Seriously, though: Exactly how small is the world getting? When my boss/mentor at Shutterfairy Photography Malou Pages told me we were going to be doing this couple’s engagement session, she didn’t mention much about the groom-to-be, only waxed poetic about the bride-to-be, saying that “you’re going to love her—she is very, very pretty!” So imagine my surprise when I went to sit down with the couple for our initial meeting and I found out that the groom-to-be was Gerald Serafin, who was not only the cousin of Rachelle Jean “RJ” Serafin-Bual, for whom we did a cowboy-themed engagement shoot back in 2010, but also brother to my good friend Ace, who was married to one of my closest friends Camille! From that moment I knew I had to do a good job with this assignment—Ace and Camille are like family to me, so I couldn’t afford to do a sucky job with this one! Of course, I also couldn’t discount the fact that Malou was right about Gerald’s fiancée Barbara being very pretty—I couldn’t stop staring at her face and thinking, I am going to have one hell of a field day styling/photographing this girl! She had the face of an angel. She reminded me of the model Kristine Petersen, who reigned supreme back in the day (1990s/early 2000s) as part of the original lineup (along with Malou Gica, Steevee Mahboob, and Elite Model Look- Philippines 1996 winner Charity Lagahid) of the inimitable Models Association of Cebu (MAC). That thought alone was enough to get me real excited.
Gerald is a businessman and an architecture enthusiast who runs a small but successful countertop and cabinetry business, but what most people don’t know is he is also a health and fitness buff who is obsessed with cycling. In his free time, usually on weekends, he likes to go on biking trips, and, mind you, we’re not talking the usual 5-6 miles up the hills of Busay—we’re talking hardcore here, like, some 70 miles down south of the island and back! Don’t ask me where he gets all that energy and drive, but he did get to talking about why he enjoyed exploring the southern parts more than any other area of Cebu: he loved the scenery, especially the old buildings/structures. Perhaps to feed his fascination of placemaking? He cited one favorite: Ruins of an unfinished coral-block cuartel or barrack stand dating back to the mid-1800s, which sat immediately in front of Oslob’s Church of the Immaculate Conception, facing the sea. He showed me a couple of photos of the place that he took using his camera phone during a recent biking trip, and my eyes widened at how majestic it looked—how come I’d never heard of this place before? The more he talked about it, the more it became palatable in my mind, and so I wasted no time in proposing: “We should do the shoot right here!” They liked the idea, but Barbara expressed that she was hoping we could do a couple of beach shots, too—having grown up in Bohol, this girl was, more than anything, a beach bum. I assured her this wasn’t going to be a problem, since weren’t there a string of beach towns—Argao, Dalaguete, Alcoy, etc.—on the way to Oslob from the city? The thought of turning the shoot into a road trip at the same time was enough to get me pumped. I’d used to not be a fan of road trips—those things had used to make me throw up, literally and figuratively, to put it rather bluntly—and I’d even told my boss at one point that, for engagement shoots, “I prefer not moving around too much, and just sticking to one location that has it all.” Eventually, though, I’d learned to re-embrace the idea of road tripping, thinking, I live in this incredible island—I just have to own that!
The styling part came really easy, too. I mean, when you look at someone with a face and a body like Barbara’s, what kind of clothes do you imagine on her? I was pretty much stumped at warm-weather clothes! And that wasn’t something I hoped to change! No other look made sense on her—I examined her ethereal hair, her amber eyes, her megawatt smile, and I saw a thousand summers written on them. You know the song “Sunny Road” by Emilíana Torrini? That was the song that played in my head the whole time I was talking to her. So, like reflex, I proceed to look to Free People’s May 2012 catalog (the one they shot in Miami; click here to view photos from that catalog) for inspiration, with a hint of Blake Lively’s carefree California girl character Ophelia “O” Sage from Oliver Stone’s thriller blockbuster Savages (July 2012)—kaftan tops, low-rise denim cutoffs, colorful maxi dresses, semi-sheer summer shirts, headscarves, bikinis, some crochet, and some tie-dye. The whole thing was equal parts boho, surfer chic, and Coachella! They were the kinds of clothes that would be in my closet had I been a girl living in L.A. or Laguna Beach! The sweetest thing was I didn’t have to do an awful lot of legwork in order to look for these items, because between Barbara’s and Camille’s closets we were able to put together at least 20 or so outfits! Yes, we spent one whole afternoon cooped up in Camille’s walk-in closet (Barbara had dragged in three bags full of her clothes—one of which contained about thirty pairs of bikinis!), going through racks upon racks and piles upon piles of their stuff, mixing and matching to our hearts’ content! So much fun! The only tough part was having to deliberate which of the twenty outfits were going to make it into the final lineup, but we got there eventually. Thank God for helping hands!
The weather was pretty crazy on the day of the shoot—I woke up at 4 in the morning, and it was raining like hell, and it stayed that way during our entire drive to Oslob! I was just about ready to slip into a mild depression (uncooperative atmospheric conditions = bane of my existence), but then Gerald and Barbara stepped in front of the cameras, all goofy and dorky, and just like the skies started to clear up, like magic! I love that they’re like a crazy bunch—they’re always trying to make each other laugh, and they love to pull crazy stunts on each other. Even my boss Malou, who’s photographed close to a hundred couples since started Shutterfairy, tells me that she’s never seen a relationship like theirs before: “It’s nice because it’s like they’re just two friends hanging out, having a good time.” You won’t believe it when I tell you the story of how Gerald proposed: Barbara was lazing around his bedroom while he took a shower, and moments later he would emerge from the bathroom in nothing but a towel, engagement ring in hand, saying, “I love you!” And that was it! No “Will you marry me?” or “Will you do me the honor of being my wife?” I’m not too sure whether or not Barbara uttered a distinct and deliberate “Yes!” It is assumed just she just took the ring with a big laugh, and that was her version of a “Yes!” If finding someone that makes you laugh is the recipe for a perfect marriage, then it well may be that Gerald and Barbara wrote that cookbook.
Did I mention that they have a lot of things in common, too? I think I only mentioned it was Gerald who loved cycling, but the truth is that’s actually something they liked to do together—he has a big room next to their living room that houses all their bikes and cycling gear/equipment, and I think half of them he bought for Barbara. They even have matching cycling jerseys (most of them in blue, maybe because that’s their favorite color). They also share a common love of dogs! If you were to ask them who the boss was in their relationship, they would probably tell you it’s their Labrador Retriever Princess, or their dachshund Macky. Princess even got to tag along with us on the day of the shoot—that added a really nice touch to the photos! I would’ve wanted for Macky to join in the fun, too, because he was such a dashing little fellow, but then he was grounded at the time ‘cause just a few days back he’d gotten into trouble by chasing an unsuspecting jogger and gnawing at the poor guy’s, um, balls! After hearing this horror story I decided perhaps if would be best if Macky just sat this one out. I mean, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to engage in any activity where there was a possibility of canines chewing on my body parts! No hard feelings, Macky!
Gerald and Barbara tied the knot last December 5. At first we’d worried it was going to be gloomy on their wedding day, and that they’d had to deal with a lingering vestige of the tropical storm Bopha that had hit the previous day. Quite miraculously, as in what had happened during their engagement shoot, when it was time for them to put on their show, the skies cleared and the sun came out! Trust the elements to align for you when you’ve got a sunny disposition, apparently! I couldn’t make it to the wedding, but I was just looking at the photos that Malou took that day and I couldn’t help but feel my heart balloon at how radiant Barbara looked—could she be the most beautiful bride in the world? Of course, when you look at those same photos, there’s no missing Gerald’s signature naughty grin, too—it’s either he may have been born with it, or that was his way of saying, “My bride is prettier than yours!” I wish them more charming old towns and beautiful beaches to bike through and explore, and more puppies to cuddle with. Most of all, I wish them more grey skies to turn bright and blue!
Gerald Serafin and Barbara Jean Duncan | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shuttefairy in Oslob and Alcoy, Cebu, on October 21, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy |Hair and makeup by Vanessa T. Gamus (to book Vanessa, click here) | Special thanks to Camille Blanco-Serafin and Marla Baguio
“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
Do I have a confession to make. When the folks at Shandar rang my house to tell me I was going to be shooting Christina Garcia-Frasco for the catalog of their shoe line’s inaugural collection, I got a little nervous. I hang up, and lost a little bit of composure. I mean, sure, Christina and I go way back—in a previous post I talked about how her co-spokesmodel Marjay Ramirez and I go way back, but Christina and I go more way back than way back, having gone to the same grade school and high school, although it was her older brother Paulo I’d been classmates with—but I guess that was exactly what I was nervous about. You see, the last time I’d spoken with her was some 15-16 years ago—well, we’d bumped into each other a couple of times in recent years, especially at dinner parties thrown by her younger sister Carissa, but we hadn’t had the chance to really sit down and catch up. I could still picture her schoolyard persona. She’d been the kind of sister who’d looked up to her brother, treated his peers as her own. Furthermore, she’d always been active in the student council, and as such had had a broader network. It had gotten to a point I’d become closer to her than to Paulo—we’d sit on the concrete bench underneath the flag pole, talking about books and our own writing (yes, she, too, had had a profound interest for writing growing up), among other things, while waiting for the class bells to ring. Flash forward to a decade and a half later, and here we were: I, who had no idea what I was doing, being new to this craft and all, was about to photograph her, who was quite possibly the most accomplished person I knew! To me, she was an apotheosis. Not only was she a hotshot corporate lawyer, she was also the daughter and right hand of the Governor of the Province of Cebu, and the First Lady of a booming Municipality (Liloan, some 45 minutes northeast of Cebu City). So, you see, this woman was kind of a big deal—I had every reason to be anxious. But, well, someone had to do the job, and as much as I was no stranger to wasted opportunities, I just knew I couldn’t afford for this one to be one of them.
Couple of days later I would graduate from nervous to the acme of panicky when the Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez told me that Christina had requested for a pre-shoot meeting of sorts, and asked me and the stylist Meyen Baguio to attend on their team’s behalf since they were going to be in Manila for an appointment with socialite-philanthropist Tessa Prieto-Valdes that they couldn’t reschedule (they were going ask Tessa to host the launch party, a task that would later prove to be successful). Christina had offered to host the lunch meeting at a place called Politics Café, in her new hometown of Liloan, and our drive there became one of the longest rides of my life. For the first time in a long time, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say. How were we going to do this? What was she expecting to get from this meeting? Was she going to ask to see my portfolio, which I hadn’t even put together yet? What if she wasn’t going to like our concept/s? I was going crazy in my head. Normally, you see, with other clients or subjects, the pre-shoot appointment would be one of the highlights of a stint, something I’d always looked forward to—something about the prospect of giving a good “sales talk” and presenting strong mood boards that gave it a great punch of oomph. This time, though, I just wanted to skip the whole thing. I was thinking, if this was some random girl whom I hadn’t met yet, or whom I barely knew, it would’ve been fine, because that nonfamiliarity allowed you to be a bit courageous, you know? But this was Christina—with acquaintance came a greater sense of commitment, and a greater dread of failure. I couldn’t decide whose stomach was twisting into more knots—Mark’s, as he was about to meet Ms. Prieto-Valdes, or mine, as I was about to lunch with Ms. Garcia-Frasco.
When we got to our meeting place, though, and Christina hopped out of her SUV in her Sunday best, all the bedlam inside of me got flushed out of my system. She flashed me a toothy smile and gave me a big bear hug like it was only yesterday that we’d last seen each other, and we found ourselves chatting up a storm before we could even slip into our lunch table. Turned out she was still the same girl from back in high school—cheerful, accommodating, ready to consider everyone around her as a friend. But, of course! How could I have expected her to change? If I ever faltered when I tried to speak it was probably ‘cause I was choking on, um, shame. Shame on me for expecting the worst when I should’ve known her better than that! We talked briefly about high school and family before getting down to the business at hand.
It turned out we didn’t have to convince her to appear in the Shandar catalog—she was already bent on doing it. No stranger to shoots, having been an endorser (her work for the jewelry brand Michelis a few years back is probably the best known of all her stints) and having been featured in fashion/lifestyle magazines quite a handful of times in the recent past, Christina isn’t reputedly selective in her appearances. Every chance she gets, as long as it doesn’t conflict with her hectic schedule, she is more than willing to contribute. But make no mistake—she isn’t doing it for the wrong reasons. It’s not that kind of opportunism—in fact, it’s not any kind of opportunism at all. Sure, she is into fashion and all, and she enjoys dressing up just as every woman her age does, but more than anything she is an avid supporter of local designers. “Anything I can do to help the local fashion industry [thrive],” she declared. To her, the logic is a rather simple one: The more you tell it, the more it resonates. In this case, the more you support local talent, the more they move up the value chain, and this only leads to more opportunities in the industry, and if it’s good for the industry, it’s good for the community. From that logic sprouts her motivation. As she went on and on about this I couldn’t help but be amazed—this was probably the most mature and sensible approach I’d ever heard in my ten or so (albeit off and on) years of working in fashion!
Christina approached the planning stages with the keenness and acumen of an editor. Like Marjay before her, she wanted to have a hand in all the other aspects of the shoot, and attacked the whole thing as a collaboration versus just a mere appearance. This got us real excited—nothing disheartens me more than a subject who just shows up on the day of the shoot and waits for instructions to be tossed their way. When we told her that we wanted no role-playing involved—i.e., she was going to be photographed as, well, herself (in Mark’s shoes but just being herself)—she was thrilled. At least three sets, that was what the concept had called for, each showing a side of her that people who knew her or knew of her could relate to. “But I wear so many hats!” she laughed. In other words, the possibilities were endless, and that wasn’t exactly a bad thing, now, was it?
We decided for to the first set to showcase Christina the attorney, for the most part because she was at this very moment shaping up for a breakthrough chapter in this area—in just a few weeks she was going to be appointed as the Resident Associate of the Manila-based Lex Mundi firm Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles, as the firm was about to inaugurate their Visayas branch office (this decision to set up camp in Cebu had called for a dependable associate to oversee local operations, and Christina was the natural choice for the job). As it turned out, this set was going to be hitting more than one bird, because not only was she a lawyer, she was also a professor at the University of San Carlos College of Law and at the University of San Jose Recoletos College of Law (teaching private international law and moot court argumentation, among others)! I wanted an office type of setting—desk and paperwork and big law books and all. In my mental mood board: the uberdecorator Mica Ertegün in her chic and stately office, photographed by Mario Testino (for the August 2011 issue of American Vogue, if I am not mistaken). We couldn’t shoot at her home office because Sundays were the only time I was available to shoot and we didn’t want to interrupt the peace and quiet enjoyed by their household on that particular day of the week, so we agreed on simulating her place of work right here at Politics. Another thing I learned was that, with Politics, a cozy little, well, political-themed restaurant (framed black-and-white portraits of Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and JFK, among others, hang in the walls, while quotable quotes from Winston Churchill and even her own mom stare back at you from the back side of table cards) that transforms into a swanky saloon by night, Christina had added businesswoman to her résumé—as if she wasn’t busy enough already! And so it was perfect that we were going to be shooting here at the restaurant. Did I already say “more birds with one stone?”
For the second set I wanted underscore Christina the First Lady of Liloan. For days what we’d envisioned was a sort of a romantic setting, guest-starring Duke, her hubby the Mayor—sunset, at Liloan’s hundred-year-old lighthouse, him in a biker jacket and on a big bike, her in a frothy little cocktail dress, with champagne flutes in one hand and her Shandar shoes in the other. But, alas, charming as it sounded, that idea was fated to be axed. Christina offered politely that that wasn’t how she wanted to be portrayed in the catalog. Besides the fact that they’d already done the lighthouse shot in the past (for their engagement photos, by Jim Ubalde), she felt she needed to show the world “the bigger picture.” Sure, they were very much in love, and up to this day still loved to go on dates like they’d just met, but her being First Lady didn’t stop at being a wife. She talked about how she also played an active hand in the affairs of the town, acting as the Municipality’s legal consultant, providing pro bono services, and more importantly as women’s and children’s rights advocate, establishing programs and projects for women and children in need—the latter something she was deeply passionate about. “I love being around little children,” she enthuses. Just like that, the groundwork for the second set was born. “I can gather ‘round a group of children to play with during the shoot,” she proposed. On our plea to convince the hubby to be part of it, though, she said, “I won’t be able to get Duke in the same picture ‘cause he’s leaving to visit his family in the U.S. on the day of the shoot—but I can wear my campaign shirt that says ‘MISIS NI DUKE!’” What a cute idea—who were we to say no?
She would open herself up a bit and allow us to tap into something deeply personal for the final set, though. At a dinner party a couple of months back I’d met her fuzzy furball Gelato—an adorable little Chow Chow (well, little is not exactly a fitting term because this one over here was huge) who was as composed and genteel as his master. I asked her if we could do a fun, laid-back set with the doggy, to which she exclaimed, “By all means! Oh, and he has a brother now, by the way.” The newest addition to the family was named Espresso—another Chow Chow, ‘cause Christina just couldn’t get enough of those fuzzy wuzzies. I imagined a picnic type of setting, Christina in white, flanked by two huggy bears, and it was like I’d died and gone to heaven.
Flash forward to two weeks later, and she was on a roll. If the Shandar team were to give an award for well-preparedness it would definitely go to Christina. She took care of all the props—the table, the books, the pens, everything!—and all we had to bring were the shoes and some clothes. Even when things threatened to go off-kilter, she always managed to come up with some sort of antidote. For example, when it turned out that some of the dresses we’d brought were a tad too oversize for her, despite the fact that they were sample size (how could we have forgotten that she was tiny?), immediately she called on an assistant to haul in a rack of clothes she’d picked out from her own closet for Meyen to choose from. Normally this would pose as a threat to the pre-worked mood board, but the woman, true to her lawyer form, had done her research—“I looked Mica Ertegün up to make sure we’re on the same page,” she quipped—and plus she had an unmistakable eye for style, and so you didn’t have to worry about a thing. For the “office”/Politics set Meyen pulled out Christina’s personal favorites: two knee-length sheaths, both from Arcy Gayatin, the first in a structural peplum silhouette in sand, the other in a simple hourglass contour fit with a bateau neckline, in dark turquoise. “I love the clothes that Tita Arcy makes for me,” she raves. “From afar they look simple, but look closer and you’ll see these immaculate little details.” She handed me the first dress so I could marvel at the cut-and-sew, subtly boned bodice. Both dresses went really well with Mark’s orange-red ankle-strapped wedges with floral-pattern sequin appliqué detail. I was kind of thankful the dresses we’d brought didn’t fit. The Arcy Gayatin numbers did a really good job in bringing into light the Christina that we wanted to portray. Sheath dresses always have a way of working wonders, and I’m not even implying that they’re fail-safe. Think Kate Moss showing up at the Cannes in 1997 in a no-fuss Narciso Rodriguez gray sheath. Understated elegance coming into play for maximal impact.
In her SUV on the way to the Frascos’ farm, where we were going to be shooting the second and third sets, we got to talking about her shoe sensibility. We were worried, you see, that she was going to have a hard time wearing Mark’s shoes on uneven terrain, to which she assured us she was going to be just fine. “I have about ten of these,” she said, referring to the shirt she had on that had “MISIS NI DUKE” emblazoned across the chest. “For months, on the campaign trail, when Duke was running for office, this was all I wore. I was dying for some variety, but the shirt was non-negotiable. So I decided to ditch the running shoes. I started showing up in heels, and Duke was, like, ‘You have got to be kidding me!’” She had no qualms admitting she was more comfortable in heels than in anything else, no matter the terrain. True enough, she had no trouble moving around and playing with the little kids in Mark’s 4- or 5-inch wedges for the second set.
I was happy with how that set with the kids turned out. In my mood board I had plastered a photo of TOMS Shoes founder and designer Blake Mycoskie goofing around with South African children during one of TOMS’s “shoe drops” (the term they use for the pursuit wherein they visit different countries all over the world to donate shoes to children in need), and we managed to pull it off. If the pictures don’t look contrived, that’s ‘cause not one bit of role-playing was involved—when we asked Christina to play around with and exchange stories with the kids, she did exactly that, and most genuinely, too, it was as if we weren’t there taking photos of them. The little ones adored her. They took turns in singing to her songs they’d learned in school, and telling her stories of what they wanted to be when they grew up. They all got so caught up in the moment that they almost forgot that it had to end somehow, and it got to a point that it was almost embarrassing on our part having to tell them it was time to say goodbye so we could proceed to the next set. When I commended Christina on the way she handled the kids, she said, “Is this the part where you ask me if I have plans to have kids of my own?” Apparently a lot of people she knew liked to ask that question a lot. It was definitely something she’d always wanted, to have children of her own. For the time being, though, she was happy with her nephew Jules and her niece Izzy—and with her doggies.
Enter Gelato and Espresso, ready for their close-up. And fluffier than ever, too! Gelato had grown twice in size since I’d last seen him, and his little brother was way bigger than I’d expected him to be! Meyen had to squeeze Christina into a white Ronald Enrico cocktail dress that had this flouncy, voluminous rosette skirt, to give the illusion she was only slightly bigger than her pets, just so they won’t come off overshadowing her. At first I kept thinking what I would do in case one of these big boys tried to jump me, but luckily no such thing happened—they were the politest, most well-behaved creatures I had ever met! Even looked like they were trying to be extra careful not to trample on the picnic baskets and all the other props. They seemed to understand what I was saying, too, because whenever I instructed Christina to “not look at the camera,” they would do turn their heads away, too! They were so adorable, they definitely stole the show. It kind of made us regret putting them on the same frame as the pièce de résistance of the day, which were the shoes that Mark had named after Christina (the Frasco, peep-toe stilettos in raspberry/orange Thai silk with bow detail)—I mean, be honest now, when you look at those photos, do you even notice the shoes? We had to make room for a couple of frames of Christina sans the furballs, if only to put the shoes back in the spotlight.
Total comfort zone experience for me, the day of the shoot—a complete volte-face from what I’d undergone in the days leading up to that aforementioned pre-shoot meeting. From the very second we arrived at Politics for the first set to the minute the stylist Meyen Baguio called out “That’s a wrap!” after the final set, never once did I lose my cool. It was as if Christina’s composure had rubbed off on us. Well, that, and the fact that she was the quintessential hostess, a champion in making everyone feel at home. (Case in point: the make-believe picnic for the last set turned into a real picnic when she took out boxes upon boxes of treats—chicken/pork adobo rolls!—from the hundred-year-old family-owned bakery Titay’s.) As we gratified our post-shoot munchies she commended the team and I on the way we ran the session—“This is probably the most relaxed shoot I’ve ever been a part of in my life!”—before proceeding to share with me some tips she’d learned from working with other photographers and stylists. It’s always nice when a subject takes the time out to boost your confidence and push you. It keeps you motivated like that.
Of course, it helped, too, that makeup artist extraordinaire Emi Ayag was there. This was a real treat for me, because I hadn’t seen Emi in ages—I think the last time we’d worked together was for a Kate Torralba fashion show some three years back. It was Christina herself who’d asked for us to reel Emi into the team. This request, of course, had come from a special place, because apparently she’d had quite a history with Emi, with him being a part of every important moment of her life—from the night she’d met the man she was going to marry, to the day they’d become engaged, down to the day they’d tied the knot! And so for days I’d had to beg Mark to pin Emi down. I’d had my own reasons for wanting him, too—perhaps not as special as Christina’s, but Emi had also been there for me during my seminal years, a part of some of the most important shoots/shows I’d worked on as a startup stylist. Needless to say, I was ecstatic that he was able to find time in his hectic schedule to do this with us. Aside from the fact that his work was flawless and he’d gotten the job done quick (he’d memorized Christina’s face it well may be that he could put her makeup on with his eyes closed!), it was just nice to have him around, standing behind me, nodding at me whenever I needed assurance that I was doing things right.
I’m so lucky that I get to work people like Christina, and, well, Emi. There was a time a couple of months back that I was beginning to have doubts about taking the step up from styling to photography—I felt I wasn’t ready, didn’t have the time, didn’t have the resources. But looking back on shoots like this now, I feel that, really, I’m my own worst enemy and it’s all me saying it couldn’t be done, because there are definitely people out there who are more than ready to hold my hand. At least I know now that if I ever make it far enough in this craft, it won’t be because of me but because of an amazing support system in the shape of people like Christina and Emi. So to that end, thank you, guys, for everything that you do!
Christina Garcia-Frasco for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Liloan, Cebu, on April 17, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Emi Ayag (to book Emi, click here) | Special thanks to Nestor Castillano | Sand peplum sheath dress with cut-and-sew bodice, Arcy Gayatin | Dark turquoise bateau-neck sheath dress, Arcy Gayatin | White uni-shoulder cocktail dress with rosette skirt, Ronald Enrico
Behind-the-Scenes Instagrams Top row, L-R: Emi taking the requisite test shot of Christina’s makeup before sending her off to battle; Shandar’s Nestor Castillano loved to hold the reflector (don’t ask me why!); yes, I like to take photos from way up high, and sometimes I blame the photos, but mostly I just love to climb (LOL); the test shot that got everyone’s vote and eventually made it to the catalog. Middle row, L-R: The team setting up the “picnic” set; we got to nibble on Politics Café’s delish Presidential Oysters Rockefeller in between sets; Emi inspecting the rack of clothes that Meyen and Christina had assembled; the stylist Meyen working her magic. Bottom row, L-R: Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez overseeing the shoot from the sidelines; Emi being fabulous while standing by for retouches (notice his quick-fix apron bag); Gelato and Espresso ready for their close-up; me taking photos from atop a tree deserves a second take—hey, you gotta give me credit for giving new meaning to “taking it from the top.” Behind-the-scenes photos courtesy of Emi Ayag.