspired me to do this photo for Sheila Desquitado’s engagement session.
#22: The Ladies’ Pavilion at The Hernshead over at Central Park West. I’m sure most of you have never heard of this place before, but it’s where Carrie and Miranda, an hour and 56 minutes into first Sex and the City movie, sat down with pretty little Granary bread sandwiches and juices from Pret A Manger (they’re yummy, by the way) to discuss the issue of forgiveness, of putting things behind and letting the past be the past, with India.Arie’s cover of Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” playing in the background. I just had to see it, and so I went on my last day in New York. And since nobody was there to take me (everyone I knew was at work!), I went alone, taking the 6 from my friend Anne’s neighborhood, and then the N, stopping at Columbus Circle for a while, and then the C to the W 72nd entrance to Central Park. I didn’t get lost and had no trouble finding my way. It was as if the place had been calling my name, beckoning. I couldn’t step inside the Pavilion ‘cause a group of people had arrived there before me, complete with champagne bottles and all, but at least I got to see it and stand in its presence. Ah, and the view of the Lake and of the Midtown skyscrapers looming behind the trees. For the first time in a long time, I was at peace. Laugh all you want, call it fanaticism. But you must also know that since that very day, as of the end of 2009, I had forgiven three people who’d crossed me, and been forgiven by two people I’d hurt. And that’s what every trip should be about: Going to a place, and then coming back with the will to leave the foolish choices of your past behind.
#26 and #27: Yes, I also got to see Nine Inch Nails live in concert! They were in Lexington for the 23rd leg of their Lights in the Sky: Over North America 2008 summer tour. I didn’t cry like I did at the Smashing Pumpkins concert in Louisville weeks back, but that’s not to say I wasn’t shaking the whole time. In fact, I think I might have broken into seizures when they performed “Closer” and “March of the Pigs.” I loved the Pumpkins concert, but I gotta say this right here was the icing on the cake for me. The sound was impeccable, the set list incredibly tight, the moving set and visual effects breathtaking—and the band were full of energy! It was so surreal, I didn’t want the night to ever end. It was just a different kind of high. That band is the perfect drug!
#28: Me with some random guy who obviously was on a mission to take guyliner to new heights. Kidding. This was during one summer night three years ago when The Rocky Horror Picture Show had just wrapped up at the Kentucky Theatre in downtown Lexington, and suddenly that part of Main St. between Martin Luther and Quality was awash with transvestites with feather boas in different shades of pink. It was a sight to behold. This guy wasn’t a tranny, no—100% straight, in fact—but he just had to be dressed for the occasion.
#31: The indefatigable Romero Vergara hard at work. He did the hair and makeup for Luna Van der Linden’s engagement shoot, which was the first ever engagement shoot I styled. I’ve worked with Romero for more than a decade. He’s been part of some of the more important shoots in my career as a stylist. I love that he is always in a pleasant mood, and that his work is impeccable. I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by works of genius.
#32: My friend’s daughter Mickey is an aspiring makeup artist. She’s always asking to tag along whenever I have a shoot so she can interview the makeup artists, pick at their brain, observe their craft. Here she asks for a photo with her idol, Romero. It’s so refreshing when there are kids like Mickey who are bent on laying down the bricks of their career path very early on.
#34, #35 and #36: My good friend Oscar Pascual asked me to visit him in Florida for a weekend. He lives in Fort Myers, but asked me to fly into Tampa. It was raining so hard when I got there—Hurricane Fay had come back for its third (or fourth) landfall in Florida. People had been warning me not to go, but I’d had to be brave. This was my one (and probably only) chance to see the Sunshine State, so I just had to go—even if it wasn’t gonna be all that sunshiny when I got there. Besides, I’d been needing a little bit of this—after having had two summers in one year! Oscar made sure I was going to have a grand time, though—nothing like drunken laughter over glasses of Malibu mojito (and a visit to a strip club) to keep you warm when your days are cold!
#37: The things I would do to have a Pinkberry right now. Pomegranate, topped with kiwi, blueberries and honey almond granola.
#38: I love, love, love the trannies in WeHo. They go all out, those girls! Here, I get up close and personal with the Balenciaga “Toy” shoe.
#40: This is how ours shadows look like in Disneyland.
#42: Barely an hour had passed since I’d touched down at JFK, and already I had a party to hustle my way into! It was so crazy, I was piss drunk in less than two hours! That’s me and my gracious hostess Anne Alegrado being derelict yet still stylish on a sidewalk in Meatpacking/Chelsea.
#43 and #44: Another rock ‘n’ roll dream come true: I got to see Alice in Chains live in concert! At first I was a little skeptical about the new vocalist William DuVall. Even after the two guys I was standing in line with had told me that the new guy was awesome, in my mind I was still thinking that nobody could ever replace Layne Staley, and that people had come here for the music, and not the vocals. And then DuVall opened his mouth, and that was the demise of my doubts. I closed my eyes through half of “No Excuses,” and all of “Angry Chair” (because I had to keep myself from crying), and I swear to God, it was as if it was Layne singing. I mean, yeah, if you squinted DuVall would look (and, at times, move) more like Lenny (Kravitz) than Layne, but you gotta look past the afro and the antics! He sounds just like Layne it’s amazing.
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.