Couple of outtake shots of singer-songwriter Martina San Diego from her debut album cover shoot. I didn’t include these photos in the final lineup that I presented to the record label because, as you can see, they didn’t exactly fit the agreed upon theme of “girl going on a rural road trip to retrace her roots.” This whole thing was something that we squeezed into the agenda at literally the very last minute. For so long I’d been wanting to do a shoot that involved fire eaters, and thankfully Martina was down for it. (Her producer Cattski Espina was baffled, though: “Seriously, what is it with you and fire?” she asked jokingly, referencing another album cover shoot that I’d done for the trip-hop collective Womb back in September of last year, in which I’d asked to photograph the band members standing against a fiercely burning flame.)
Never thought I’d let these photos see the light of day, but then I was looking at them this morning, and it got me to thinking that, hey, didn’t these pictures make perfect sense now? Weren’t they like a sign of the times of sorts? Wasn’t Martina like a hot commodity now—hopping from one live show to another, getting some serious airplay on local radio (i.e., her interpretation of the Kyle Wong-penned Cebuano-language ballad “Balay ni Mayang” that placed third in the recently concluded VISPOP: The Visayan Pop Songwriting Competition)? Wasn’t she becoming the focus of a substantial cult following? Wasn’t she being stopped on the streets by complete strangers who tell her, “You’re awesome!” I mean, think about it for a second: don’t all those add up to “This Girl is on Fire” written all over her?
Massive thanks, by the way, to Martina’s cousin Andre for agreeing to be part of these pictures and for lending us his amazing fire eating skills. Gotta give mad props to that boy: he had the patience of a saint (he had to endure multiple takes, but never once complained) yet he could eat fire like a…I should not finish that statement, but you get my drift. It’s incredible how showmanship runs in that family like water in a river—it’s, like, to them, putting on a good show is the most satisfying job in the world.
Speaking of putting on a good show, trust Martina to do just that when she releases her debut album Blank Walls tonight. Yes, it’s finally here—and her Cebuano fans will finally have a taste of all that she’s worked hard for these past few months! Today is her last day in the Philippines, too—she’s leaving back for the States tomorrow to prepare for college in the fall—but that’s alright, because she’s not leaving without a bang!
If you guys are in town, and you want to show Martina some love, it’s at Harold’s Hotel down Gorordo and Rosal, and the show starts at 830PM. Oh, and with special guest performances by the Wonggoys, Undercover Grasshoppers, Ella Melendez, and Mary Anchit. I’ll see guys there! It’s going to be epic!
Martina San Diego | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Lapu-Lapu City on February 3, 2013 | Hair and makeup by Justine Gloria | Sittings assistant: April Ordesta | Special thanks to Cattski Espina, Andre San Diego, and Marla Baguio
When Martina San Diego, towards the tail end of summer of last year, decided to pack her bags and leave her adoptive hometown of Lorton, VA, so she could spend a year in the Philippines, she thought she was going to be turning her back on music for a while. For one, she was going to be leaving behind Ivy Rose, the all-girl alternative rock band of which she was frontwoman, who were at the height of forging their craft and who were just beginning to make waves in the NoVa/D.C. music scenes, after having released two full-length studio albums, opened for some of the biggest names in alternative rock/power pop (Ben Folds and Weezer, to name a few), and appeared in television shows (most notably season 7 of NBC’s America’s Got Talent). She was going to be putting college on hold, too—she’d just finished high school, and had been all set to go to NYU to begin pursuing a degree in Music Education (emphasis on Vocal Performance), but she decided to push that back to the next fall. Not that this sudden detour put her into a funk—after all, it was her own decision, not anyone else’s, to leave, to take a break. “I decided [it would be good for me] to take a year off and spend that time in Cebu,” she now shares. “I’ve vacationed here countless times growing up… [but this time I wanted] to get in touch with my [Filipino/Cebuano] roots.” How she arrived at this decision, no one could tell. Did she just wake up one morning and realize it was about time she did that? Perhaps she felt like, being 18 going on 19, this was a necessary part of growing up? Was this a sort of unspoken rite of passage, if you will, among American-born Filipinos? Well, whatever her reasons, the plane tickets had been booked, and she was not letting anything stop her—not even anything that had to do with music, which, next to family, had become the center of her life. She did remember to pack her beloved Breedlove guitar, though, to quell any anticipated separation anxiety.
Little did she know then that this self-imposed hiatus from music was going to metamorphose into one of the most radical turning points in her musical evolution.
When local music stalwart Cattski Espina (more commonly known by her mononym Cattski) found out that Martina was in Cebu, and that this time she was going to be staying longer than the usual couple of weeks, she wasted no time getting ahold of the girl. Cattski had just released her fourth album (her first as a solo artist; fifth, if you count her tenth anniversary compilation album released in 2010) and was done with majority of its promotion; she was also happy with how, in just four years, her “ghost vanity record label” 22 Tango Records had grown into a platform to share with other local music talents, and how this expansion, so to speak, had enabled her to take on a consulting/mentoring role to guide these people in the marketing and distribution of their work. Now she was ready to move further down renaissance woman territory by adding producer to her already extensive resume—something which, for all intents and purposes, she’d actually already dipped her toes in back in 2010 when she assumed this role for the band Wonggoys’ debut album, and now wanted to do more of. “I first met her at a Wonggoys gig some three years ago—she’s friends with the boys, you see,” says Cattski of her first encounter with Martina. “I didn’t pay any real attention to her at the time; I thought she was just another nice kid who could play the guitar and do decent covers.” (Apparently, in Cattski’s world, she bumps into those kinds of kids everyday, and so she has to be extra cautious.) “She left back for the States shortly after that, but then we started following each other on social media, and that was when I found out that she was in a band [Ivy Rose], and that they had some pretty good original material!” And so as soon as she found out that Martina was back in town, she thought, Why not give her a shot? The timing was perfect because she was looking for someone to open for the Wonggoys’ pre-hiatus gig December of last year (yes, it was their turn to leave for the States), and Martina seemed like the natural choice because she was close personal friends with the band. “I asked her to play for the [Wonggoys'] ‘send-off’ event, and she was down for it. I assembled a [backing] band for her for the occasion. I was impressed with her showmanship, but, more than that, I was blown away by her attitude and her [work ethic], so I thought, Hey, I should check out her original stuff—I was curious if she had some material outside the work she’d done with her band.” Turned out that the girl did have some material that she’d written sans Ivy Rose. In no time a demo was sent, and that was when Cattski knew she had found the artist she wanted to produce next: “It was good! It was good and honest. It was not pretentious—at all! It was exactly what I’d been looking for. So I started to talk to her about the possibility of [me] producing [her solo debut] album. And that was it. That was the start of our working relationship.”
To say that Martina wasn’t prepared for all this is sort of an understatement. Sure, she was a little floored by how fast it all happened, and by the enormity of it all, especially the part where it was someone whom she’d greatly admired that put the offer on the table: “I had heard of Cattski before, and knew she was a well-known Cebuana singer/songwriter,” Martina recounts, “so when she talked to me about releasing a solo album under [her label], in no way could I pass up the opportunity! Cattski is a well-respected musician, not only in Cebu, but in Manila, as well, and [some of us abroad have great respect for her, too], so it was really humbling—and exciting!—when I was given this chance to work with her!” But, again, not to say she wasn’t prepared for this, because the truth is, at the time she was asked to submit a demo, she was already ready with a couple of songs—two that she’d written prior to leaving NoVa/D.C., and some she’d been working on since she arrived in Cebu. Funny thing, because she’d thought that her coming to Cebu would make her forgo music-making for a while, but then all that she had come here to do—revisit her heritage, reacquaint herself with the place where her parents had been born, soak up the wisdom of elders and long-lost extended family members—only fueled her desire to write new songs, and her determination to rediscover herself as an artist. “My experiences [and interactions] here in Cebu have inspired me a lot,” she shares. “Like I mentioned, as a child, I’ve been here several times for short visits, but that is completely different from actually living and working here. My eyes have been opened to so many different [aspects of the] Cebuano culture by visiting places like Carcar—where my ancestors are from—and Oslob, Badian, Tabuelan. I’ve also been to some places outside Cebu, like Tacloban in Leyte, where some of my family are from, too. I was especially inspired by the rich family history that I have in Carcar and over in Tacloban.” Perhaps not by and large, but she also credits her exposure to her San Diego pedigree’s cultural inclinations, artistic tendencies, and unwavering religious devotion—yes, she belongs to the family that founded the San Diego Dance Company, a group that has become a sort of institution in these parts by virtue of their award-winning performances during Sinulog festivals over the years—as a catalyst in her awakening to her new musical direction. All that, combined with her forging ties in the Cebuano music scene, gave her the much-needed push for her to graduate from frontwoman mode to legitimate singer-songwriter. So it was a good thing, then, that she had not forgotten to bring her trusty old guitar with her on this trip!
And so they got down to business, with Martina writing and composing more new material, and taking all her existing material, reswizzling them, and funneling them into her new direction; and with Cattski acting as second pair of ears, providing critique here and there, helping out with the arrangements. It turned out to be a feisty, powerful partnership, one that, once it got moving, was hard to stop, and thus achieved astounding results in no time. At the time of our initial meeting to discuss the album cover shoot, only four or so weeks had passed since they’d first discussed the project and signed the contracts, but already they’d covered some pretty serious ground in terms of pre-production, and were getting ready to ease into the first phase of the recording process. When I commented on how this seemed to be a record time for her (well, for 22 Tango Records in general), Cattski declared that it was all because of Martina’s commitment, and her “mature way” of approaching the whole project. “The first question I asked Martina was: ‘Do you want to be a pop star, or a musician?’ To which she chose the latter—and I appreciated that because, as you know, I would not know how to make pop stars.” And Martina proved this by displaying a deeply ingrained sense of professionalism, by being receptive to feedback, and by striking while the iron is hot. It was all these qualities—and many more—that made her very easy to work with, paving the way to a faster, very prolific collaboration.
And all these were evident, too, in the way that she approached the preparations for our shoot, and the actual shoot itself. Loved that she had a steadfast creative vision for herself, making it easy for me to pick up ideas of what the resulting photos should say about her as an artist. For one, she expressed that she didn’t want them to look too packaged for marketing—that wasn’t what her music was about, she said, and so she didn’t want her photos to go down that route, too. Nothing too high-wattage and glamorous, but nothing too quirky, either. She wanted something down-to-earth, something natural. She also wanted them to reflect the fact that most of the songs in this album were inspired by her retracing her roots—or, more accurately, by her rediscovering herself as she was retracing her roots. I suggested a “rural road trip” kind of theme, perfect because it met all the abovementioned requirements, and she fell in love with the idea. But as resolute she was when it came to the overall look and feel of the photos, she pretty much gave me the free hand when it came to the styling part. I expressed that, just because she wanted “down-to-earth and natural” did not mean we had to settle for the basic T-shirt-and-jeans thing all the way, and she agreed. And so I proceeded to assemble a couple of outfits in the style of boho-folk—earthly enough to make her look like she keeps her feet on the ground, yet whimsical enough to make her look like she sometimes goes to sleep to dream, too. I was thinking of a young Joni Mitchell as I was putting some of these clothes together: the white bell-sleeved lace tunic, the black floral babydoll cinched at the waist with a belt—these were inspired by clothes that Mitchell wore in a series of black-and-white portraits taken by American photographer Jack Robinson, Jr., in the fall of ’68, following the release of her debut album. I was also inspired by a young Joan Baez: the Peter Pan-collar lace top (by Kristina Monsanto for Stitch in the City) that I made her wear for the scenes inside the Mancao ancestral house in Carcar (i.e., with the old piano) is obviously not boho-folk, but I wanted to reference the black-and-white Peter Pan-collar dress that Baez could be seen wearing in a circa 1964 David Redfern photograph of her performing in Edinburgh, Scotland. If she were to have it her way, of course, Martina would prefer she be shot in her “daily uniform” of a T-shirt and denim shorts, but she appreciated these references, and so she welcomed my ideas. “[Besides,] what’s a photo shoot without us getting to wear clothes that we don’t normally wear in real life, right?” she said of two or three of the more ornate pieces that I picked out during her personal shopping session with me. She would later on, however, find herself infusing those very pieces into her everyday wardrobe after our shoot, mixing and matching them with her basics (I don’t mean to blow my horn, but that right there is the measure of effective styling, is it not?)!
I make it sound very easy, but the truth is it was a bit of a challenge trying to come up with these looks. I knew that she wanted to keep things simple, but at the same time I had to be sensitive to the fact that this was a young artist who was looking to carve her own niche—there was no way I could afford to fall into the trap of making her look like everyone else! I had to make sure she was going to stand out from her contemporaries, pretty much like how her music was expected to. Even Cattski, as they got deep into the recording process, found this aspect a bit of a toughie: “It entailed a whole lot of experimentation and research,” she shares. “Martina’s core style was very distinct, no doubt about that, but I took it up as a challenge to find ways to make it stand out even more. It was very acoustic guitar-driven, you see, so my job was to look for other elements to throw into the mix, just to make sure it wasn’t going to end up in the acoustic genre catch-all.” Just like that, the atmosphere at 22 Tango and at the studios took a turn for the—pardon my language now— “shit just got real,” and everyone was required to be focused like the Terminator.
And with good reason, because Martina worked so hard for this, and so she definitely didn’t deserve to be boxed in with the MYMPs of the world. Although at first glance she might seem like one, especially when she’s playing covers of popular songs for you at the bars, just listen to her original songs and you will find she is no boilerplate acoustic act. To give you an idea of what this new sound of hers is gonna sound like, I asked her to describe it herself: “My new sound still stays true to the alternative rock that heavily influenced my music growing up, but this time I’ve infused it with some indie folk elements here and there. I guess the easiest way to describe it to a layman is this way: it’s a kind of like a mix of The Cranberries, The Cure, Feist, and The Weepies.” She broke it down further by shining a light on how much it was going to be different from her previous/old sound (i.e., with Ivy Rose): “The instrumentation of my new sound is softer than that of my band’s. For one, it’s focused more on acoustic guitar sounds versus, say, distorted guitar effects and all that.” But, to Cattski’s point, they didn’t leave it at spare acoustic guitars—there’s a great deal of inventive layering, too: “We tried incorporating a bunch of new stuff—like for this one song, instead of using bongos for percussion, we had the drummer tap on the back of a guitar!” So to sum it all up: it was like taking two influences, one old and one new, and putting them together; stripping out all the hardcore, rock-just-like-the-boys twangs so all that remained was a certain solemnity; and then adding unexpected overlays to give it a rough-hewn touch. All of which added up to a sound that was uniquely her own.
And that’s not even talking about her voice and her songwriting yet. Human nature being what it is, as I was preparing for this shoot, I didn’t even bother to ask for demos of her new songs, and I just allowed myself to be gravitated towards her Ivy Rose songs (I was more curious about what it was about their sound that made them a hit in the States, when I should’ve been more interested in how she was gonna be charting her new musical path). So imagine my surprise when, as I was photographing her in the grounds of the Mancao ancestral house (day one of our shoot), she opened her mouth to serenade me with “Stars,” one of the songs that she’d just finished writing for the new album. Accompanied only by a spare guitar, her vocals really stood out, and you could hear it was going places that it had never been to during her time with Ivy Rose. My heart ballooned at her vocal stylings, particularly her clever cadences, the way she could swoop from a sweet, subdued hum to an open-throated (yet not earsplitting) semi-wail and back again in a single legato line, and the exquisite display of texture. I loved how all this made her singing sound carefree and impulsive, and yet you seemed to know that these were techniques that only someone with a masterful control over their voice could pull off. Pair all that with a lush, soulful soprano, and you’ve got something that complements her tender, wistful songwriting style perfectly. “All of the songs [in this upcoming album] I wrote by myself,” she would later share. She thought about collaborating with others on a few songs, but then decided she could put that off for later on in her career, or for side projects—right now, as far as she was concerned, the only songwriter who understood the kind of storytelling style that would best suit her voice was herself. She played another song for me—“Crystal Clear,” a somewhat plaintive piece on coming to terms with “the the fact that you can’t always be perfect,” and which later on turns into a paean for her younger siblings—and I was so thrown that I had to stop taking pictures. It was that arresting. I remember wanting to turn to Cattski to ask, “Is this indie folk? Is this neofolk? What is this?” but stopping myself before I could. Because, really, who cared what it was? It was as good as music gets.
It strikes me to note that, even when she hasn’t released her album yet, or offered a sneak peek—save for maybe one live performance of “Stars,” which she did at a VMobile event last May 1st—Martina is already finding a following among local music fans. Couple of my friends who are event organizers and club owners have been raving about her voice, and her ability to take familiar tunes (well, not-too-familiar tunes, because Martina tastefully chooses her covers, sidestepping the conventional and opting for the likes of Modern English, Bon Iver, The Cranberries) and make them her own. Of late, her reputation as a versatile and fearless interpreter of songs has been further cemented by her lending her vocals to “Balay in Mayang,” a Cebuano-language singsongy ballad written by Kyle Wong (of the Wonggoys) and his girlfriend Marianne Dungog, submitted as official entry to the first installment of VISPOP: The Visayan Pop Songwriting Competition held last May 18 at the Benedicto College Artists’ Hall—Martina’s interpretation of the song helped make it land third place! As of this writing, only three weeks since its digital release, the combined clicks (on SoundCloud and Youtube) for the song have shot past the 15,000 mark, and a number of people—ranging from industry insiders (like former Cebu Guitar Society president Joel Oporto) to common listeners—have taken to social media sites to sing their praises and encourage others to check the song out. Funnily enough, there’s even a marriage proposal out there (“MARRY ME, MARTINA!”), but who can blame the guy? There’s no denying that, apart from being very talented, the girl is also blessed with good looks—as I was photographing her there were times I thought it was Kristin Kreuk in front of my camera, to which she just said, “I get that a lot!” (Of course, she said this in an aw-shucks kind of way—if anything, Martina is the kind who cares about looks last: “Being called a ‘simple beauty’ is, in my book, way more flattering than being called ‘hot.’”) It helps, too, that she has that kind of decorum that makes her very approachable, even to children on the street (whom she has a soft spot for)—she learns her Cebuano from them, they learn their English from her. She was reaching out to people, and so people were reaching out to her.
Yes, it’s amazing to see the kind of buzz she’s generated, even when she hasn’t released any of her original songs yet—how much more when and after she does? Well, it won’t be very long now, since her album is scheduled to drop this coming June 15 (launch event to be held at Harolds, down Gorordo and Rosal)! Yes, her fans will finally have a taste of the new Martina—the real Martina—and I’m excited to see how all that’s gonna pan out! Cattski and her team at 22 Tango are even more excited—these past few days they’ve been having it up to the eyeballs with the grind, but that’s alright, because they know it’s all going to be worth it in the end: “We’re excited for Marti, we’re excited for the team, we’re excited for the crew,” Cattski enthuses, “but, most of all, we’re excited for her fans, especially her Cebuano fans, because this new sound of hers…it’s unlike anything they’ve ever heard before! And it’s easy to listen to! Very easy!”
What is not going to be easy, though—even for Martina herself—is to try to stomach the fact that the night of her album launch is going to be her last night in Cebu. I know, and I’m sorry that you have to hear it from me first, but, yes, she is set to leave back for the States the following morning! “So many emotions at this point,” she shares. “I can’t fathom what it’ll be like when I board that plane! My heart has two homes now, which is why it’s going to be so hard for me to leave Cebu; but at the same time I am beyond excited to be reunited with my parents and my siblings back in Virginia!” To her it’s like a push and pull kind of situation now, except they’re not collateral because one force is greater than the other. It’s not just her family waiting for her back in the States, you see—the college plans that she put on hold in order to come here is now a-calling. She’s already accomplished what she came here to do, and, by some incredible stroke of luck, she’s also fulfilled a lifelong dream—to find her own voice, and to release a solo album. And so now it’s time to pursue another dream: “I’m so excited to [start pursuing] a degree in Music Education—on a scholarship!—at NYU this fall [semester]. It’s a four-year undergraduate program under the university’s Steindhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, with a Vocal Performance emphasis.” Asked why she still feels the need to go to school for something that she’s clearly already very good at, she reasons that she no longer wants it to be all about her now, and that she envisions a future of her helping other aspiring artists/musicians: “I hope to open up my own school of music one day.”
It’s the most awkward of times to leave, and Martina is aware of this—it’s almost like, wait, we’ve just warmed up to her, and now she’s leaving? She consider this subject a rather touchy one, and in fact starts to beg off talking about it, but I tell her she’s going to have to, if only to assure her fans that she won’t be gone for long, or, worse, for good. “Unfortunately, right now, I’m not sure when I’ll be able to come back,” she says. “I know that once I start college it’s going to be difficult to take long breaks.” She begs of her Cebuano fans to not worry, though, as she is bound to find creative ways to reach out to them, even when she’s 8,000 miles away. “In this day and age, social media and the internet in general have made it possible for musicians to promote their work to a once-impossible global audience,” she declares. “That being said, I’m definitely planning to promote my new album in Cebu through those means—pretty much like how, the whole time I’ve been here, my friends in the States have been kept up-to-date on the album’s progress and all. Right now the folks at 22 Tango and I are in talks about digitally distributing the album via iTunes and Amazon, to make sure the CD and the songs are going to be available to everyone, everywhere!” And although she doesn’t know when she’s gonna be back for sure, she promises that she will definitely be back: “Once a year, maybe, if my academics and financial situation will allow it,” she smiles optimistically, adding that Cebu is very worth coming back to. “I think that Cebu has a great music scene. There are so many talented musicians here, and in all different types of genres. What I like most about the scene here as opposed to the ones back in the States is that it really is like a ‘music community’ here, you know?—there is a strong sense of collaboration between artists! And that’s actually one of the things I’m looking forward to now—whereas this first album that’s about to come out is all me, hopefully the next one will contain a healthy dose of me collaborating with other people, especially Cebuano musicians that I have come to admire!” Of course, she’s not about to discount the fact that, more than being able to come up with an album, her Cebuano fan base is the greatest thing that’s happened to her in the last couple of months: “You guys are my inspiration, and, wherever I am in the world, I hope to continue making music you all can be proud of.”
Martina San Diego | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City, Carcar, and Oslob, on January 27, 2013, and in Lapu-Lapu City on February 3, 2013 | Hair and makeup by Justine Gloria | Sittings assistant: April Ordesta | Special thanks to Cattski Espina, Andre San Diego, and Marla Baguio | Cosmic latte Peter Pan collar lace top, Stitch in the City; French rose/carnation/mantis/white chintz print top, Bossini; Redwood maxi skirt, Cotton On
Couple of photos from the super fun personal style portrait session that I did for my friend Monique Rosal a few weeks ago. This wasn’t my first time to photograph this girl. I’d shot her some two years ago, at a time when I had had very little experience, and thus had had very little technical know-how (i.e., white balance and ISO settings and all that other good stuff had baffled me), not to mention I’d had to share the job with a bunch of other photographers and so I couldn’t exercise full creative control when it came to the locations, etc. Guess it goes without saying that the resulting photos from that shoot had turned out really bad—well, maybe not that bad, but definitely something I couldn’t be proud of—and so I’d promised her I’d take her pictures again. Which brought us to this session right here. I think it’s important to be ready to extend your subjects the courtesy of reshooting, especially when you yourself are not happy with your shots—you might argue that you’d rather wait for them to tell you they’re not satisfied with your work, but the truth is not a lot of people are going find it easy to do that, so, essentially, you’re just gonna have to be honest with yourself. Trust me, it’ll only do you good—so long, of course, as you stay sensitive to your shooting schedule and other appointments. Monique here had had to wait almost two years for an opening in my schedule, but that was alright, because what mattered was we got around to doing it!
This whole thing came at a perfect time, too, because she was starting to be obsessed with Tumblr, and she wanted to be able to post original photos and to keep the “reblogging” to a minimum. (I might also convince her to go on Lookbook.nu—Monique, remind me to send you an invite, OK?) The idea was to photograph her in her own clothes, or in clothes that reflected her personality, because we didn’t want to make the same mistake we’d made the last time wherein we’d made her raid her friends’—and even her mom’s—closets. My first impulse was to ask her to wear surfer chick-inspired clothes and then drag her off to a beach setting, if only to satisfy my own Tumblr obsession (the Billabong Girls USA Tumblr site is one of the very few sites that I follow), but then I realized that dictating her would defeat the purpose of a personal style shoot. Besides, she confessed that, although she did like the beach, she really was more of a rocker chick. For days we’d been talking about Coachella, the music festival held every spring in Southern California, how it had been a mutual dream of ours to attend it one day (and how I had been foolish for being in L.A. last year and turning down invites to weekend two), and that was how we arrived at an idea: why not have her show up at the shoot in clothes that she could see herself wearing to the desert music fest if she were given the chance to make that scene one day? I’m looking at these photos now and laughing at the fact that this “DIY Coachella” thing has since been given a name—“Couchella,” which is basically the act of “sitting on your couch and dreaming you were at Coachella”—but we had so much fun that afternoon! And I loved the clothes she was able to round up for the session, especially the vintage babydoll dress in eggshell lace—very Free People-y! Delighted me to no end, too, that she chose to wear everything with her brand spanking new 1490 10-eye Doc Martens—I always love it when there’s a little grunge or ‘90s involved.
Speaking of grunge/’90s, the Smashing Pumpkins T-shirts that you see her wearing here are actually mine (yes, I collect Smashing Pumpkins T-shirts, and I consider them a prized collection—some of these shirts I got when I first saw the band live at the Louisville Palace for the third leg of their summer 2008 tour). It was kind of spur-of-the-moment, really—in the middle of our shoot I remembered that she loved the Pumpkins to death (last year she and a couple of friends literally braved a storm by flying to Manila to see Billy et al. at the Araneta Coliseum despite the torrential rains and floods), and so I was quick to snatch a couple of T-shirts from my closet so I could take photos of her in them. Of course, as you can see here, they look a hundred times better on her than they do on me, but that doesn’t mean I’m letting her keep them!
She wanted me to take a few photos of the new tattoo between her shoulder blades (of three cassette tapes with their media spewed out to form a G-clef, a not-so-subtle declaration of her love for music), and that’s how things took a turn for the, um, boudoir. I’d never done a boudoir session before in my life—perhaps the closest I’d gotten to doing one was when I’d photographed Womb frontwoman Chai Fonacier’s naked back during their album cover shoot (also to pinpoint a back tattoo)—but, hey, anything’s worth trying, right? Thank God the girl was ready with really cute undergarments! I had to be real careful with my approach, though, by thinking less FHM and more Agent Provocateur catalog—this way I was assured the photos were gonna come out sassy, not sleazy. Sure enough, they turned out really nice, but I can only post a few on here—I’m sorry, but I still have a little bit of a gentleman in me, and that little bit of a gentleman is saying that everything else should be for her eyes only.
Now I’m torn ‘cause I can’t decide which is sexier: leaving something for the imagination, or having a healthy enough self-image to have no problem baring a little for the camera. When I’d first taken Monique’s photos two years ago, she’d seemed a little tense, if not squeamish, and it would show in her face, and in the way she’d moved (or not moved, for that matter), and that was actually one of the reasons why the resulting photos from that shoot had left much to be desired. This time, however, it was as if it was a totally different girl standing in front of me: calmer, more composed, and thus more radiant—still aware of her flaws, but was mature enough to just laugh about them. I asked her what had changed, and she shared that she’d been taking yoga classes for months now. It’s amazing what a renewed commitment to fitness can do to you—not just physically to your body, but to how you feel about yourself, as well. And nothing is more beautiful to photograph than someone who is clearly comfortable in their own skin.
Monique Rosal | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City, Cebu, on March 24, 2013 | Hair and makeup by Alex Nicole Lorenzana | Special thanks to Christine L. Abragan
It was an afternoon so full of texture, everything seemed to jump right at you, like the contents of a magical children’s pop-up book, or of a carefully curated scrapbook. The white powdery sand that managed to get in your shoes no matter how cautiously you treaded. Aged wooden staircases that led to the beach. The incredibly Byzantine grand sand castle etched with the words “All you need is love.” Towering, spindly golden bamboos that not only rustled in the breeze but also seemed to reached out to tickle you every time you walked past them. Chunky couches and daybeds upholstered in coarse linen cloth that made you want to sneak in a little siesta time whenever you could. Soft rose petals in different shades of blush strewn on the ground. A dainty looking cake embellished with seashells of all shapes and sizes—cockles, scallops, alphabet cones, boring turrets—both edible and real. A curtain of cascading crystal glass beads that gleamed lustrously in the glorious afternoon light. The delicate, billowing drapes of the bridesmaids’ rose-colored goddess-inspired dresses. The intricate beadwork and the diaphanous mini rosettes in the bride’s ivory silk satin organza fluted dress (by Alvina Valenta from Chicago’s Bella Bianca). The row of diamantes in the bride’s Badgley Mischka “Gisele” wedge sandals in rose satin (true story: this pair of shoes was the most photographed and most videographed item that day; we even panicked when, twenty or so mintes before the bride was scheduled to walk down the aisle, we couldn’t find them, only to realize that the video guys had left them somewhere near the pool!). So full of texture, you just wanted to reach out and touch everything. It was as if the couple had intended it that way so that you could feel the love rather than, well, just look at it.
Then again, even if you were to strip off all these textural elements, you would still end up with the same touchy-feely kind of affair: the whole thing was so intimate—only a little over 40 guests, if I am not mistaken—that it was impossible to turn your head and not spot people holding each other, or hugging each other tight. Pretty brilliant move on the couple’s part to have invited only a small number of people to this event—just their immediate families, a few extended family members, and some of their closest friends. Not a single person who was present ever felt left out as everyone got to play a part in and contribute to the celebration. Brought a huge smile to everyone’s faces when it was time to toast to the bride and groom and all four groomsmen—plus two other guys—took turns in sharing their heartfelt stories about how they’d been there from the start, how they’d helped pick out flowers for the couple’s first date, even how they’d conspired to get the two back together after a misunderstanding. Swear to God, two of the guys even cried while telling their stories, I even joked to one of the ushers: “What’s with all the bromance?” Really, though, it was nothing to joke about; if anything, it only made the affair more special by proving that not only was this a celebration of one love shared between two people, but also of the other relationships built around it.
So many other tender and, at times, poignant moments that blew us as spectators away. My boss/mentor Malou Pages, who was main photographer that day, confessed that she got a little weak in the knees when the groom cried as he watched his beautiful bride coming down the aisle. Women have a thing for that sort of stuff, I guess—you should’ve heard the collective sighs from the lady guests the moment they saw the man burst into tears. I will admit I was kind of moved by this, too. I mean, it was a moment: here was tall, dark, handsome, and brooding manly man who couldn’t fold a pocket square to save his life, showing vulnerability. But that was Malou’s favorite moment, and she beat me to it, so I had to wait for another one. Luckily it came later in the evening when it was time for the newlyweds’ parents to give their speeches, and the bride’s mother took to the mic sobbingly to tell the wedding party about how she’d been “estranged” from her daughter for close to a decade due to some differences, but that she was immensely happy all that had finally been put behind them and she could be a part of this most important day of her baby girl’s life. We love weddings for how they bring two people and two families together—how even sweeter they become when they heal old wounds!
I have a second favorite moment, though, and that’s when it was time for “You may now kiss the bride,” and suddenly the Boracay sky was awash with the hues of a thousand sunsets. They say “time and tide wait for no man,” but I’m pretty sure that, in that moment, when the sky changed its color, both time and tide stood still. I was one big goosebump right there. The last time I’d seen a sky this orange and this soothingly warm was some four years back, at one of my best friends’ wedding in another island paradise (Dakak). I don’t know what it is about orange skies that make me giddy. It’s the same way I feel about Alexi Murdoch’s song entitled, well, “Orange Sky” that goes: “And I had a dream/ I stood beneath an orange sky/ Here is what I know now… / In your love my salvation lies…” Perhaps it’s the silent promise they bring? You know, that, no matter what happens, at the end of the day you can forget about existentialism, because, like it or not, it will always boil down to warmth? Maybe so. I don’t know. All I know is they’re nothing short of magical, and that they make me thank God I’m alive.
Thank you, Richard and Norris, for having us out to share in your special day, and for trusting us to capture your most tender moments! (And thanks to your fam and your gang, as well, for their incredible hospitality!) It was one of the dreamiest weddings we had ever been to—definitely one for the books! No need to wish you guys the best, because we just know your marriage is going to be as bountiful as your texture-rich wedding, and as warm as the orange sky that witnessed your vows!
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I was gonna say this was my first ever wedding assignment, but that would be lying, because the truth is this was my third—I did get to take a couple of pictures at my brother James’s wedding last September, and then at another Shutterfairy couple’s wedding in October. I must say, though, that this right here was the first time I was really happy about my shots. Didn’t really get to take a lot of pictures of the bride, though, as you can see here, because I was assigned to the groom while Malou took care of the bride’s side of things—apparently that’s how things work—but I did get to hang around the bridal suite long enough for me to take a few decent shots.
I’d never imagined that I would be doing weddings, and in fact in the days leading to this assignment I’d tried to talk Malou out of taking me with her, saying she should find someone else to be her second shooter. Two reasons: (1) Not a big fan of crowds, and (2) Boracay wasn’t exactly my favorite place in the world (after something very terrible had happened to me there some three years back).
Eventually I’d had to just go, especially after realizing that (1) there was no way the airline was going to allow us to change the name on my ticket, and (2) I couldn’t afford to bail out on this couple the second time around. Yes, I’d been set to photograph Richard and Norris’s engagement session in Chicago last May, but that had had to be cancelled due to scheduling issues. I’m glad I didn’t miss them this time around!
And thank God it was a beach wedding with only a few guests—I would’ve cracked under pressure had it been, say, a city wedding with more than 300 people! And thank God they’d chosen a spot in a relativey remote part of the island (the Asya Premier Suites down Manoc-Manoc, in the southwester tip of the island)—I would’ve gone crazy had they opted to do it in the cramped Station 2 or something!
Now, if you ask me if I’ve changed my mind about doing weddings, my answer to that would be “I don’t know.” But go ahead and show me one that’s as beautiful and intimate as this one right here, and I just might say yes!
Finally, before I go, a word about destination wedding planner extraordinaire Amanda Tirol and her staff at Boracay Weddings: I have never before seen an events coordination team this on top of things, and this professional, all while being incredibly welcoming. More than that, I just loved how Amanda was oozing with impeccable taste, evident in her execution of the littlest details, and how her business savvy was topped with an obvious passion to share—she readily dispensed sage advice on how to effectively deal with long-distance clients, and taught me more in ten minutes than others could in years! The star of the show, though, was Sasha, Amanda’s little daughter (I think she’s only ten or 11 years old!), who was constantly running around the place, helping her mom make sure that the clients’ (and the vendors’) needs were met, and that the program ran smoothly without delays. My heart ballooned at the sight of this mother-and-daughter team dynamic. Not so different, really, from how I feel about the most intimate of affairs.
Richard Realeza and Norris Nanoz | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan, on December 20, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Illustrations by Borţa Gabriela Mihaela (visit her DeviantArt site here) | Wedding planner: Amanda Tirol for Boracay Weddings | Videographer: Jake Olaso | Floral styling by Vatel Manila | Bride’s wedding dress, Alvina Valenta, Bella Bianca | Groom’s suit, Indochino | Special thanks to the staff of Asya Premier Suites Boracay
Here’s the family session that the folks at Shutterfairy Photography and I did early last month. Meet Eric and Annie Malimban, and their adorable son Eael. This young family had just transplanted themselves to Cebu from Manila just a little over a year ago. This shoot was actually a last-minute addition to our calendar—as early as October, Malou (my boss/mentor at Shutterfairy) and I had already closed our December calendars, agreeing to no longer accept bookings for that month since it had already been jam-packed with engagement sessions and weddings. When Annie mentioned, though, that having a family portrait session was kind of “a yearly thing” for them, and so she could not afford to move it to January since, well, that would be a completely different year altogether, and the thought of letting 2012 pass them by was crippling to them, we just had to say yes. Who were we to break the cycle of an inspired family tradition, right? That was just not our style.
I will admit it: I was pretty flustered the whole time I was working on this assignment, and that was because I knew I only had a a few days to plan and prepare for it! I’d used to think I was the kind of person who could work well under pressure, but apparently not! I had to apologize to Eric and Annie, explaining that I was so used to being given a month or two to prepare for a shoot, no matter how simple or complex. It offered very little comfort knowing that I was technically going to be a one-man show this time around—our resident set decorator had asked to sit this one out, since she’d already made arrangements to fly to Manila for a vacation! Fortunately Eric and Annie understood where I was coming from, and committed to help out with the props aspect of it.
As we were discussing possible concepts, Annie only had one request: by hook or by crook, we were to steer clear of anything that involved beaches, pools, or any body of water for that matter. And understandably so, because most of the pictures they’d had done in recent years had exhausted this theme to no end—they’d done the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa back in late 2011, and, if I’m not mistaken, even the Bellaroca Island Resort in Marinduque the year before that. Asked what she had in mind for this time, she mentioned that she kind of liked the “feel” of this one Guess ad she’d once come across, which involved “an old vehicle, a dirt road, and sunset.” She couldn’t remember where she’d seen this, though, and I could not for the life of me recall a Guess ad that had all the elements she cited—I was pretty much stumped at the ones starring Claudia Schiffer that incorporated a convertible and a Vespa-like scooter, or that one featuring Anna Nicole Smith as sexy chauffeur, but I was pretty sure these weren’t what Annie had in mind. Perhaps she was talking about a Guess Kids campaign? In which case I would be totally clueless! After two full days of hardcore research and I still couldn’t dig up the picture in her mental mood board, I showed her a photo of Jude Law, Sadie Frost and their children, shot by Steven Klein (for the July 2002 issue of American Vogue, if memory serves me right), which shows the family stranded on a dirt road on what looked like a fiendishly hot afternoon, and Law on his back pretend-fixing their beaten-up old yellow car. At the sight of this photo Annie’s face lit up. So this was the kind of “feel” she wanted for their photos: the grease monkey vibe!
I was about ready to phone people I knew who owned car repair shops in order to secure a location or borrow a beaten-up automobile when suddenly I was beset with a nagging feeling from inside of me telling me to rethink the whole thing: aside from the fact that we’d already used the car repair shop as backdrop before (and I knew Malou wasn’t a fan of “repeating themes”), I figured it was a little too “stiff” for a family session. I mean, sure, it worked for Jude Law and family, and that Steven Klein photo was beautiful, but that was for a fashion magazine—that kind of picture would definitely look odd hung on a family room wall! Also, I had to consider: Was the little boy going to have fun pretending to fix battered, rusty cars? Just like that I had to put the brakes on the whole thing, and decided to pitch a funner, literally more colorful concept: something that involved fingerpainting! I don’t know, I guess I was inspired by this one photo by Melbourne-based young photographer Nirrimi Hakanson of a little girl with paint all over her chubby cheeks and chest, which had been haunting me for months. At first Annie was a little apprehensive about the paint element (who wouldn’t be, especially if you think about the resulting mess?), but I explained: “Kids are difficult to photograph, especially if they know they’re getting nothing out of it. But if we make it fun for them, they’ll cooperate!” She still wasn’t convinced. But then her hubby turned to the little boy and asked, “What’s it gonna be, Eael? Fixing cars, or painting?” Without a moment’s hesitation, Eael replied, “Painting!” Just like that, the verdict was in. Love it when it’s a kid that gets to call the shots on these matters!
It’s easy to see why Eric and Annie pretty much allow their son to be the boss—such a standup guy, that little fellow! You won’t believe how hyperactive he was on the day of the shoot: the moment we arrived at our shooting location (the Celestial Gardens up the Banawa Hills), he couldn’t wait for the whole thing to start—and once we got it rolling, well, it began to look like he didn’t want it to ever end! Quite the role-player, too, I must say! Whatever expression or mood we asked him to take on, he was down for it, and executed it flawlessly. And did I mention extremely polite, and very keen on following instructions? As a matter of fact, the only instruction that he didn’t heed was the part where I asked him not to mix the paints—I seemed to know that if you mixed red, blue, yellow and green together it would come out really nasty, and true enough when he turned a deaf ear to my orders and proceeded to combine all four colors he ended up with grey goop all over!—but I knew better than to hold this against him, because what was important was that he was having a blast. What I loved most about him, though, was how he was incredibly articulate for his age. I can’t remember it all now, but I am pretty sure he used at least 20 or so big words that day. I’d asked Eric and Annie to pack with them some of the little boy’s favorite toys and books, and as he took each item out of the bag he would show it to me and tell me an interesting story about it—it was clear his favorite activity was show and tell! He made it very clear, though, that he was in no hurry to grow up when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he snapped, “Can I have a little brother first?” Too adorable, I know! Made me wish my little nephews were as gabby as he!
Annie and Eric, thank you so much for allowing us to share this colorful day with your family! Most of all, thank you for bringing such an amazing child into this world! I hope you guys rewarded him for doing such an incredible job at our shoot—a new toy, a new book, whatever! And when you run out of toys and books to give him, maybe you will consider giving him that little brother that he’s been asking for!
Eric and Laarnie “Annie” Malimban and their son Eael | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City on December 9, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Alex Nicole Lorenzana
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
So, OK, my friends have been asking me what my favorite thing about this year was, and, gosh, and I don’t even know where to begin! Aside from the fact that the world didn’t end like they said it would last December 21, so many major stuff top my list, like finally meeting my baby niece in L.A., seeing a retrospective of my all-time favorite photographer Herb Ritts’s work at the Getty, and getting to meet and talk to my idol Lauren Conrad in the flesh on my birthday. Career-wise, though, I must say that the best part of 2012 was that I got to work with a lot of people from all over the place this year. And, well, not just me—that applies to the rest of the Shutterfairy Photography team, too! When I got back from California/New York, where I got to photograph a couple of people (mostly close friends and family, of course), suddenly we were barraged with assignments to photograph/style clients from the States, Singapore, New Zealand, Ireland, etc.! So crazy, I know! And to think our team is barely three years old! We must have done something right to deserve this huge boost to our reach!
The biggest bulk of our “extralocal” clients are from the Lion City, like Gwen and Edgar here. I’ve lost track of the exact figures, and to quote my boss/mentor Malou Pages, “I [can no longer] count how many Singapore-based couples [we have] photographed,” but suffice to say that it came to a point where it got us wondering: How did these people find out about us and our work? did these people know each other? did it start with one couple who were happy with our work, and then it all trickled down through their communities via viva voce? There might be no finding out now, but that’s OK. I’m just glad to know we have quite a fan base in a place where none of us (me or Malou) have even ever been to before in our lives!
It had used to baffle me why overseas-based couples to be married would opt to fly home to have their engagement photos taken here, when they could easily have them done in their new cities where the amount of gorgeous shooting locations are endless, and where I’m pretty sure there are no shortage of exceptionally talented portrait photographers and stylists. But working with Gwen and Edgar here made me realize this: these people wanted their engagement session to be a sort of homecoming at the same time, a nice little break from their busy working lives. In the case of this couple right here, it was to serve a third purpose: for Gwen to show Edgar her home. It’s just Gwen who’s from Cebu, you see, while Edgar is from Pampanga, and he’d already shown her around his hometown a couple of times in the past (the most recent being some six months before this shoot), and so now it was her turn to show him around hers. Which was why when Gwen said she wanted to do the shoot at a resort, I knew better than to oppose the idea. In most cases, you see, whenever our subjects bring up the faintest idea about shooting at a resort (most popular picks: the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa down Marigondon, Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa in Punta Engano, the newly opened Crimson Resort somewhere in the Maribago area), I would be quick to talk them out of it, just ‘cause everyone else was doing it, and I wasn’t a huge fan of crowds or onlookers. But who was I to say no to this couple, who made it very clear they wanted to treat this whole thing as a vacation at the same time? Their resort of choice was the Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort in Maribago. Relatively new and an irrefutable favorite among locals and tourists/vacationers alike, I just knew the crowds out there were going to be crazy and that it wasn’t going to be easy trying to look for decent, peaceful spots, but I took comfort in the fact that the clothes were going to be amazing.
Yes, that is one upside to shooting at a beach resort: the vacation theme calls for nothing else but resort style, and isn’t warm weather wear the easiest to put together? Ask every stylist you know, and they will tell you resortwear is, pun intended, a breeze—especially to those of us who are from these parts where we’ve got year-round sun-drenched climes! I mean, it was never something I had to closely study or do a lot of research on, just ’cause it was something that I saw everyday; and plus I got a good head start by virtue of my early experience at various Cebu-based magazines/publications, where, safe to say, about 70% of my styling work entailed resortwear and swimwear. For this assignment right here I had to keep it low-fuss and straightforward. At first I was tempted to look to various spring/summer catalogs from Free People for inspiration, but then there were too much Coachella-inspired elements and Bohemian references in there—Gwen here was nothing if not sweet and simple, and so I knew I had to keep the “overstyling” in check, lest I ended up stripping her of those qualities. Trendy, but a little more on the timeless side, that was the agreement. So what I did was I used the formula in the “Warm Weather Vacation” subsection of the “What to Wear Where” chapter of the Who What Wear book (ABRAMS, 2009): global prints (they “never go out of style,” according to the book, so I introduced Gwen to ikat), punchy brights, kaftans (“long enough to go over a bathing suit and brief enough to wear bloused up over a pair of shorts”), maxi dresses, denim cutoffs, statement necklaces, and hobo bags. (The nicest thing about all these outfits that we put together: Gwen will be able to use them after the shoot, like for, say, Sentosa weekends or something). Not to say we didn’t leave room for a little experimentation, though, because we did go for a little print-on-print/mixed prints action: I usually shy away from swimwear if it’s engagement shoots (except when the theme is surfing, then the Billabongs and Roxys becomes non-negotiable), but I politely asked Gwen if she could wear a bikini for the shots by the pool; this frightened her at first, but once I showed her the complete look—sheer beach wrap in traditional-color leopard print, over a fuchsia-and-black leopard print bikini—she went for it (albeit with a joke, “My very first daring role!”). Needless to say, that set we did by the pool was my favorite. Although coming in as a close second was the one that was never in the mood boards to begin with, and that’s the set we did in their hotel room where I had them wear nothing but bathrobes. I swear, pure accident: it was 2PM, and therefore too hot out for us to be able to take decent pictures, and as I walked into the room I realized I was digging the color scheme (eggshell and mint green!), so I decided to take pictures of them in there! I love happy accidents!
I guess I have to mention that, when all these e-mails from Singapore-based clients started to pour in, I initially declined them and proceeded to ask my boss to hire another stylist to do the job. My previous experience with long-distance styling, you see, had been extremely unpleasant, and in an effort to save face I expressed that, moving forward, I was only going to accept clients who lived in the same city as me—the job’s always easier when you can physically take their measurements, do house calls that give you the chance to take a peek inside their closets, or personal shop for them. It took the boss some time to find another stylist, though, so I had no choice but to take on some of the projects, and I remember choosing Gwen and Edgar here because during our initial correspondence they were very congenial—and thankfully they remained that way all throughout the planning phase! Just a couple of days ago we were in Boracay to photograph a Chicago-based couple’s beach wedding, and I met the inimitable and ever-effervescent wedding/events planner Amanda Tirol of Boracay Weddings, who told me that “about 80% of my clients are from out of the country,” and shared that the key to successful long-distance coordination was timely and effective correspondence. I couldn’t agree more. What I’d feared at the onset to be a rough ride turned out to be a smooth-sailing one, thanks to Gwen and Edgar’s timely feedback whenever I had questions. Helped, too, that they trusted my abilities, valued my input, and respected my boundaries, leaving what was to be done by me to, well, me! Now, if it looks like my faith in long-distance styling has been renewed, that’s thanks to this couple right here!
But what made this shoot truly memorable for me wasn’t all the prep, or the clothes, or the lengthy (but healthy) exchange of e-mails. Rather, it was the fact that, for a change, it was the groom-to-be that I connected with the most as we were shooting. Normally, you see, during engagement shoots, it’s the fiancée that I get to bond and exchange stories with—it’s always the woman that’s excited about things like this, right?—while the fiancé just sits on the sidelines, patiently waiting for the session to be over. Not saying that Gwen was detached that day, it’s just that she had a couple of close friends over for the occasion and she had to entertain them in between sets, and so it was Edgar who I got to chat with the whole time. It was kind of weird having to ask the guy about their love story, but Edgar was very eager to share, anyway. Unlike most of our Singapore-based couples, they didn’t meet in the workplace (in fact they work for two very different companies: she for United Overseas Bank, as systems analyst; he for the interior architectural design firm BuregaFarnell) , or through mutual friends—rather, it was their mutual love of volunteerism that brought them together. Yes, they shared a favorite cause, and that’s the Gawad Kalinga (GK), a movement dedicated to community- and home-building to help improve living standards among the deprived. One fateful day three years ago they attended the same GK Singapore fellowship meeting, and that’s where it all started—ever since then they would go on the same GK immersion/building activities/trips, and their relationship would eventually turn into a full-fledged romance. I’d heard about couples falling in love because they shared the same taste in music, or the same taste in food, etc., but this was the first time I met a twosome whose bond was cemented by their mutual love for reaching out. Something tells me this is one bond that will be very difficult to break.
Edgar Gonzales and Gwen Pinca | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Maribago, Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, on August 20, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup: Ramil Solis | Special thanks to the staff of Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort
No matter how much couples engaged to be married claim to have a lot of things in common, they almost always end up in different pages when it comes to planning their engagement photos. I’ve worked with a little under twenty couples over the last two years, and that should be a reliable enough statistic, right? More often than not the fiancé wants one thing, but the fiancée has another thing in mind, and sometimes this can end up in a pretty sticky situation (although thankfully not the kind