“If you could photograph only one thing in the world, what would it be?” A friend of mine once asked me this question almost out of the blue. She was half-expecting me to scream “Chris Burden’s Urban Light outside the LACMA!” or go all out and pick a really outrageous subject like, say, the divine Kate Moss, and so what rolled out of my tongue took her by surprise: “A horse.” And I wasn’t kidding, too—in fact, this was the most honest answer I’d ever given anyone. To which she intoned incredulously, “Why a horse?” I just laughed and said, you know, “Well, why the hell not?”
Said this a gazillion times before, and I’ll say it again now: To me, there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing a horse throw its head up, arch its back, and whip its tail. Pure, unadulterated magic. Hundreds of other animals out there, I know, but, to me, none of them possess and harmonize two opposing qualities as effectively and effortlessly as a horse does—i.e., not everything that’s fluid can be strapping at the same time, and not everything that’s strapping can be fluid—which is almost always what makes something such a thrill to watch (the reason why we are so fascinated with ballerinas, or why we can’t stop watching those Herb Ritts music videos, no?) and, well, to photograph.
I’d been fascinated with horses since time immemorial (the first ever book I’d finished in one sitting was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty; I’d held on to my My Little Pony blanket well until I was halfway through high school; and for a time there I’d actually considered getting that silhouette of a stallion in the lower right corner of the album cover of the Deftones’ White Pony tattooed on my wrist), but this epiphany—the joy in taking pictures of them—didn’t occur to me until a year and a half ago, when I visited the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, on a mission to take pictures of the place for my cousin Amanda Liok, who loved horses to death and had dreamt of visiting that very place one day, and I ended up spending four or so hours just clicking away at every singe horse I bumped into, living or statued. Andalusians, American Minis, Palominos, even Frieisians! Majestic equine bronze statues (Herbert Haseltine’s rendition of the legendary Man o’ War, couple of Gwen Reardons)! I even got to witness and shoot some show jumping! It was such an exhilarating experience—needless to say, I didn’t want it to ever end. Flash forward to a year later, back home in Cebu, I was starting to lament the lack of opportunities to watch or photograph these fine creatures in this part of the world when, slowly but surely, they found a way to creep up on to—or, should I say “gallop into”—my frame. For a shoot in Busay last July, I was surprised when the stylist was able to commission a pretty little riding mare named Athena to join in the sitting. And then the following month, during my first ever gig as apprentice to Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography), which took us up the mountains of Carmen, my mentor had to shoot me reproving glances upon realizing I was spending more time taking pictures of this stallion named Ferrari than of our clients. And then came November, which found us driving two hours down south to Barili to do a cowboy-themed engagement session—and what’s a cowboy-themed sitting without a couple of horses, right?
Three shoots that involved horses, none of them planned or foreseen, all of them a coincidence. Glad they came along and found me, because they only gave me the chance to prepare for my biggest shoot that was to involve horses. Which brings us to this shoot right here.
For more than a year I’d been promising my cousin Amanda that I was going to find time in my frenzied schedule to visit her in her new hometown of Palompon, Leyte (some two hours west of Ormoc City), and photograph her and her daughter Mia, and, well, their horses. I hadn’t seen her in ages, and during that time our only form of interaction had been our exchange of e-mails whenever I’d found myself in Kentucky—“It’s you that’s supposed to be here,” I would write. “You are going to love this place to bits!” To me, Amanda was many things, but a lover of horses above all—naturally, no one else had come to mind whenever I’d found myself in the “horse capital of the world.” She would respond to my e-mails saying that, yes, it had been her and her husband’s dream to visit Lexington one day, and then she would send me photos of the horses in her own backyard. What beauties! She had taken her childhood fancies and whims, and then put them together to put up her own little band of horses. When I told her at one point that “it turns out naming your horses is almost like an art”—this after I’d met horse owners/equestrians at the Horse Park who’d baptized their beloved beasts with some of the most enchanting names I’d ever heard (my personal favorites: Alcatraz, Countess, and Moonshine, the latter probably after the liquor since this was the American South, after all)—she’d shared that, yes, she’d taken the naming game pretty seriously herself, and had given the most charming monikers to those in her brood. Finding out that she’d named one of her babies Moondance? Enough to make me want to meet the beauty and the rest of the family in the flesh, and that was how the idea for this shoot had been born.
So aside from Moondance there were Salsa, Chili, Ginger, Ola, Baila, and Sol. When Amanda asked me which one I wanted to include in the shoot, I picked Moondance, and she validated my choice by saying that the mare’s strawberry roan made it very photogenic—true enough, against the vast vegetation in their backyard, her chestnut coat looked so dazzling that I found it hard to stop taking pictures of her! She was the most mild-mannered of them all, too, and had a Zen aura about her. You know what they say about never approaching a horse “from the behind?” Well, I approached her a couple of times from the rear, and Moondance didn’t seem to mind. (She was the complete and utter opposite of the subject of Curley Fletcher’s poem-turned-ballad called, well, “The Strawberry Roan,” which talks of a wild bucking horse: “An’ fer throwin’ good riders he’s had lots uh luck/ An’ he sez that this pony has never been rode/ That the boys that gits on him is bound to git throwed.”) Did I mention she was very affectionate towards her master, too? Every chance she got she would stick her muzzle against Amanda’s cheeks! I thought that was just cute. I wanted to include Salsa in some of the frames, because I was in love with her smoky black coating, but the caretaker told me that that mare had to rest (apparently, horses have to take a break, too)—I did get a chance to take a few shots of her while she was taking an afternoon stroll, though, and that was enough for now (I’ll be back for you, Salsa!).
For Mia’s set, we decided to include the latest addition to their ever-growing family: a 4-year-old Miniature named Iris. Pretty awesome, because only a year ago, when I’d showed Amanda my photos of the American Minis I’d spotted at the Horse Park, she’d said that it had been her dream to get Mia a Mini, and now here we were face-to-face with a dream come true! Actually, the little girl didn’t get just one but two Minis! The other one, Barrack, we couldn’t ask to join in the photos because he was in a foul mood that day and thus had to be kept at bay. That was alright, because Iris by herself was gorgeous enough. I would’ve wanted for Mia to mount Iris for a couple of frames, but Iris was pregnant (another Mini on the way!), so we just forgot about it.
Horses weren’t the only, um, quadrupeds that made special guest appearances that day. Mia’s blue Australian Cattle Dog named, well, Blue also joined in the fun. Such a mischievous little creature, that fella—he was all over the place, darting from left to right, jumping up and down, always wanting to play catch—but when it was time for him to face the camera he was surprisingly tame and well-behaved! Suffice to say that that doggie stole the show—it was as if he was thinking, I am not going to let a bunch of horses upstage me!
It’s uncanny how much Mia looks like her mom. I was staring at the little girl’s face, and it took me back to years ago when Amanda and I were little kids, and we’d lock ourselves up in her bedroom to play with her Barbies (actually, she would take me to her bedroom so I could play with her Barbies, and then she’d rush back out to play with the boys). It got me feeling somewhat, um, melancholic thinking that Amanda finally had a “mini her,” while here I was without a “mini me!” When I asked Mia what she wanted to be when she grew up, she just shook her head, pressed a thumb against her nose (she loves to do that, so cute!), and said she didn’t know yet. One thing’s for sure, though: she’s gonna take after her mother’s love of horses. When Amanda showed me a photo album of their recent trip to Down Under, noting that some of the more beautiful photos had been taken by Mia, I said, “I hope she grows up to be a photographer!” Of course, wishful thinking in my part that, since I didn’t have a “mini me” of my own, Mia would take after a part of me, too. Wouldn’t that be nice, though?
I was happy that I got to exercise a teensy-weensy bit of styling during this session. You see, I’d had reservations at first, knowing that Amanda and I, although we’d practically grown up together, had completely opposing views when it came to clothes (didn’t I mention me playing with her Barbies and her running off to play with the boys?)—i.e., she was the T-shirt-and-jeans kind of girl, while I favored, well, everything impractical. I was also aware of the fact that she was making a conscious effort to raise her daughter in a certain way—i.e., she didn’t want Mia to grow up appearance-conscious—and I wanted to respect that more than anything. But thank God she trusted me enough to let me have my way that day, and she agreed to wear some of the items that I’d brought along with me. I was in for a pleasant surprise, though, when, upon inspecting their closet to look for other items we could use, I spotted these exquisite little pairs of two-tone top-stitched cowboy boots (Amanda’s in aquamarine and coffee, and Mia’s in cameo pink and camel)—turned out that, although function was their utmost priority, they knew a thing or two about injecting a little form and fancy into their wardrobe, after all.
OK, OK. I know you’ve been thinking it while looking at all these photos, so let’s just get it out of the way, shall we? These are some seriously good-looking cowgirls right here. Amanda is going to laugh at this little commentary, though, even call it absurd, because she’s down-to-earth like that. But the fact that they didn’t need makeup to look this good in photos (our makeup artist friend Sheila On, my go-to girl whenever I have shoots in Leyte, wasn’t available that day) is only testimony to how naturally beautiful they are. But make no mistake, behind those pretty faces are some, well, pretty tough interiors. Like the horse that marries good looks and might, these girls possess those two qualities not easily contained in one person. Amanda, for example, is not one you would want to mess with. One can imagine her bringing home trophies from practical shooting competitions in South Africa, or hunting kangaroos in the Australian Outback—all of which, and more, as it happens, she’s actually already done. She’s the kind of girl that, growing up, I’ve been wanting to be, but, well, just can’t. But while I’m terribly unlucky that I can’t be her, I’m still lucky in that not only is she my first cousin, she’s also my oldest best friend.
Amanda Kangleon-Liok and her daughter Amilia (and their mares Moondance, Iris and Salsa, and their dog Blue) | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Palompon, Leyte, on November 27, 2011 | Special thanks to Marnelli Uyguangco | Hyperfloral jersey babydoll dress, Topshop | Vintage wash denim jacket, stylist’s own | Chambray folk skirt, The Fab Grab
Don’t you just love those New York Girls? I know I do. And I’m not just talking about those who have made me want to sing, “At the risk of sounding cheesy/ I think I fell for the girl on TV”—like the fictional but fabulous Carrie Bradshaw, for example, or the very real but too good to be true Olivia Palermo. I’m talking about the, um, regular girls, too: like the Lou Doillon look-alike who stood beside me at the Garment District Pret A Manger, and who ordered nothing but sparkling water for lunch; or, like the girls I bumped into at the Time Square Starbucks, cradling Caramel Macchiatos in one arm and a pile of fashion magazines in the other; or, like the middle-aged woman and her Chihuahua that I ran into near the Christopher St. station, who wore matching granny-style crocheted wool square ponchos; or, like the cool mom who grows her own vegetables in her Brooklyn backyard during the day, and at night squeezes her way through throngs of sweaty rock fans at Terminal 5 to watch Nine Inch Nails live in concert (I’m talking about my friend Anne); or, like the little girl who likes to refer to the Brooklyn Bridge as “the bridge from the princess movie” (Anne’s daughter Ellis, named after Ellis Island, and, yes, she is talking about the movie Enchanted). Yes, there is a certain kind of magic when you are looking at, talking to, or just simply being around a New York girl. It gives you a certain kind of thrill—something about the exuberance of their unrestrained actions, their whimsical wits. Inevitably, you find it extremely hard to keep your jaw from dropping.
One such jaw-dropping moment happened to me a couple of months back when we were photographing the New York-based Cebuana transplant Cherry de Dios and her groom-to-be Chris Beck. They’d just flown in from the Big Apple, decided to do a quick stopover in Cebu to see family—and to have their engagement photos taken—before proceeding to tie the knot in Ormoc City, Leyte. We were at some farm up the mountains in Carmen (some two hours northeast of Cebu City), and I was inside this quaint little cabin helping Cherry sort their outfits while watching her do her own makeup. She’d elected not to hire a makeup artist for the occasion: “For the actual wedding I’m going to have a makeup artist, of course,” she said (and she was talking about my friend Sheila On, who did the makeup for my very first solo shoot months back—what a small world!), “but for now I just want to look like me, you know? I don’t want to look like somebody else in these pictures.” At first I was skeptical about this decision of hers, but in no time she proved me wrong. And by no time, I mean, well, no time—she spent only 20 seconds penciling her brows, another 20 applying eyeliner, and then 10 seconds glossing her lips, and then another 10 combing her hair with her fingers! “You just gave new meaning to ‘in a New York minute!’” I exclaimed in awe. To which she just winked and said, “Exactly!” She knew what she wanted, she worked on it herself, and she worked on it fast. The very essence of a modern New York girl.
Asked why they’d chosen to have their engagement photos taken here when they could’ve done it in New York City (I was imagining Bow Bridge at Central Park, or those pretty little West Village sidewalks!), she said, “I thought about it, but it was Chris who said he wanted to do it here.” By here, she meant this very farm where we were at right now. Turned out the fiancé had fallen absolutely in love with the place when they’d first visited a little over a year back. And who could blame him? I looked around me and asked myself, what was not to love about this place? Towering pine trees, windswept shrubs, pretty little hiking trails—it was like we were in Baguio! Plus, stand on the porch of the main cabin and look east and you get a breathtaking view of Camotes Island (or, is it Leyte?). My favorite part would have to be how there were these charming little makeshift birdhouses atop each of the pine trees—and they weren’t there for decorative purposes; little birdies actually inhabited them! How was it possible that a place like this existed in this part of the country? Well, made possible in part by Cherry’s sister Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who took her predilection for all things countryside and bucolic to create the ultimate vacation home for when she and her family needed to shy away from the city life.
That was it! It was the perfect retreat from the frenetic pace of their big city lives! That was why Chris loved it here! I was watching him as he walked around the place, took deep breaths and blinked dreamily at every little thing he laid his eyes on. And it looked like that was all he wanted to do all day—soak up the beauty of the place—and it got to a point it was almost too embarrassing to ask him to stop what he was doing so we could start photographing them!
It would later turn out that this place wasn’t the only thing Chris loved about the Philippines. When it was time for lunch, served semi-al fresco style—i.e., at the porch—he was more excited than everyone else was about the food. It was an all-Filipino fare that Cherry’s sister had whipped up, and Chris attacked the table with much gusto. And when it came to conversations, both while in front of the cameras and in between sets, he displayed a heady kind of sensitivity towards breaking the language barrier, trying as best he could to speak in Cebuano. It almost embarrassed me when I told the team to “be sure to speak only English when he’s around, ‘cause he might get the wrong idea,” and Cherry was quick to disabuse me of such notion, saying that Chris was actually semi-fluent in Cebuano, and was passionate about learning the language more! And what a romantic way of reconciling their greatest difference, right? This was probably one of the reasons why Cherry knew Chris was the one.
As for what made Chris know Cherry was the one for him… Well, no one needed to ask, either. August can be a pretty sticky, sweaty proposition in this part of the world, especially when you’re running around outdoors—and, yes, even when it’s atop the mountains where the breeze is somewhat cool. This was why I was kind of hesitant at first about making her do the things we wanted her to do in front of the cameras. I mean, this was a New York girl we were talking about here—what was she going to think if we asked her to, say, remove her Calvin Klein strappy sandals, tread barefoot on prickly, rocky terrain, and chase the farm animals around? To our surprise, she obliged, and even managed to laugh about it. When we asked her to jump into the freshwater pool—you know, like, really jump, in order to make a huge splash—she winced at first, saying she’d never done anything like it before, but she rolled up her sleeves and went for it anyway. Such a cowgirl, I know! You should’ve seen the look in Chris’s eyes as he watched his wife-to-be do all these crazy antic—it was like he was getting more and more smitten every minute! Emerging from the pool, all flushed from her feat, she chuckled, to thundering applause from her family (her mother and her brothers and sisters, who’d decided to tag along for this session), “You see, these people are never going to let me live that down!” And then she jumped back into the water, proving that, to borrow a line from Ms. Bradshaw, “city girls and just country girls—with cuter outfits.”
* * * * * * * * *
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)
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?).
* * * * * * * * *
#46 and #47: At the Brooklyn Bridge with my friend Anne Alegrado’s daughter Ellis, a.k.a. my uptown girl. This was my first morning in New York, and they took me to the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d always wanted to see the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d always thought, Oh, that’s where you fall in love all over again. Thanks to that one pivotal scene an hour and 59 minutes into the first Sex and the City movie wherein Miranda and Steve decide to let back together and leave the past behind, with Al Green’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” playing in the background. “Very logical, yet poetic,” Carrie had said about the choice of rendezvous. So when I got there, I expected it to hit me—I thought of those who’d broken my heart, or those I’d hurt, and waited for a little voice inside of me to say, “Hold on.” But then the only little voice I heard was Ellis’s, who was quick to quip, “Hey! This is the bridge from the princess movie!” And then I realized she was talking about a scene from Enchanted, in which Princess Giselle was finally reunited with her Prince Edward—which she’d thought was all she’d ever wanted—until, walking side-by-side with him on this very bridge, she realized it wasn’t the Prince she was in love with, it was McDreamy. And so I stood there and got into thinking: Do I hold on, or do I let go? In life, it’s easy to get stuck between two places—in this case, it was literally, between Manhattan and Brooklyn—or in a place that means two completely different things. And that can be a pretty sticky situation. It can cause you sleepless nights. Luckily, for some of us, we can just shake it off, and do something stylish. It’s OK to lose sleep, anyhow—especially when you’re in the city that never sleeps.
#48: The rooftop at Anne’s Upper East Side apartment (the Wellesley on E 72nd, between 2nd and 3rd Ave., a red-brick 35-story tower). I’d be up here every morning, barely out of REM sleep and not having had coffee yet, just soaking up the sun and the incredible view of the neighboring skyscrapers. Her family have since moved to Brooklyn so Anne could fulfill her dream of sitting on the apotheosis of domestic bliss (well, I kind of like the sound of “Brooklynite gardener,” too), so it’s safe to say I won’t be seeing this rooftop ever again. At least I have pictures that I can look back on.
#49: I hadn’t seen this girl Liz Marsh in, like, 10 years—so you can imagine my surprise when she called and said she had to kidnap me for a day! Always nice to be reunited with old best friends. It’s amazing how she’d managed to stay the same after all those years—same hair, same eye makeup, same laugh, same everything—while I’d become 60 lbs. heavier! Well, her taste in music had changed a bit, but in a good way. Nothing beats driving around West L.A. with Deftones blasting from the car stereo. Speaking of driving, another thing that hadn’t changed about her was, well, her driving! That girl could bust a U-turn (and I don’t mean a legal one) like a gangsta! Luckily, we didn’t get into an accident like that one we got into some 10 years back at the DTM /Reclamation area. I almost got killed, though, when she tried to stuff me with Brazilian barbecue (carneiro, picanha ao alho) at Pampas Grill and “Around the World” combos at Sushi A Go Go—as if I wasn’t fat enough already.
#53: That’s Kloodie, one of my best friends, on her wedding day late last year. I just had to squeeze this photo in. Her wedding dress was the most divine thing I’d ever seen—I mean, look at that! It’s a Jun Escario, by the way, in case you’re wondering.
#56: My friend Janice Larrazabal took me to the Getty to see Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties. It meant so much to me being there and standing face-to-face with the works of the likes of Mary Ellen Mark, James Nachtwey, and Philip Jones Griffiths. Griffiths was my father’s favorite photographer, you see, so, yeah, it meant the world to me. Click here to read more about that experience.
#58: Four months after Michael Jackson’s passing, Angelenos and tourists alike flock to the Staples Center/Nokia Theatre L.A. Live area to pay tribute by dancing to “Thriller.”
#61: On my fourth day in New York I met up with some of my best girl friends from college, Nila Seno, Jam Montecillo and Charmaine Nadela.
#62: After a grueling trip to see Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone in the Greenwich Village the girls and I rewarded ourselves with these divine cupcakes from the world-famous Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker and W 11th. Divine!
#64: I’d wanted to go back to the beginning, so off we went to the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District at the site of the city’s original settlement (downtown, right by the Union Station and the City Hall). I’d been in this area back in 2008, but never got the chance to see the mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles, so I made sure there was no missing it this time around. I said a little prayer, and then went on to explore the colorful Olvera Street. We were right for going on a weekday; we didn’t have to squeeze through crowds of tourists. It was a nice experience: The sound of Mexican guitar and people pronouncing it “Loce Ang-hel-es.”
#64: San Francisco’s J. Boogie on the ones and twos at the Do-Over. A must-do when you’re in L.A. between mid-May and early November, the Do-Over is a Sunday afternoon “backyard barbecue-style” party (they used to throw it over at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern down N El Centro, between Hollywood and Selma, a stone’s throw away from Roscoe’s on Gower, and now the whole thing’s been moved to the Cabana Club a little off Sunset, right by the Arclight). They call it the Do-Over—because, well, as one of the bouncers put it when I asked, “do it once and you’ll want to do it over and over again!” My first Do-Over experience was the bomb, thanks to J. Boogie right here. Famous for his blend of roots reggae, dancehall, Latin hip hop, jazz rap, soul, and new jack swing, he got the crowd swinging nonstop, from Max Romeo’s “Chase the Devil,” to The Fugees’ “Ready or Not,” to Buju Banton’s “Mr. Nine,” to Richie Spice’s “Youth Dem Cold,” to Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s,” to Lady G’s “Nuff Respect,” to Tony Rebel’s “Know Jah,” to Q-Tip’s “Breathe and Stop,” to Bill Withers’s “Lovely Day,” to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” to Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” to Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” Next in the lineup was King Britt from Philadelphia, who kept the classics coming. I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t danced to SWV’s “Right Here/Human Nature” in so long, and it felt pretty damn good to be able to do so again. I can’t believe they brought the Do-Over to Manila just last month (July 23)—I would’ve flown! Oh, well, I sent them a Tweet saying they should swing by Cebu the next time they visit this part of the world. Let’s see what happens (or maybe I should just let my event organizer friends to make it happen). #65: Oh, and did I mention the sangria at the-Dover was the shiznit? I could finish 5 carafes of that shit. Well, now I got a deadly stain on my white boat shoes, but I don’t care—I’d like to think of it as a remembrance of a West Coast life well lived.
#66: With my best friends Ronald Conopio and Julie Pongos enjoying supersized mojitos at The Abbey in West Hollywood. We’d dreamt of this very moment when we were kids—all three of us, together again, in the same ZIP Code, particularly one that starts with a 9 and a 0. And so there we were, picking up the pieces, from 90067 to 90069 to 90210. And the coolest thing about it was that none of this was planned! It just happened, just like that, like a comet, like laughter, like forgiveness, and all those other things you can’t explain—a lot like the day we first met some 20 years ago!
#67: It was dineL.A. Restaurant Week. My best friend Chiklet was in the mood for a little sophisticated Spanish, so she took me to The Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (no, we were not there to stalk Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom). Loved loved loved the Gazpacho estilo Algeciras, the Tortilla de Patatas, the Papas Canarias, the Jamón Serrano Fermin, the Buñuelos (codfish fritters, honey alioli), the Croquetas de Pollo, and the Beef Hanger Steak (cooked in its own fat and drenched in piquillo pepper sauce). Of course, you don’t need to ask if I liked the ambiance—everything was screaming Philippe Starck.
#69: My goddaughter Tabitha, cutest little thing on earth. This was taken last December when she and her mom Yna Varias came to visit me. I love that she loves to overaccessorize. She has those sunglasses in three different colors.
#72: Me and my best friend Julie with Chad Wolf, frontman of the band Carolina Liar. This was taken after the Rob Thomas/OneRepublic concert at the Gibson Amp, in which they were opening act. Ah, fucking crazy! I got to talk to him and lead guitarist Rickard Göransson and tell them about how their song “California Bound” was, like, my soundtrack for this trip—or, for all my Californian adventures, for that matter! “Well, thanks for finding us, man,” Chad told me as we were about to leave. You should’ve seen me. I was beaming the whole time. Another rock ‘n’ roll dream come true!
#77: One of my favorite couples, my cousin Randy and his beautiful wife Sue, who always make it a point to see me whenever I’m in California. Well, Randy is not really my cousin—our moms are just real good friends, so, there, we’re sorta cousins, which makes Sue my sorta cousin-in-law. LOL. I’d love to photograph them one day, just ‘cause their chemistry is amazing, not to mention they’re both very stylish. The plan is to do a session before their Cebu wedding (yes, they had a California wedding, but Sue wants to have a Cebu wedding soon). Well, Randy is a photographer himself (see samples of his work here), but he can’t do his own pre-second-wedding photos, can he? You guys, this is my sales pitch right here.
#80: My nephew Jamim. Well, his real name is Prince James, but we call him Jamim—a moniker that big sister Oona came up with when should could not pronounce James, and it stuck. He calls me Antle because he can’t pronounce uncle, but that’s alright with me because, really, if you come to think of it, it’s like a portmanteau of aunt and uncle. LOL. He knows alligators are green, and dragons are orange. He loves guitars and drums, and it is my intention to start him early. He smells like Irish Spring, which is why I like to hug him. A lot. He can be clumsy at times, and once he amputated my Deep Space Starscream, but I love him all the same. He is the only human being who sees the good in me, only calling me “Bad!” when I cut his spaghetti into small bits. How nice that somebody in this world is capable of looking at me with a fresh pair of eyes.
#84: My godson Ari is growing up too fast! One day he could barely crawl, and now he was running around The Grove my knees were shaking as I was chasing him around. His mom Cai had asked me to take pictures of him, but it was just diabolically difficult trying to make this one stand still. Note to self: When photographing a child, make sure you’re on Red Bull.
#85 and #86: Couple of photos from my visit to the Kentucky Horse Park. I had promised my cousin Amanda Liok, who loves horses to death, that I was gonna take a lot of photos for her. There’s a certain kind of magic when you look at horses. Maybe it’s their necks. Maybe it’s their manes. Or, could it be their rear ends that remind you of a woman’s behind when she is wearing the right stilettos? I don’t know. I just know it’s magical. But even more enchanting is when you get to know their names. One of the girls I talked to calls her horse Moonshine—who knows if she meant moonlight, or liquor, but this was Kentucky so it’s probably the latter—and that just took my breath away. Another girl calls her horse Alcatraz. Amanda has a couple of horses in her backyard, and all of them have beautiful names: Salsa, Moondance, Taco, Chili. I would love to be able to own a horse one day. Maybe I’ll call it Baroness, after my favorite G.I. Joe character. Or maybe I’ll call it Malibu, after my favorite beach city. Or maybe I’ll call it Lexington, after my favorite summer fling. Or maybe I’ll call it Ava Adore, after my favorite Smashing Pumpkins song. Whatever it is, it definitely won’t be “a horse with no name”—although I kind of love that song, too.
#88, #89 and #90: Who doesn’t love the Santa Monica Pier? I know I do. And not just because this was where Spencer Pratt proposed to Heidi Montag—hey, I was a Baywatch baby long before I became a The Hills hoe. But, of course, it wasn’t the David Charvet types I’d come here to ogle at. Sitting there and watching the birds crisscross the horizon, I thought to myself, “Wow, I would come here everyday if only I could.” There’s this incredibly talented singer-songwriter named Terry Prince (I just recently learned that he has Fililipino roots, too!) who performs there on a regular basis. That definitely added a nice bonus to our visit. I mean, California is the last place you’d expect to find an old soul when it comes to music, and yet here was one guy who was not afraid to share his stories of inspiration through his soulful voice and pared-down melodies. Everyone stopped and listened. My favorite song was “Imagine Love.” I regret not capturing it on video, but, here, someone else did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WZoH2UP4PI. It’s even more beautiful when you’re actually there, I promise. The first few lines of the song goes: “Imagine love/ Imagine heaven here on earth…” I did not need to imagine heaven here on earth. Thanks to the birds, the horizon, and him, I was already standing on it.
In February I dreamed of grunge. Of unbuttoned plaid flannels flapping in the wind like a migratory bird about to embark on one of its seasonal journeys. Of ratty old jeans more torn than Ednaswap or Natalie Imbruglia could ever be. Of greasy, unkempt tendrils creeping out from under wool beanies. Of beat-up 14-hole Doc Martens stomping on dirty pavement. Of teeth-clenching throughout an entire opus. Of smelling “like teen spirit.”
I wasn’t stoned to the bajesus or anything; I was merely inspired. It all started when I was researching the German (or so I think he is) photographer Horst Diekgerdes after falling in love with the flare effects in his advertising work for Chloe from 2002 (I’d been flipping through old magazines!), and I stumbled upon this editorial that he did for Teen Vogue with stylist Havana Laffitte called “Finding Nirvana” featuring modern rethinks (Marc by Marc Jacobs, Missoni, A.P.C., Isabel Marant, etc.) of the grunge classics. The fashion, mood and mise en scène were so dead-on they brought me back to my own pimply adolescence when I would spend weeks on end experimenting on my jeans—including my one and only pair of 501s—to achieve the perfect ripped effect, raid my dad’s closet for his old Pendletons, and stay up until the wee hours of the morning just staring at this one photo of an all-grunged-up Kristen McMenamy by Steven Meisel, which I’d torn off of the December 1992 Vogue (from a spread called “Grunge & Glory”). Suddenly I found myself sorting through my iTunes looking for post-Louder Than Love Soundgarden and pre-Celebrity Skin Hole. And then glued to YouTube watching clips of Nirvana’s and Alice in Chains’s performances on MTV Unplugged. And then digging through stacks of my old Spins for anecdotes on bad behavior in the ‘90s music scene—did you know, for example, that Courtney Love used to flash her breasts to her audience during encores? Speaking of, um, mammaries, who could forget Bridget Fonda’s classic line from Cameron Crowe’s Singles from 1992: “Are my breasts too small for you?” I had planned on watching The Social Network on DVD, but now I was shelving it in favor of the ‘90s classics like, well, the aforementioned Singles, Ben Stiller’s directorial debut Reality Bites from 1994, and, of course, Antonia Bird’s Mad Love from 1995. Just like that, I got that old time feeling. The cutesy floral babydolls that Fonda’s Janet Livermore wore with leather biker jackets and trilbies. Ethan Hawke’s Troy Dyer and his unwashed mane and everlasting gaze. Drew Barrymore’s Casey Roberts and her oversize plaid flannels and messy pixie. When I got to the part when Casey stood at the back of Matt’s (Chris O’Donnell’s character) pickup truck as they drove away from all the troubles in their lives, her unbuttoned flannels, well, flapping in the wind like a migratory bird about to embark on one of its seasonal journeys, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Here Comes My Girl” playing in the background (heartland rock from the early ‘80s, really, and not grunge, but no other song could’ve been more fitting), I thought of how awesome it would be to have a shoot inspired by this whole grunge feel.
As luck would have it, less than 24 hours later, Maria Velasquez would announce her engagement to Michael Franco via a Facebook photo album, comic strip-style (you should’ve seen it, it was something). I was jumping up and down my seat thinking, wow, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect! I’d known Maria since forever, from when she’d been my associate lifestyle editor at Eastern Visayas Mail some 8 years back, and I’d always admired they way she carried herself—not afraid to speak her mind, opinionated yet canny, brash yet good-humored, like a one-girl revolution. Her headstrong, devil-may-care, semi-rebel nature and no-fuss, somewhat tomboyish style harbored just the sense of cool that I wanted to tap into for the grunge theme I envisioned. We wasted no time exchanging e-mails. Quite the coup in my part: It didn’t take a whole lot of effort to convince her to go for the theme. I only had to leverage the blog post that she herself had put up almost a year back, in which she’d paid homage to her 10-year-old 1460 8-eye Doc Martens. Swear to God, my amazing recall of all manner of detail is my best weapon. OK, I’m lying: I also had to sweet-talk her by pointing out that her fiancé was sort of a dead ringer for Chris O’Donnell. But that was it. In less than a half-hour I got her to say yes. Which, if you come to think of it, made that day the day she said yes twice.
Over the next couple of days a few of adjustments had to be made, especially since I found out that Michael wasn’t a grunge guy. I mean, he liked grunge and all, but that wasn’t the only thing he was into. An avid guitarist, he was also into hard rock, heavy metal, alternative, punk—you name it. And so instead of setting a theme that was purely grunge, we had to go for something a little broader—Maria and I both decided to make it ‘90s. At first the thought of giving the initial mood board an overhaul seemed disconcerting, but over time I came to an understanding that it was for the best, especially when, as I was visualizing the styling in my head, I realized that it would be just plain wrong to subject Michael to heavy grunge gear à la Matt Dillon’s Cliff Poncier from Singles—the whole thing would come out too contrived and too costumey. That’s the thing about styling for real people: You have a vision, yes, and people are going to respect that, but at the same time you have to take into consideration what your subjects are like in real life, and so you might have to exercise some restraint, tone it down a bit, because what you really need to do is augment their abstract qualities, not try to disguise them. And so, after careful deliberation, this was what the final mood board looked like: stills from the 1993 music video of Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,” featuring Alicia Silverstone and Stephen Dorff; a photo of a young Kate Moss wearing a feather headdress by the British fashion and documentary photographer Corinne Day for the July 1990 issue of The Face (also known as “The 3rd Summer of Love” issue, and the editorial in question, styled by Melanie Ward, is what many fashion journalists consider to be the launching pad that propelled Ms. Moss into superstardom); the soundtracks to 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You and 1995’s Empire Records; that one still from Mad Love (Barrymore standing at the back of O’Donnell’s pickup truck as he drove); and the album cover of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness from 1995 for the palette (take note that by palette here I mean the color swatches to be used in the final layout, and not necessarily in the styling, because I like to think of the finished product ahead of time—in this case, it was coral red, eggplant, light olive, Navajo white variation # 9, and dark chestnut that I was able to extract from the Mellon Collie album cover). There was this one photo of Mischa Barton by Bruce Weber (styled by, well, Havana Laffitte, from the September 2006 issue of Teen Vogue), in which she was wearing an oversize flannel shirt and a floral-print thermal tee over a net-overlaid taffeta gown from Peter Som’s Fall 2006 Ready-to-Wear collection, that did not make it to the board because of, well, the gown element, but I kept it in my head, just in case. Also in the backlog: the motorcycle scenes from the video of Aerosmith’s “Amazing” from 1993.
Long-distance styling can be a massive pain in the backside because it takes out of the equation some of the more important steps—like doing house calls to inspect the client’s closet for pieces they might already have that can be useful, taking their measurements, overseeing the actual fittings, etc. —but Maria was so hands-on she made it a lot easier for me. I e-mailed her a 3-page list of clothing items and accessories, and she would send the file back to me all marked up with her comments (“Yes, I have this, but in a darker shade of blue” or “No, I do not have anything that looks like this, but please do look for one for me”). It helped that she had bristling Internet savvy, having been a blogger since time immemorial (i.e., before it had become a fad), ‘cause when there was an item or two she couldn’t picture she’d do some digging up in cyberspace to see what they looked like, and more often that not she’d come up with better images/samples than what I’d had in mind! We followed this very same modus operandi when it was time to finalize the props and the locations. Somehow I was able to find (and work with) someone who was more obsessive-compulsive than I was. It took us a good five or so days doing all this, but they were time well spent.
Next on the agenda was picking a date for the shoot. We had initially agreed on February 13, Sunday, but somehow that didn’t feel right—for one, I seemed to know it was, um, impolite to wear them out in the hours leading to their first Valentine’s eve as an engaged couple! And so we had to push it back to the following Sunday, which turned out to be the right move: February 20 was Kurt Cobain’s birthday, the 17th after his passing (he would’ve turned 44). You know the stars are all aligned and you’re in for something hella good when even your shooting date is in keeping with the theme!
On the day of the shoot I woke up at 5 AM. I’d arrived in Ormoc 1 PM of the previous day, and went straight to bed after 2 hours of oculars—I’d figured more than 12 hours of sleep should be enough to prep me for a 12-hour shoot (I do not have an assistant, so if it’s an on-location assignment that entails 4 or more sets I usually plot a 7-to-7 in my datebook). Michael and Maria were ready by 7:30 AM, complete with an entourage (3 people!) to help out with the props and the heavy equipment! There were a few setbacks, like the pickup truck not turning up (we’d asked to borrow my cousin Francis’s vintage-looking bad boy that looked like a ‘78–‘79 Ford F100 Custom XLT, but he was marooned in Manila)—good thing Maria had a Plan B, and she had her cousin’s jeep on standby (things like this I appreciate because I’m not very good with backup plans).
I was happy with the clothes, too. The five or so days we’d spent exchanging e-mails to plot their outfits turned out to be the best investment. I loved that Maria paid close attention to detail. When I’d told her to bring a pair of denim shorts, for example, she could’ve brought one that was close-fitting, but she’d known we were doing ‘90s so she’d made a conscious effort to bring one that was somewhat baggy. Some items weren’t perfect, but a little nip and tuck here and there did the trick—the floral minidress that we’d borrowed for my mom, for instance, wasn’t exactly babydoll and didn’t exactly have that ‘90s silhouette, but a few crude alterations to the hemline brought us closer to the vicinity of the Donna Martin look. That wasn’t the only alteration that had to be made on the fly—when I told her to cut the sleeves off her precious denim jacket to make it look more in sync with Axl Rose-inspired red bandana, she obliged. I hope I’m not blowing my horn too much if I say I think this was my best styling job ever. My only regret was forgetting to ask Michael to slip out of his surfer sandals and borrow my Bed Stu work boots for a while, but, oh, well, the whole thing didn’t turn out dastardly so I guess we’re fine.
Sheila On did a really great job with hair and makeup. This was my first time working with her, but she just blew me away with her awesomeness. We didn’t have to explain to her what we’d wanted—Maria only had to show her a photo of Alicia Silverstone circa the Areosmith years, and they got to work. Of course, it’s a look Sheila is all too familiar with: We were classmates in high school, so it’s safe to say we grew up with the same inspirations (I remember asking her almost everyday to sing Shanice’s “Saving Forever for You” from the Beverly Hills, 90210 soundtrack to me—another thing you should know about her is she got mad pipes!). She couldn’t be with us the whole time, though, since she’d just opened her studio and had clients literally banging on her door, but that was fine because her finished product required minimal to no retouching, even when Maria had to sweat like hell because of all the crazy stunts I was making her do. The only retouching that had to be done were those between sets, and thank God Sheila had chosen to set up camp smack in the middle of the city, only a good 10 minutes away from wherever we were shooting.
I must say, though, that my favorite part of this whole thing was how game my subjects were. This was my first solo project, and naturally I’d had apprehensions—like, “Am I sure about this? Can I do this?”—but Michael and Maria were so upbeat and flexible and playful and just plain wonderful to work with that all my worries had to hit the road. They also liked to overcompensate. I’d asked for an electric guitar, and Michael brought two. I’d asked for a small set of speakers and amps, and he brought everything he owned plus a couple more he’d borrowed from friends. I’d asked for an empty bottle of Jägermeister, they brought all sorts of liquor bottles in all shapes and sizes! (They even brought a dozen sandwiches for snacks, and said I was supposed to finish all of it!) Did I mention they were extra resourceful? When I decided the last minute that I wanted to do an “Amazing”-inspired motorbike set, they found a bike to borrow at the snap of their fingers. It helped that Michael was into photography, too—in between frames he would dispense quick suggestions and helpful tips. (I guess it’s worth mentioning now that one of his cameras he’d sold to contribute to the engagement ring fund—isn’t that sweet?) And Maria, so used to being a muse, was a natural in front of the camera—she had this preternatural way of finding the right facial expressions, and a sinuous grace that made her poses look like actual movements. I also saw how supportive they were of each other—I’d ask Maria to do something really tricky, and Michael would cheer, “You can do it!” Yes, I have the tendency to push my subjects around a bit. But it was the sets wherein I had absolutely nothing to do with the sittings—i.e., the stolens and the candids—that I enjoyed shooting the most. These two, when they think nobody’s watching—or taking a picture, for that matter—are quite the pair. Pure, unadulterated chemistry. I swear there were times I forgot they were yet to be married, ‘cause they looked like they’d been married from the moment they’d first met.
I couldn’t make it to their wedding because I was booked for another shoot, but I heard it was quite the spectacle. No, the theme wasn’t grunge, but one that was equally fierce: Mafia. I was just looking at the photos from their wedding reception, and it looked pretty wild, alright—think The Sopranos meets The Wedding Crashers. It’s refreshing that there are people who get to come up with things like this, because it makes the whole thing all the more memorable. Were they trying to cause a stir? Well, no. They simply wanted to prove to the world that rock ‘n’ roll dreams do come true.
Michael Vincent Franco and Maria Cecilia Velásquez | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Ormoc City on February 20, 2011 | Hair and makeup by Sheila On (to book Sheila, click here)
In my mood board (see below, clockwise from top left): Stills of Alicia Silverstone and Stephen Dorff from the music video for Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,” 1993; the soundtracks to 1995’s Empire Records and 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You; a photograph of Kate Moss by Corinne Day (styled by Melanie Ward) for The Face’s “The 3rd Summer of Love” issue, July 1990; still of Drew Barrymore and Chris O’Donnell from Antonia Bird’s Mad Love, 1995; palette inspired by the drabber colors of the album cover of The Smashing Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995, composed of (L-R) coral red, eggplant, light olive, Navajo white variation # 9, and dark chestnut (take note that, because I added some grain to them, the swatches here might be different—darker, if you will—from the samples in your matching system).