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
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 that leads to drastic stuff, like, God forbid, the engagement being called off or something). Is this the part where I back away a little, allow them some space to settle the score amongst themselves, you ask? Why, no! What most of you might consider a sore spot, I happen to consider a sweet spot! This part right here is when I put my game face on and push the pedal down, so to speak! Taking two (or more) different ideas and then jamming them together into something that makes sense—well, don’t that look like a job for me? Not to blow my own horn or anything, but my track record has been pretty decent, too. Case in point: for this guy who had a fondness for old stuff, and his wife-to-be who loved travel, we came up with a “vintage travel” kind of theme. And for this girl who wanted acid colors and fitspo, and her groom-to-be who wanted big bikes and grunge music, I came up with a “’70s, ‘80s, ‘90s” theme! So, no, when your clients’ ideas clash, that is no time to take the backseat. It may look like it’s sort of a meddling thing, but, really, it’s more of a mediating thing, not to mention a stimulating thing—you get to reconcile other people’s creative differences, and at the same time give your own creative muscles a good old flex
Don’t get me wrong, though: While I make it sound as easy as 1-2-3, taking two (or more) very disparate concepts and getting them to tango is not an exercise for the faint-hearted. It entails an awful lot of research, and can even lead to sleepless nights—plus, be prepared to rework your mood boards up to ten, fifteen times! So while I appreciate it when opportunities like these present themselves, because to me nothing feels as good as a good creative challenge, they are really only ideal for when you have the luxury of time (and/or an extra pair of hands). When faced with a tight deadline (and you can’t find an extra set of hands), you’re pretty much left with no choice but to stick to just one concept (and a lot of times you’ll go for the easiest!) and hope it works out well for you and your clients.
When I met with Michael Nazareth and Charice Lasconia for the first time to talk about their engagement photo session, I was as nervous as could be: the shoot was set to take place in less than two weeks! I’d been so used to being given a month (or two!) to prepare for a shoot that the idea of that time frame being cut into half was just too stressful for me. Didn’t help stifle my nerves knowing that I only had one hour, tops, to discuss this with them and come up with a final plan—their flight back to Singapore was in a few short hours (yes, that’s where they’re based, and they were only in Cebu for two short days so they could meet up with various wedding vendors). I kept thinking worst-case scenario: What if Michael wanted one thing, and Charice wanted something else? And we only have a few days left to prepare? Never had I knocked on wood as many times as I did that day.
As it turned out, luck was on my side, and the minute Michael and Charice sat with me on the table was the very minute that my nerves were quashed. They wasted no time in telling me they already had a concept for the shoot in mind, so no need for me to think something up—and that it was something that the two of them had agreed on from the get-go, and so no two completely different sides to the story! Finally! A couple who were on the exact same page!
And not just any page, too, if I may add—another thing that made this couple extra special in my eyes was that they chose a page that was completely, utterly, and wonderfully them. “Surfing and longboarding,” that was the theme they picked—and not so much because they thought it would look cool, but because these were stuff that they actually loved to do together as a couple! Yes, ever since they’d started dating, no year would be complete without them going on a couple of surfing (and longboarding) trips, be it in another country or in some beach town nearby. And you’d think they’d dropped the whole thing after moving to Singapore, what with their very busy schedules (Charice works in project management, while Michael works as a software engineer), but, no, up to this very day they still make it a point to pack the boards and just flee every now and then (as of this writing they have just gotten back from a surfing trip to Bali). That’s the glue, apparently—some couples like to work as a pair, but these two love to play as a pair. They live for the rush of it.
I find it very admirable when couples make creative decisions in this manner. Always, always I encourage my couple clients to choose a theme that is based on the stuff that they actually love to do together, and on the things that cement their bond. Not that I don’t have respect for those who choose themes that are based on some sort of fantasy, or those who dare to be “decoratively different”—there will always be people who are going to want to paint a fairy tale, or those who are going to want to stand out, and that’s totally fine. Allow me to say this, though: When you look at your engagement photos 20 or so years from now, do you want to be reminded of who photographed you, who styled you, who did your makeup, who did your hair; or do you only want to be reminded of just the two of you being young and in love like that? If you’re a couple engaged to be married looking for photo ideas and you’re reading this, please ask yourself that question, and I hope it helps you arrive at sound creative decisions.
Needless to say, when the actual shoot came, I enjoyed every minute of it immensely. And to think I woke up that morning a bit under the weather (coughs and colds and all)—not a great start to any working day! So there’s a sort of placebo effect when everything about a job falls right into place without you having to work so hard. For one, there was no need for me to source and bring a lot of clothes/props, because Michael and Charice got that aspect all covered—they brought every single thing in the boatload of a list that I’d drafted, from the surfboards to the longboards, and down to the littlest details like, say, the bottles of sunblock! No need for me to tell them what to do, too—because the goal was to recreate their surfing/longboarding trips, they had no trouble playing the part in front of the cameras! They made the whole thing very painless for us, we ended up finishing the job in under five hours (we even had time to do a bonus set, in which I had them go punk glam—my idea, because I needed an excuse for Charice to wear a dress)! Breaks between sets were spent exchanging stories about our favorite beaches and summertime songs. It was such a carefree afternoon, the whole thing felt like a Beach Boys record (as it turned out, one of their theme songs was “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys, and they asked us if we could use this as backdrop to their engagement photo slideshow!) Don’t you wish all shoots were like this?
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I feel like I should tell you guys that this month is shaping up to be a real crazy time for me and the Shutterfairy team. We just got back from an assignment in Mindanao that spanned three cities (Cotabato, General Santos and Davao), and tomorrow we are set to leave for Leyte (Ormoc, Bato) for another engagement session. And God knows where we’re going next week, or the week after that! I’m starting to think it’s a November thing—this exact time last year also found us neck-deep in shoots (I think I had 7 at the time!). That being said, please forgive me if I am unable to update this blog over the next couple of weeks. But feel free to do some backreading! And if you have questions about our 2013 schedule, e-mail us at email@example.com. Thank you!
Michael Franz Nazareth and Charice Lasconia | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Argao, Cebu, on July 17, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Pines Borden
These two lovebirds are tying the knot real soon—and by real soon I mean in two days! We had the privilege of doing their engagement photos some three months back. At the time they were already beginning to count the days: “Three months to go!” the groom-to-be had exclaimed more than once. How exciting it must be for them now that it’s only a few hours ‘til they seal the deal!
We shot these photos at the Amun Ini Beach Resort and Spa in Anda, a tiny, peaceful coastal town in the northeastern tip of the island of Bohol, some 55 miles from Tagbilaran City via the Tagbilaran East Road, or 65 miles from Tubigon via the Central Nautical Highway (for some reason it was the Cebu-Tubigon ferry that we’d booked, so it was the latter route that we took). I’m not a big fan of road trips that take more than an hour, especially in this part of the world where it can get pretty bumpy, but this drive right here was worth it. Once we arrived at the resort, like magic, all my back and neck pains just melted away. Yes, that’s how beautiful the place is. I remember the first thing I said to resort owner Federico “Freddie” Carmona as I shook his hand the minute he greeted us by the pool: “People who say ‘it’s the journey, not the destination’ were obviously not coming to this place!” Built on a 4-hectare private cove facing the vast blue Bohol sea, and jutting out of lush, untouched vegetation (an ancient banyan tree greets you at the entrance, which, as it turns out, served as muse for when they were architecting the place), it was unlike anything I’d ever laid my eyes on before. I’m gonna stop with the words right here because the truth is no amount of waxing poetic is ever going to do the place justice (even these photos don’t do it justice), but if you ever plan to visit that part of Bohol, look no further and just book a night or two at Amun Ini—trust me, you won’t regret it!
It was Ernest who’d made arrangements to shoot at this place, not so much because of his family’s close ties to the Carmonas but because he’d wanted for it to be sort of like a vacation for him and his bride-to-be at the same time. Vanessa is a flight attendant at Emirates, and she only had a couple of days off to do this shoot, and so the fiancé had to make sure the whole thing was going to be half-disguised as R&R. We respected this, of course, and made conscious efforts to work fast so that they could have some time for, say, little massages in between sets. And for sumptuous dinners by the beach, to which we got to tag along! I swear, our team slipped into a coma after being subjected to a feast of local seafood (courtesy of the mayor of Anda)—I’d never had crustaceans that huge (and that many) in my life! (And that’s not even counting the lavish breakfasts whipped up by Freddie’s Manila-trained, San Francisco-honed culinary whiz of a daughter—her stylized banana fritters are to die for!) I’d like to think we were successful in not making the couple feel like this was all work. It certainly helped that our main photographer Malou was one of their closest friends from back in college—I think more than 80% of their time was spent talking about the good old days!
I loved these sets that we did at Amun Ini, especially the pool set and that one we did down the shore with the little banca (named Los Angeles!), but we were scheduled to do a couple of sets at the world-famous “man-made forest” down Bilar, too, and that was what I’d been really looking forward to. It was Vanessa who’d wanted to shoot at that location because she loved trees (and Malou was all for it because of a prospect of a Twilight feel—yes, my boss is a huge Twilight fan!). But, alas, luck wasn’t on our side: after driving two or so hours from Anda, we were greeted by torrential rain! It got me a little cranky, because an hour into our drive the weather was completely fine, but the moment we entered the Loay Road (Chocolate Hills territory) that was going to lead us to Bilar it suddenly turned gloomy and then it began to rain really hard. We all prayed for it to stop by the time we got to the forest, but it didn’t—well, perhaps it did for a bit, but everything was drenched now, and it was pretty foggy (we’re talking zero visibility). Ever the troupers, Malou and makeup artist Owen insisted that we soldiered on, despite the fact that we had no lighting equipment with us, or even tripods. I felt bad, not so much because of the prospect that the clothes I had prepared for Vanessa were going to go to waste (I’d assembled two outfits inspired by the “Taylor Swift as Rodarte muse” look especially for these sets!), but because it became very clear we never going to give Vanessa the gorgeous photos that she’d long been dreaming of. Even with out ISOs hiked up to the 1000 mark my photos still didn’t come out right! If only it was my decision to make I’d let everyone wait one more day, but then the couple had a few pre-wedding business to attend to in Cebu, so we had to leave that night. I’m posting some of the photos I took on here, anyways, never mind that they’re too dark or too blurry—I just want Vanessa to see that we did get a little something out of it.
That’s the thing about natural light shoots—when the weather turns sour and the elements don’t work out to your favor, you either pack up and walk away frustrated, or carry on and hope for the best. I’m glad that we took the latter route. The weather may not have gotten better no matter how hard we crossed our fingers, but we did the job anyways. I only hope that when people see these photos they won’t see photos that are crappy, but instead be reminded of the power of persistence.
I am praying for spotless sunshine on their wedding day this weekend, but then again even if my prayers end up unanswered I’m sure no amount of rain is ever going to stop them from walking down that aisle and tying that knot!
Thank you, Ernest and Vanessa, for giving us this opportunity to take your engagement pictures, and best wishes to you both!
Ernesto Herrera III and Vanessa V. Villareal | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Anda, Bohol, and Bilar, Bohol, on June 30 and July 1, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada | Vanessa styled by Angelo Kangleon | Sittings assistant: Jennifer Hortillosa | Special thanks to Freddie Carmona and the staff of Amun Ini Beach Resort and Spa (for reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org)
There’s a certain quality to driving—or, in my case, riding in cars with friends (‘cause I can’t drive to save my life)—around Southern California that you just don’t get anywhere else. Something about the regal, towering palm trees that line the streets, the ocean breeze that blows against your face (when you’re cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway), and, my absolute favorite, the creamy flares that result when the rays of that fabled California sunset hit your windshield in the sweetest possible angle. It could be the pedestrians in all their nonchalant, celluloid chic glory (Melrose tops my list in this department)—or, in the case of most of my girlfriends, the fellow motorists in the car to your left or to your right or right in front of you, especially those who are dead ringers for Brody Jenner (and you thought I was gonna say those with hilarious window chalks or cute bobbleheads)! And speaking of girlfriends, sometimes it’s just the people you’re in the car with. Whatever it is, there’s always something about it. Something that makes you want to cue a theme song, whether in your head or on your iPod/stereo.
Yes, a soundtrack is crucial when you’re driving—or riding—around the L.A. area. If you’re rolling down those streets and you’re not bobbing your head or tapping your steering wheel to something, it’s either your mind is in another place (let’s just hope that it’s on your money, but, even so, isn’t there a circa 1994 Snoop Doggy Dog jam for that?), you’re plain jaded (but, even so, isn’t there a circa 2000 Aerosmith song for that?), or something is just terribly, terribly wrong with you. Most people stick to just one song, putting the Repeat feature to good use. My brother-in-law Chester has Alice in Chains’s “Check My Brain” on a perpertual loop (which is why I like riding with him—been in love with this song since I had the privilege of hearing the band play it live during a Hollywood concert to promote their comeback album back in 2009); a friend from college, Winright, who works in L.A. as an occupational therapist and who is also an aspiring photographer, likes to move his car to, ironically, The Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved;” my friend Janice is all about One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” right now; another friend Elane, whom I’ve nicknamed the “Queen of the 101” because, well, she can maneuver through that freeway like she’s the boss of it, is all about Nicki Minaj’s “Starships.”
As for me, I belong to the category of those who switch songs every corner I turn (just one of the perks of being a perennial shotgun rider: you got both hands free, so you have the luxury of manning your iPod or the stereo the whole time). Of course, I have a principal L.A. song, and that’s Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”—I mean, what better song to help me pretend that I am Lauren Conrad than the theme of MTV’s The Hills, right?—but the minute I find out we are approaching a certain sweet spot or are about to get caught in a certain moment I am always quick to shuffle. For example: I have a song for whenever we’re approaching a palm-lined street or intersection (like that area of N New Hampshire just before it crosses Beverly), and that’s Long Beach Shortbus’s “California Grace” (“A palm tree can grow up and reach the sky/ I never did stop and wonder why/ It seems they climb into outer space/ I guess it’s cause they’re living under California grace…”). And whenever we’re cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway en route to Malibu, it’s, well, “Malibu” by Hole—although I’m quick to shift to Britney Spears’s “Sometimes” as soon as I find out that we’re fast approaching Paradise Cove, ‘cause that’s where the video for that song was shot. Down Melrose it’s always “This Town” by The Go-Go’s, and sometimes it’s “Walking in L.A.” by Missing Persons. Down Beverly Hills it’s always “Rolling with My Homies” by Coolio (hello, Clueless?), and sometimes it’s, well, “Beverly Hills” by Weezer. Down Hollywood and I see the Roosevelt looming in the distance it’s, well, “Hollywood” by Collective Soul. Down the 101 it’s “California” by Phantom Planet. Whichever street we’re at, though, and it’s sunset, and I get those creamy flares in the windshield, it’s “California” by Atherton (“The lights they shine so bright/ They shine for you tonight/ So come on, baby/ Come home to California…”). I even have a song for when I didn’t feel like going out in the first place but somebody just had to drag me, and that’s “California” by Rufus Wainwright (“California/ California/ You’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed…”)! And the list—or, should I say playlist—goes on and on and on…
But my absolute, absolute favorite song to play when I’m rolling down those streets with my homies is that song that I play when the rolling is done aimlessly (i.e., random, unplanned, destination unknown) and the homies in question are my homegirls. Two thumbs up if you guessed it’s “Summer Girls” by LFO!
I know it’s not the most, um, intelligently written song in the world—many a radio blogger have even included it in their “Worst Songs Ever” list—and when you read the lyrics out loud they just don’t make sense at all, but that’s exactly what makes it amusing and what gives it its feel-good factor (I mean, come on, not every song has to go “speaking words of wisdom,” right?). Plus you gotta admit that it’s got some of the catchiest hooks you’ve ever heard in recent years! It’s the kind of song that doesn’t just make want to bob your head or tap your fingers on the wheel—it’s the kind of song that makes you want to throw your head back and your hands up! And for some reason it does make you feel like you’re “the girl from Abercrombie and Fitch!”
This shoot right here was one of those “Summer Girls” kind of afternoon. Eunice Beronio gave literal meaning to “it’s fly when girls stop by for the summer” when she flew in from Albuquerque to spend Memorial Day weekend in L.A. with her best friend Catherine “Cay” Mendoza. Cay is my best friend Cryse’s sister, and it was her who asked me to tag along for this reunion so I could take their photos. None of this was ever planned—except for some of their clothes, which I helped them pick out the minute before we dashed out of Cay’s Glendale apartment—which made it very exciting for me. For once I didn’t have to worry about logistics, like plotting the locations and the sequences and all that good stuff! “Let’s not treat this like a shoot,” Eunice told me as we hopped into Cay’s car. “Think of it as just plain hanging out! That’s it!” At first I was worried because, you know, not knowing where we were going meant my soundtrack was uncertain, but once Cay started the ignition and we started screaming and laughing our hearts out I knew right there and then that it was the perfect time to play a little LFO!
Loved that they took me to places that I’d never been to before, and I mean that quite literally. This was my first time to see Pasadena in broad daylight (up until then the only thing I knew about Pasadena was that it housed the Westminster Presbyterian Church where Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag got married), and the place just took my breath away. I especially found Old Town Pasadena very charming—the marriage of turn-of-the-century architecture and modern amenities took me to another place in time, and for a moment there I forgot that I was in California! I even fell in love with the back alleyways, so much so that I decided to shoot our first set there. There was so much more that we could do with the place, but we didn’t have very plenty of time, so after a round of shopping and some tapas off we bolted to find the 110 and then the 105 that were going to lead us to Hermosa Beach—because what is a “Summer Girls” kind of day without a trip to the beach, right? Now, I’d been to every single beach in this part of the world—from Malibu to Santa Monica to Venice Beach to Marina Del Rey to Manhattan Beach to Redondo Beach—but I’d managed to skip Hermosa Beach somehow, so them taking me here was just like an answered prayer. They couldn’t have picked a more perfect time, too—it was the weekend of the 40th annual Fiesta Hermosa! Downtown Hermosa was packed; good thing Cay knew someone who had an apartment in the area so we had no trouble looking for parking space. This wasn’t the first ever arts and crafts festival I had been to in my life, but this was definitely the largest, so the girls gave me some time to circle the fair to marvel at all the paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and photography. One particular booth caught my eye and made my heart stop, carrying colorful, whimsical photos of lifeguard stations from various beaches around SoCal (it’s unfortunate that I never got to get the photographer’s name!)—I was raring to buy a large-scale print, but had to stop myself upon realizing there was no way I could ever fit the thing into my transpacific luggage. They also had a couple of bands lined up for the afternoon, and by the time the girls and I reached the Pier Plaza it was this Tom Petty tribute band that took to the stage. Heartland rock did make a very good backdrop for this kind of affair, but I had to fight the urge to sing along to “Free Fallin’” because I had some unfinished “Summer Girls” business to attend to! I enjoyed the set that we did on the pier, but not as much as the ones we did under it. The girls just wouldn’t stop frolicking that I got carried away and got my precious shoes all wet in the process! We went overboard with all the carefree chaos that we ended up doing some pretty crazy, amoral stuff, although I regret to inform you that you won’t be seeing those photos on here—they’re definitely for our eyes only!
There was supposed to be three of them in these photos—one of their best friends, Camille Serafin, who’d just flown in from Cebu, was supposed to join us, but it was her first time in California, and her first time to be reunited with her mom and sister after almost a decade, and we seemed to know we just couldn’t steal her away from a moment like that. There’s definitely a next time, though! Well, at least that’s what Cay promised me! So hang in there, Camille!
Thank you, Eunice and Cay, for taking me on this nice little road trip! For the good times and letting it roll! Definitely one of the highlights of my summer! I know we were stuck inside the car 50% of the time, but, hey, that’s L.A., right? And, as I learned from you and from everyone else in California, it’s not the destination, and sometimes it’s not even the journey—it’s who you’re with that matters! Hope you love the photos! I believe in my heart I did a pretty decent job making you look like the girls “from Abercrombie and Fitch!” LOL. Seriously, though, it looks like these photos are going to me more useful to me than to you guys. It’s raining real hard in my part of the world as I’m writing this, and I’m stuck inside the house—good thing I have these photos of you girls to look at to remind me of carefree summertime rides!
Catherine Mendoza and Eunice Sarita Beronio | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Pasadena, CA, and Hermosa Beach, CA, on May 26, 2012
The theme they chose was cowboy/ranch hand—Carl Bual, the groom-to-be, was a veterinary sales rep who’d grown up in Bukidnon surrounded by horses, and he wanted to relive that time in his life. And who was I to say no to an equine-related concept (those of you who’ve been following my blog will know I’ve become terribly obsessed with horses)? Aside from horses and stables and cowboy boots, I was also imagining throwing a big bad pickup truck into the mix. You see, I wanted a “gritty” feel, if you know what I mean. Something action-packed, and somewhat reckless, even. Especially after Carl made it very clear that “I don’t want anything cheesy—no hugging, no squeezing, no kissing.” This assertion took Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing), the main photographer, by surprise, and I think we almost choked on our macarons when Carl said this. By the look in Malou’s face, I could tell she was thinking, But what’s an engagement shoot without the hugging, the squeezing and the kissing? But, well, as the saying goes, “To each his own.” Besides, what else were you supposed to expect from a guy like Carl, what with his stocky frame, thundering baritone, and hands the size of a giant’s? (I swear, at one point I caught myself thinking, I better give this guy what he wants, lest I want to end up being sucker punched in the face!)
Conversely, the fiancée RJ Serafin (first cousin to my good friend Ace, Vice Mayor of Tabogon, Cebu—what a small world, right?) didn’t want the whole thing to be too mannish. For one, she didn’t want her outfits to be too western-inspired. Incredibly soft-spoken and ever the lady (she’s a preschool teacher, after all), she wanted a little girly touch, a little romance. I told her the cowboy boots were non-negotiable, and so were the cowboy hats, but promised I was gonna stay away from dirty jeans or anything plaid and/or gingham. At first I was tempted to slap a little Gigi Mortimer kicking back at her country cottage in Harrington, NY, against the mood board—i.e., romantic equestrian—but immediately I scratched that as soon as I realized that chunky sweaters and traditional knee-high riding boots would be too much for RJ’s slight frame (yes, she’s pint-sized, the polar opposite of Carl’s colossus). Thankfully, I was able to dig up a couple of floral dresses from The Fab Grab’s archives. I particularly fell in love with this ‘90s-style black floral prairie dress. It reminded me of what Cynthia Geary’s character Kellie wore some 35 minutes into the movie 8 Seconds, when she approached Luke Perry’s character as he was forking hay in a barn, and then she uttered the most beautiful lines: “Nothing you could say or do would make you less in my eyes. I love you. You don’t have to be perfect for me.” (It’s my favorite scene from that movie, especially since, after that, Perry’s character replied, “You may have to prove it. Right now, [when] I’m covered in horse shit,” and then they kissed, and Karla Bonoff’s “Standing Right Next to Me” started playing in the background, and then it was fade out, and fade in to the wedding scene.) For this reason alone I knew I just had to get this black dress into the picture, to add a little touch of 8 Seconds to my work! I didn’t want RJ’s wardrobe to be all dresses, though, so I took this one dress—the green floral one, which was a bit sheer—and asked her to wear it unbuttoned in the front, like as an open robe/maxi cardigan, over a little boy’s tank top and a pair of denim Daisy Dukes. I was taking a cue from the latest craze that had been sweeping the Lookbook.nu and Chictopia communities, which entailed, well, girls wearing their sheer maxi dresses (most of them from UNIF Clothing) unbuttoned in the front, as maxi cardigans. (Before this shoot I’d also adopted this style for one of the outfits that the model Fretzel Buenconsejo was going to wear for the Gracie Q catalog—click here and look for the series of photos where she’s frolicking with little children.) Add a Swarovski-encrusted seashell-colored stretch-jersey gala gown by Lotte Delima-Edwards to the mix, and we were on our way to being a far cry from the hackneyed cowgirl look that RJ wanted to avoid.
Funny thing happened on the day of the shoot. You know the macho Carl who’d said that hugging, squeezing and kissing in photos wasn’t his style? Well, that was still the same Carl who hopped into the van that was to take us to our location—he wouldn’t even laugh at the makeup artist’s jokes, he’d just chuckle and shake his head! When we arrived at our destination, though, as RJ was having her hair and makeup done, he was reckless enough to grab a bottle of Red Horse beer before seeking to get acquainted with, well, the actual horses that we were going to be using for the shoot. At first I was a little concerned about this, and about how RJ just sat there and encouraged this foolhardy behavior, but it would soon prove to work to our advantage: after a few bottles, Carl suddenly became so invigorated and cheerful—and he was suddenly OK with the idea of hugging and squeezing and kissing in front of the cameras! He’s gonna hate me for writing this down on here, but, hey, people are gonna see these photos, anyway, and are gonna wonder what happened to all the macho, so better put the whole backstory out there, right? I still got what I wanted, though, in the form of a badass pickup truck, which was “gritty” enough for me—I’m sorry, but there’s something about mud and dirt and off-road wheels (and mud and dirt on off-road wheels) that make me feel, um, alive (guess there’s still some macho in me, after all).
We were going to do this whole thing in Bukidnon—this would’ve been my first out-of-town shoot (well, save for the occasional sessions in Ormoc) and my first time to visit that part of the country (i.e., Mindanao). But we’d ran into some scheduling conflicts (November last year brought in an exceptional run of green lights—click here to read about our jampacked schedule that month), which had left us with no choice but to do it a little closer to home. Thank God Carl’s good friend Marlo Causin, a veterinarian, had a ranch (that also doubled as a fishing pond) that was only an hour and a half southwest of Cebu, in Barili. At first I was kind of in a funk about Bukidnon not happening, but when we arrived at the Causin property I immediately thanked the heavens that it didn’t—one, Marlo a champion host (I won’t enumerate all the stuff he made us eat that day); and two, I got to meet and photograph the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen in this part of the world!
Sabina, that’s how they named her. Probably because she looked like a sabino-white. I say “looked like” because she’s not a true sabino-white—if you look closely (e.g., at her muzzle), you will see her underlying skin is somewhat grayish. Of course, goes without saying that this did not make her less stunning. She was so towering and regal, she reminded me of the Andalusians I’d met at the Kentucky Horse Park in the summer of 2010. And unabashedly affectionate, too—she was always trying to plant a kiss on Carl’s cheek, like she wanted to steal the show from RJ and be the bride-to-be!—and was a darling in front of the cameras, like she’d grown up around show business! She was just a joy to photograph that I didn’t want the set that featured her to ever end! Malou kept saying, “OK, next outfit! Next set!” but a lot of times I had to pretend not not to hear her, ‘cause I just didn’t wanna let go of Sabina!
The Causins had two other horses in the property: Venus, Sabina’s daughter, and a strapping stallion named Bravo. We’d been told beforehand that we couldn’t borrow Venus for the sitting ‘cause she’d been in a foul mood lately, so she had to be kept at bay (and true enough, when I went to see her, she kind of threatened to buck!). We were supposed to use Bravo for one of the sets, but then just as his caretakers were readying him we noticed that he had a nasty cut in his right pastern, and so we had no choice but to let him sit this one out. Shame, because he was a beauty, too, what with his shiny chestnut coat and all! But I’ll be back for you one day, Bravo (I hope)!
I love it when the theme is country or cowboy. And not just for the obvious reason that it allows me to be around and/or photograph horses, but also because it’s the kind of theme where my subjects can have a crazy good time and be spontaneous, you know? Like, they’re kind of in character, but at the same time they can just be themselves. No contrived poses or positions, no fidgeting because the outfits make them uncomfortable, no trying hard to borrow, say, Kristine Hermosa’s smile (swear to God, I can’t wait to see the day I’ll hear the last of couples wanting to “copy” the Kristine-Oyo engagement photos!). I guess this is the exact same reason why I love the grunge theme, too. It’s, like, there’s a theme, but it’s not there, you know? It stylizes your subjects, but doesn’t disguise them.
On our drive back to the city after the shoot had wrapped, Carl and RJ were discussing song choice—i.e., what song to incorporate in the slideshow of their engagement photos (to be played during the wedding reception). Although between the two of them they shared a couple of love songs that meant a lot to them, this time they wanted something from the country genre, in keeping with the theme. I was quick to dispense advice on the matter, just ‘cause two of the most beautiful love songs I’d ever heard in my life happened to be from that genre: the aforementioned “Standing Right Next to Me” by Karla Bonoff, from 8 Seconds (perfect, in fact, because didn’t they play it in the movie’s wedding scene?), and “I Cross My Heart” by George Strait. They’d never heard of these songs before, and I didn’t have my iPod handy, so I recited to them a couple of lines from both. Needless to say, they loved them, and Carl was quick to declare that, of the two, he liked the George Strait more. I don’t know if they ended up using either, but I sure hope they did.
Carlos Bual and Rachelle Jean Serafin | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Barili, Cebu, on November 20, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo and Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view some of Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by JingJing F. Maching | Amaranth pink floral-print cotton-blend dress with cap sleeves, black floral-print button-front prairie dress, and hunter green floral-print button-front stretch-silk shirtdress (worn as maxi cardigan), all from The Fab Grab | White tank top, Forever 21 | Swarovski-encrusted seashell stretch-jersey gala gown, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Accessories, Gracie Q
“If you could photograph only one thing in the world, what would it be?” A friend of mine once asked me this question almost out of the blue. She was half-expecting me to scream “Chris Burden’s Urban Light outside the LACMA!” or go all out and pick a really outrageous subject like, say, the divine Kate Moss, and so what rolled out of my tongue took her by surprise: “A horse.” And I wasn’t kidding, too—in fact, this was the most honest answer I’d ever given anyone. To which she intoned incredulously, “Why a horse?” I just laughed and said, you know, “Well, why the hell not?”
Said this a gazillion times before, and I’ll say it again now: To me, there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing a horse throw its head up, arch its back, and whip its tail. Pure, unadulterated magic. Hundreds of other animals out there, I know, but, to me, none of them possess and harmonize two opposing qualities as effectively and effortlessly as a horse does—i.e., not everything that’s fluid can be strapping at the same time, and not everything that’s strapping can be fluid—which is almost always what makes something such a thrill to watch (the reason why we are so fascinated with ballerinas, or why we can’t stop watching those Herb Ritts music videos, no?) and, well, to photograph.
I’d been fascinated with horses since time immemorial (the first ever book I’d finished in one sitting was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty; I’d held on to my My Little Pony blanket well until I was halfway through high school; and for a time there I’d actually considered getting that silhouette of a stallion in the lower right corner of the album cover of the Deftones’ White Pony tattooed on my wrist), but this epiphany—the joy in taking pictures of them—didn’t occur to me until a year and a half ago, when I visited the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, on a mission to take pictures of the place for my cousin Amanda Liok, who loved horses to death and had dreamt of visiting that very place one day, and I ended up spending four or so hours just clicking away at every singe horse I bumped into, living or statued. Andalusians, American Minis, Palominos, even Frieisians! Majestic equine bronze statues (Herbert Haseltine’s rendition of the legendary Man o’ War, couple of Gwen Reardons)! I even got to witness and shoot some show jumping! It was such an exhilarating experience—needless to say, I didn’t want it to ever end. Flash forward to a year later, back home in Cebu, I was starting to lament the lack of opportunities to watch or photograph these fine creatures in this part of the world when, slowly but surely, they found a way to creep up on to—or, should I say “gallop into”—my frame. For a shoot in Busay last July, I was surprised when the stylist was able to commission a pretty little riding mare named Athena to join in the sitting. And then the following month, during my first ever gig as apprentice to Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography), which took us up the mountains of Carmen, my mentor had to shoot me reproving glances upon realizing I was spending more time taking pictures of this stallion named Ferrari than of our clients. And then came November, which found us driving two hours down south to Barili to do a cowboy-themed engagement session—and what’s a cowboy-themed sitting without a couple of horses, right?
Three shoots that involved horses, none of them planned or foreseen, all of them a coincidence. Glad they came along and found me, because they only gave me the chance to prepare for my biggest shoot that was to involve horses. Which brings us to this shoot right here.
For more than a year I’d been promising my cousin Amanda that I was going to find time in my frenzied schedule to visit her in her new hometown of Palompon, Leyte (some two hours west of Ormoc City), and photograph her and her daughter Mia, and, well, their horses. I hadn’t seen her in ages, and during that time our only form of interaction had been our exchange of e-mails whenever I’d found myself in Kentucky—“It’s you that’s supposed to be here,” I would write. “You are going to love this place to bits!” To me, Amanda was many things, but a lover of horses above all—naturally, no one else had come to mind whenever I’d found myself in the “horse capital of the world.” She would respond to my e-mails saying that, yes, it had been her and her husband’s dream to visit Lexington one day, and then she would send me photos of the horses in her own backyard. What beauties! She had taken her childhood fancies and whims, and then put them together to put up her own little band of horses. When I told her at one point that “it turns out naming your horses is almost like an art”—this after I’d met horse owners/equestrians at the Horse Park who’d baptized their beloved beasts with some of the most enchanting names I’d ever heard (my personal favorites: Alcatraz, Countess, and Moonshine, the latter probably after the liquor since this was the American South, after all)—she’d shared that, yes, she’d taken the naming game pretty seriously herself, and had given the most charming monikers to those in her brood. Finding out that she’d named one of her babies Moondance? Enough to make me want to meet the beauty and the rest of the family in the flesh, and that was how the idea for this shoot had been born.
So aside from Moondance there were Salsa, Chili, Ginger, Ola, Baila, and Sol. When Amanda asked me which one I wanted to include in the shoot, I picked Moondance, and she validated my choice by saying that the mare’s strawberry roan made it very photogenic—true enough, against the vast vegetation in their backyard, her chestnut coat looked so dazzling that I found it hard to stop taking pictures of her! She was the most mild-mannered of them all, too, and had a Zen aura about her. You know what they say about never approaching a horse “from the behind?” Well, I approached her a couple of times from the rear, and Moondance didn’t seem to mind. (She was the complete and utter opposite of the subject of Curley Fletcher’s poem-turned-ballad called, well, “The Strawberry Roan,” which talks of a wild bucking horse: “An’ fer throwin’ good riders he’s had lots uh luck/ An’ he sez that this pony has never been rode/ That the boys that gits on him is bound to git throwed.”) Did I mention she was very affectionate towards her master, too? Every chance she got she would stick her muzzle against Amanda’s cheeks! I thought that was just cute. I wanted to include Salsa in some of the frames, because I was in love with her smoky black coating, but the caretaker told me that that mare had to rest (apparently, horses have to take a break, too)—I did get a chance to take a few shots of her while she was taking an afternoon stroll, though, and that was enough for now (I’ll be back for you, Salsa!).
For Mia’s set, we decided to include the latest addition to their ever-growing family: a 4-year-old Miniature named Iris. Pretty awesome, because only a year ago, when I’d showed Amanda my photos of the American Minis I’d spotted at the Horse Park, she’d said that it had been her dream to get Mia a Mini, and now here we were face-to-face with a dream come true! Actually, the little girl didn’t get just one but two Minis! The other one, Barrack, we couldn’t ask to join in the photos because he was in a foul mood that day and thus had to be kept at bay. That was alright, because Iris by herself was gorgeous enough. I would’ve wanted for Mia to mount Iris for a couple of frames, but Iris was pregnant (another Mini on the way!), so we just forgot about it.
Horses weren’t the only, um, quadrupeds that made special guest appearances that day. Mia’s blue Australian Cattle Dog named, well, Blue also joined in the fun. Such a mischievous little creature, that fella—he was all over the place, darting from left to right, jumping up and down, always wanting to play catch—but when it was time for him to face the camera he was surprisingly tame and well-behaved! Suffice to say that that doggie stole the show—it was as if he was thinking, I am not going to let a bunch of horses upstage me!
It’s uncanny how much Mia looks like her mom. I was staring at the little girl’s face, and it took me back to years ago when Amanda and I were little kids, and we’d lock ourselves up in her bedroom to play with her Barbies (actually, she would take me to her bedroom so I could play with her Barbies, and then she’d rush back out to play with the boys). It got me feeling somewhat, um, melancholic thinking that Amanda finally had a “mini her,” while here I was without a “mini me!” When I asked Mia what she wanted to be when she grew up, she just shook her head, pressed a thumb against her nose (she loves to do that, so cute!), and said she didn’t know yet. One thing’s for sure, though: she’s gonna take after her mother’s love of horses. When Amanda showed me a photo album of their recent trip to Down Under, noting that some of the more beautiful photos had been taken by Mia, I said, “I hope she grows up to be a photographer!” Of course, wishful thinking in my part that, since I didn’t have a “mini me” of my own, Mia would take after a part of me, too. Wouldn’t that be nice, though?
I was happy that I got to exercise a teensy-weensy bit of styling during this session. You see, I’d had reservations at first, knowing that Amanda and I, although we’d practically grown up together, had completely opposing views when it came to clothes (didn’t I mention me playing with her Barbies and her running off to play with the boys?)—i.e., she was the T-shirt-and-jeans kind of girl, while I favored, well, everything impractical. I was also aware of the fact that she was making a conscious effort to raise her daughter in a certain way—i.e., she didn’t want Mia to grow up appearance-conscious—and I wanted to respect that more than anything. But thank God she trusted me enough to let me have my way that day, and she agreed to wear some of the items that I’d brought along with me. I was in for a pleasant surprise, though, when, upon inspecting their closet to look for other items we could use, I spotted these exquisite little pairs of two-tone top-stitched cowboy boots (Amanda’s in aquamarine and coffee, and Mia’s in cameo pink and camel)—turned out that, although function was their utmost priority, they knew a thing or two about injecting a little form and fancy into their wardrobe, after all.
OK, OK. I know you’ve been thinking it while looking at all these photos, so let’s just get it out of the way, shall we? These are some seriously good-looking cowgirls right here. Amanda is going to laugh at this little commentary, though, even call it absurd, because she’s down-to-earth like that. But the fact that they didn’t need makeup to look this good in photos (our makeup artist friend Sheila On, my go-to girl whenever I have shoots in Leyte, wasn’t available that day) is only testimony to how naturally beautiful they are. But make no mistake, behind those pretty faces are some, well, pretty tough interiors. Like the horse that marries good looks and might, these girls possess those two qualities not easily contained in one person. Amanda, for example, is not one you would want to mess with. One can imagine her bringing home trophies from practical shooting competitions in South Africa, or hunting kangaroos in the Australian Outback—all of which, and more, as it happens, she’s actually already done. She’s the kind of girl that, growing up, I’ve been wanting to be, but, well, just can’t. But while I’m terribly unlucky that I can’t be her, I’m still lucky in that not only is she my first cousin, she’s also my oldest best friend.
Amanda Kangleon-Liok and her daughter Amilia (and their mares Moondance, Iris and Salsa, and their dog Blue) | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Palompon, Leyte, on November 27, 2011 | Special thanks to Marnelli Uyguangco | Hyperfloral jersey babydoll dress, Topshop | Vintage wash denim jacket, stylist’s own | Chambray folk skirt, The Fab Grab
Don’t you just love those New York Girls? I know I do. And I’m not just talking about those who have made me want to sing, “At the risk of sounding cheesy/ I think I fell for the girl on TV”—like the fictional but fabulous Carrie Bradshaw, for example, or the very real but too good to be true Olivia Palermo. I’m talking about the, um, regular girls, too: like the Lou Doillon look-alike who stood beside me at the Garment District Pret A Manger, and who ordered nothing but sparkling water for lunch; or, like the girls I bumped into at the Time Square Starbucks, cradling Caramel Macchiatos in one arm and a pile of fashion magazines in the other; or, like the middle-aged woman and her Chihuahua that I ran into near the Christopher St. station, who wore matching granny-style crocheted wool square ponchos; or, like the cool mom who grows her own vegetables in her Brooklyn backyard during the day, and at night squeezes her way through throngs of sweaty rock fans at Terminal 5 to watch Nine Inch Nails live in concert (I’m talking about my friend Anne); or, like the little girl who likes to refer to the Brooklyn Bridge as “the bridge from the princess movie” (Anne’s daughter Ellis, named after Ellis Island, and, yes, she is talking about the movie Enchanted). Yes, there is a certain kind of magic when you are looking at, talking to, or just simply being around a New York girl. It gives you a certain kind of thrill—something about the exuberance of their unrestrained actions, their whimsical wits. Inevitably, you find it extremely hard to keep your jaw from dropping.
One such jaw-dropping moment happened to me a couple of months back when we were photographing the New York-based Cebuana transplant Cherry de Dios and her groom-to-be Chris Beck. They’d just flown in from the Big Apple, decided to do a quick stopover in Cebu to see family—and to have their engagement photos taken—before proceeding to tie the knot in Ormoc City, Leyte. We were at some farm up the mountains in Carmen (some two hours northeast of Cebu City), and I was inside this quaint little cabin helping Cherry sort their outfits while watching her do her own makeup. She’d elected not to hire a makeup artist for the occasion: “For the actual wedding I’m going to have a makeup artist, of course,” she said (and she was talking about my friend Sheila On, who did the makeup for my very first solo shoot months back—what a small world!), “but for now I just want to look like me, you know? I don’t want to look like somebody else in these pictures.” At first I was skeptical about this decision of hers, but in no time she proved me wrong. And by no time, I mean, well, no time—she spent only 20 seconds penciling her brows, another 20 applying eyeliner, and then 10 seconds glossing her lips, and then another 10 combing her hair with her fingers! “You just gave new meaning to ‘in a New York minute!’” I exclaimed in awe. To which she just winked and said, “Exactly!” She knew what she wanted, she worked on it herself, and she worked on it fast. The very essence of a modern New York girl.
Asked why they’d chosen to have their engagement photos taken here when they could’ve done it in New York City (I was imagining Bow Bridge at Central Park, or those pretty little West Village sidewalks!), she said, “I thought about it, but it was Chris who said he wanted to do it here.” By here, she meant this very farm where we were at right now. Turned out the fiancé had fallen absolutely in love with the place when they’d first visited a little over a year back. And who could blame him? I looked around me and asked myself, what was not to love about this place? Towering pine trees, windswept shrubs, pretty little hiking trails—it was like we were in Baguio! Plus, stand on the porch of the main cabin and look east and you get a breathtaking view of Camotes Island (or, is it Leyte?). My favorite part would have to be how there were these charming little makeshift birdhouses atop each of the pine trees—and they weren’t there for decorative purposes; little birdies actually inhabited them! How was it possible that a place like this existed in this part of the country? Well, made possible in part by Cherry’s sister Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who took her predilection for all things countryside and bucolic to create the ultimate vacation home for when she and her family needed to shy away from the city life.
That was it! It was the perfect retreat from the frenetic pace of their big city lives! That was why Chris loved it here! I was watching him as he walked around the place, took deep breaths and blinked dreamily at every little thing he laid his eyes on. And it looked like that was all he wanted to do all day—soak up the beauty of the place—and it got to a point it was almost too embarrassing to ask him to stop what he was doing so we could start photographing them!
It would later turn out that this place wasn’t the only thing Chris loved about the Philippines. When it was time for lunch, served semi-al fresco style—i.e., at the porch—he was more excited than everyone else was about the food. It was an all-Filipino fare that Cherry’s sister had whipped up, and Chris attacked the table with much gusto. And when it came to conversations, both while in front of the cameras and in between sets, he displayed a heady kind of sensitivity towards breaking the language barrier, trying as best he could to speak in Cebuano. It almost embarrassed me when I told the team to “be sure to speak only English when he’s around, ‘cause he might get the wrong idea,” and Cherry was quick to disabuse me of such notion, saying that Chris was actually semi-fluent in Cebuano, and was passionate about learning the language more! And what a romantic way of reconciling their greatest difference, right? This was probably one of the reasons why Cherry knew Chris was the one.
As for what made Chris know Cherry was the one for him… Well, no one needed to ask, either. August can be a pretty sticky, sweaty proposition in this part of the world, especially when you’re running around outdoors—and, yes, even when it’s atop the mountains where the breeze is somewhat cool. This was why I was kind of hesitant at first about making her do the things we wanted her to do in front of the cameras. I mean, this was a New York girl we were talking about here—what was she going to think if we asked her to, say, remove her Calvin Klein strappy sandals, tread barefoot on prickly, rocky terrain, and chase the farm animals around? To our surprise, she obliged, and even managed to laugh about it. When we asked her to jump into the freshwater pool—you know, like, really jump, in order to make a huge splash—she winced at first, saying she’d never done anything like it before, but she rolled up her sleeves and went for it anyway. Such a cowgirl, I know! You should’ve seen the look in Chris’s eyes as he watched his wife-to-be do all these crazy antic—it was like he was getting more and more smitten every minute! Emerging from the pool, all flushed from her feat, she chuckled, to thundering applause from her family (her mother and her brothers and sisters, who’d decided to tag along for this session), “You see, these people are never going to let me live that down!” And then she jumped back into the water, proving that, to borrow a line from Ms. Bradshaw, “city girls and just country girls—with cuter outfits.”
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Apologies for the delay in posting these photos. No, I didn’t misplace them. I just had to wait ‘til the couple returned from their month-long (actually, I think it was more than a month) honeymoon in Italy before seeking their permission. I seem to know it’s kind of impolite to interrupt anyone who’s on a Roman holiday, for whatever reason.
This was my first session as apprentice at Shutterfairy Photography, by the way. I didn’t take a lot of photos—I think I only took a little over 400—because I was too busy observing my mentor Malou Pages (and “second shooter” Charisse Calo, of Calography) at work. Couple of things I learned that day:
- Organize and clean your equipment the day before a shoot—not in the car on the way to the job, and especially not at the eleventh hour when your subjects are already getting ready to step in front of you. I must’ve wasted about 20 minutes and was only able to take 10 or so shots during the first set because I was still busy dusting my camera and my lenses while Malou and Charisse started clicking away.
- Just because your subjects ask for breaks in between sets doesn’t mean you have to take a break, too. You have to be in the moment, all of the time! Look around you and take as many detail shots as possible—of a flower, a farm animal, or whatever else catches your eye.
- Always carry your mood board around with you. I had brought mine to this shoot, but left it inside my bag, which I left inside the cabin the whole time we were outside shooting. Clumsy, right? I mean, what’s the use of a mood board when it’s just gonna sit in the dark? Malou saved her boards in her iPad (she’s techie like that), which she carries around with her to every nook and cranny, so it’s easy for her to check back on them when she feels she is straying from her vision and she needs to be pulled back in track.
- Strike up casual conversations with your subjects while you are taking pictures of them. When photographing people you’ve just met, you see, there is a tendency for us to appear, um, serious, and to keep our mouths shut, in an effort, I guess, to look professional and all. As it turns out: Stiff photographer equals stiff subjects, and the whole thing comes out very unnatural! I loved that Malou asked Chris and Cherry all kinds of questions while she was clicking away, even exchanged jokes with them. I was quick to adapt this style, especially upon seeing the effect it had on the subjects—they became more relaxed, to a point they forgot they were in front of the cameras. Cherry and I exchanged stories about our favorite spots in the West Village (including the world-famous Magnolia Bakery), and in no time we became, like, kindred spirits. I hope these photos show that happening.
Christian Thomas Beck and Joan Grace “Cherry” de Dios | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Carmen, Cebu, on August 17, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo for Calography (click here to view Malou’s photos, and here for Charisse’s)
The sky wasn’t my friend that day, and neither was the sun. I mean, I woke up, looked out my bedroom window, and there it was, staring sardonically back at me—a sky so cloudy it looked like it was falling. Not overly overcast or anything—just that there was no hint of blue at all! And the sun wasn’t its usual bright self, too! I was this close to calling the whole thing off, but I knew I couldn’t: one, this was my last solo shoot before I was going to start my apprenticeship (at Shutterfairy Photography, in August of this year); two, I couldn’t bring myself to let a best friend down.
Paolo, the groom-to-be, is my best friend Andre’s younger brother. It was Andre who’d asked me to do this, and I’d said yes because, well, his family was like my second family, plus it had been years since I’d last seen Paolo—and I’d never met his bride-to-be! I’d offered something that was young, a bit messy and hard-edged, in the same vein as my grunge-inspired first solo shoot (for an Ormoc-based couple). But Andre had had something else in mind, something more “mature” and sedate—“They’re parents now,” he’d reasoned. Fair enough. A stylist himself, he’d been visualizing his future sister-in-law’s look for days. “I want modern, floor-sweeping gowns,” he’d shared, “but set against the mountains!” He’d proceeded to show me photos from a recent road trip with friends to Busay, and further up the Cebu Transcentral Highway to Balamban. “Glorious, isn’t it?” To which I’d nodded, for indeed they were breathtaking pictures, but I’d had to warn him that “I’m not very good with these nature-y locations” (you might remember me talking about this in a previous post, about how deathly afraid I was of vegetation and anything countryside/bucolic). But I’d had to compromise—Andre had made it clear he was going to take care of the styling aspect of it, and so here was a chance for me to focus on just taking pictures, something I’d been praying for for so long! And so, mountains it was.
Which was why I’d hoped for “blue skies” to be “smiling at me.” I’d wanted to give them “glorious,” like Andre had described. Laugh all you want, but in the days leading to the shoot all I could picture in my mind’s eye was something that looked like that generic Windows XP wallpaper—you know, sprawling verdant hills against a vast blanket of cerulean skies. But, alas, cerulean had decided to take a day off, leaving us with nothing but a canopy of cotton. “Well, we will have to do with what we have,” Andre said. “Let’s just be thankful it’s not raining!”
I was in for a pleasant surprise, though, when we got to our first location, a grassy cliff tucked behind a small market where local flower and vegetable growers sold their fresh picks to drivers passing by (it was the makeup artist Owen who led us to it). The sky may have been cloudy and devoid of any trace of blue, but that was alright because the grass was in a lovely shade of yellow-brown! Looked kind of dull, actually, when I took my first few shots, but just a few experimental adjustments to the white balance, and I was able to add a yellow cast and kill some of the greens (of course, the vibrance I would work on later on in Photoshop). As I followed Paolo and Kiselle around as they traipsed on these fields of yellow, I couldn’t help but call to mind these beautiful lines from Sting’s “Fields of Gold” (one of my favorite songs from when I was a child, and still one of my favorites now—I kind of like Eva Cassidy’s rendition, too): “You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky/ As we walk in fields of gold.”
Also loved how I was able to spot a solitary tree. Swear to God, I am getting good at keeping my eyes open these days. You should’ve seen me that day, I almost broke my neck darting my head from left to right as Paolo sped through the highway, on the lookout for a lone tree, and I think it freaked everyone out when I screamed “OK, stop!” as soon as I spotted one. Well, at first it wasn’t really solitary, as there was this colossal water buffalo grazing right next to it. My friend Inez, who tagged along for this assignment, wanted to place a bet that there was no way I could get the thing to scoot over—to her dismay, I was able to, and I didn’t even have to pull my sleeves up! I don’t know if everyone was impressed with my “buffalo whispering” skills, but I knew I was impressed with myself. Nice to know I have a way with these four-legged creatures!
Speaking of four-legged creatures, perhaps the biggest treat that day was when Andre was able to get a gorgeous horse into the picture. I love horses. To me, they’re the most beautiful creatures on earth (next to Kate Moss, of course), and few reflexes are as pleasant as the gasp that escapes my mouth upon seeing a horse throw its head up, arch its back, and whip its tail. This was perfect timing, because I’d missed taking picture of horses. It had been almost a year since I’d last taken pictures of these beauties (at the Kentucky Horse Park, in August of 2010, where I’d spent some five or so hours clicking away at every single horse I’d bumped into), and what a refreshing experience that had been! Even more exhilarating, though (and I think I wrote about this in a previous post), is when you get to know—and call them by—their names. This beauty right here was named Athena, after the Greek goddess. At first Kiselle was hesitant to get up on the saddle (antiquated leather!), afraid she might topple, but the caretaker was quick to assure us Athena was very neighborly and always treated her riders kind. Before shooting I spent a couple of minutes caressing her mane and touching her face, and I couldn’t help but notice there was a tinge of sadness in her eyes. Mr. Caretaker proceeded to tell us the story of how, just a few weeks back, Athena had lost all her three or four siblings to a mysterious equine illness—that explained the sullen look in her eyes. Despite this, though, she carried on like a trouper, and made love to the camera like a pro. Before we said goodbye I felt the need to whisper in her ear—you know, that she was going to be OK, and that her eyes were going to regain their sparkle one day.
Speaking of expressive eyes, I simply couldn’t take my eyes of Kiselle’s. I liked the way they disappeared into tiny slits every time she laughed—whether out loud, or silently, in her head. She was a woman of very few words, and instead relied on her eyes to do the talking. I loved how, when she needed Paolo to do something, she would just give him a certain look, and then he would set out to do it. Yes, they had that kind of chemistry, and it was enviable. Kiselle’s father would touch on the subject of her eyes and their convincing powers three months later, at the wedding reception. “I don’t like speaking in front of people—when I was in school, I would pretend to be sick on days when the teacher would ask me to recite in front of class,” he shared during his father of the bride speech. “Only Kiselle could get me to do these kinds of things. I wasn’t gonna do this, but it’s her special day, and she’s looking at me with those eyes… Kiselle’s eyes are beautiful. They’re the eyes that she got from her mother. And now Kiselle’s daughter, my granddaughter, has them.” Nice to know there’s plenty of them to go around.
Jun Paolo Dedamo and Kiselle Ibones | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Busay, Cebu, on July 24, 2011 | Styled by Andre Emmanuel Dedamo | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada (to book Owen, click here) | Sittings assistant: Inez Reformina | White strapless bias-cut crepe de chine gala gown, black strapless draped silk-georgette gala gown, and scarlet strapless bias-cut silk-georgette gala gown with laser cut detail, all by Owen Taboada
Behind the Scenes Instagrams Clockwise from top left: The hairstylist/makeup artist Owen, who is also a designer (he made all the gowns that Kiselle wore for this shoot), fixing Kiselle’s hair; Inez and Andre scouting for a good spot; Owen keeping our special guest star Athena happy by feeding her with corn husks; Andre and Owen on the simple suspension bridge at this place called Island in the Sky Resort in Balamban; me holding on for dear life as I tried to photograph the couple on the simple suspension bridge (the photos came out bad because it was just too foggy that afternoon); test shot with Owen and Kiselle; we all just had to have a photo with the beautiful Athena. Behind-the-scenes photos courtesy Andre Dedamo.
“If I lay here/ If I just lay here/ Would you lie with me and just forget the world?”
How beautiful are these lines from Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars?” In fact, how beautiful are all the lines from that one song? Sources say frontman Gary Lightbody considers it the “purest love song” he’s ever written. Eschewing intricate imagery not uncommon in arena ballads, the muse having struck the songwriter during a hangover, it uses stark sentences, simplistic metaphors—“a garden that’s bursting into life”—and languid cadences, and this is probably why it’s so catchy. When you keep your words simple (which is one gift I definitely don’t have), you see, they go straight to the heart. “I think that the song has worked because it has an emotion that people can relate to,” Lightbody has been quoted as saying (after a UK-based music licensing body declared it “most widely played song of the decade” in December of 2009). In the same way, TV music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas told Los Angeles Magazine about her choice of the track for the second season finale of Grey’s Anatomy (a listing that would be responsible for propelling the song to the top of music download charts in 2006): “It connected on multiple emotions at once.”
Even to people like me, who don’t have someone we can lie there and just forget the world with, it has a way of sending chills down the spine. (Especially Natasha Bedingfield’s version—have you heard it? It’s pretty much like the original version, except the words are sung kind of breathlessly. It’s on constant repeat in my iPod.). It pushes buttons in that it conjures visions of all sorts of escapism. I mean, to just withdraw from everyone and everything, and just lay there, not caring—how nice would that be? Although, of course, I’m sure it’s no more nicer than to have someone to escape with—or someone to be your escape, if you will.
I had been toying with the idea of translating this whole song into engagement photos for so long. Luckily I found a couple whose very relationship embodies the carefree, almost hypnotic premise of the song. Luigi and Maricor, they knew the formula too well—some events (and people) in their lives threaten to shake them, but instead of breaking down they just withdraw and look for a means of escape. And so spur-of-the-moment road trips are not uncommon. Like this one right here, for instance.
We’d already done a session a couple of weeks back, and I’d thought, you know, that that was that. But suddenly they wanted another session, “away from the city” this time. Served me well, because although that first session had covered the track’s main lines—“Let’s waste time/ Chasing cars/ Around our heads”—complete with an actual car and all, I had been left with a hunger to translate all the other lines, and here was my chance to do so (I did not have to wait for the next couple to come along)!
Two hours north of Cebu, that was where they took me. A place called Borbon, some three or four towns after Danao, and right before Tabogon. Shame on me—up to that point I had never heard of the place. (We’re always in a hurry to go to, say, Bantayan Island, and we tend to overlook the gorgeous places along the way.) We were going to be shooting at Luigi’s grandfather’s vacation house (or “rest house,” as they call those things here in the Philippines), and during the ride there I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the whole thing was going to look like, but was proven wrong once the gates were flung open. More garden than house, really, and the area was so huge you could get lost in it if you weren’t careful. And unnervingly perched atop a cliff! Yes, overlooking the sea that separates the islands of Cebu and Leyte. There was a makeshift tree house, too, with an old telescope—presumably for those who wanted to look across the water at Isabel, Leyte. But my favorite part was how the whole place was made to look unmanicured—wildflower shrubs sat alongside well-tended garden plants, giving off a bittersweet, unstudied kind of appeal (give a wedding stylist five minutes to pluck the flowers and whatever else there is to pick at, and he would be able to come up with maybe 10 different kinds of whimsical bouquets, or quirky little boutonnieres). I was quick to thank the heavens for giving me a setting that was my very idea of “a garden that’s bursting into life.”
The photos of the couple lying in the grass (with a mahjong set, and don’t ask me why) were taken, well, from the top (how else?). Yes, there was the tree house to support me, but it was only the lower half of my body that it bolstered—my torso was pretty much suspended in the air! It was dangerous, and I almost dropped my camera—twice! I think I might have felt my back snap, too. Luigi’s friend Roland Caballero pleaded for me to give it up, saying he was scared for my life, but these pleas fell on deaf ears. I was willing to stay all day up there, and to risk my life, all for the sake of getting my perfect “lie with me and just forget the world” picture!
Speaking of Roland, I must not forget to thank him. And not only for his genuine concern about my safety. A graphic designer and illustrator by profession, Roland had been asked by Luigi to come with during this shoot to act as “creative director,” after I’d brought up that “I am going to be needing some help if we are going to be shooting somewhere where there’s trees and plants and all.” My mentor Malou Pages-Solomon (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing) very recently wrote about how she was more comfortable shooting in the mountains, where nature is aplenty, versus, say, in an urban area. For me, at least up to this very shoot right here, it had always been the opposite: I’d preferred shooting in the city (where there’s buildings and concrete and glass and etc.), and I’d been deathly afraid of, um, vegetation. In a city setting, you see, I’d found it easier to mind my composition and manage my angles—always a straight line somewhere, always a plane or two, always a perfect circle. Plants, however, I’d had a hard time grasping—too abstract, too all over the place! Thank God Roland was there to show me how to make all these nature-y elements work to my advantage. Taught me how, for example, to look at things two-dimensionally, versus in three dimensions (i.e., take a test shot before deciding against a certain spot), and how to use leaves and barks and all that for framing. Even showed me where the best lighting was coming out of—and wasn’t that supposed to be my job? To cut to the chase, what I’m saying is, yes, it doesn’t hurt to second pair of eyes with you when you’re shooting, and it doesn’t have to be a secondary or assistant photographer (Roland here does like taking pictures, too, but decided to go camera-less that day so he could focus on helping me out with my shots)—especially when it’s someone who’s professionally trained in color, shape, structure, composition, and in understanding the nuances of space. I do not think I could’ve done all this without him. I mean, sure, I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted my subjects to be positioned within my frame, but I wouldn’t have been able to get the third character—the location, the surroundings—to cooperate if it weren’t for him. Needless to say, I took note of everything that came out of his mouth, and would end up applying all these lessons a week later during my session with Christina Garcia-Frasco for the Shandar catalog (the concept had called for a farm set).
I think I mentioned this already, but I’ll say it again: This is my second session with this couple, the first having been completed a month earlier in Mandaue. They had a third session after this, because Luigi had wanted a kitchen setting with him wearing his chef whites (yes, he is a chef), but I had to excuse myself from that—they were going to be shooting at the Casino Español de Cebu’s cookery, and at nighttime, too, and I did not want to jump into indoors and strobe without proper training. And so that set was taken care of by a photographer named Burton Raya. I’m not sure if Burton has a Website and I haven’t really seen the photos from that set, but I’m sure they came out gorgeous—must have gone really well with the couple’s choice of wedding souvenirs, which were measuring cups, with a little note that said “Love knows no measure” (the cups came with rulers, too, as Maricor here is a teacher by profession).
I hope you enjoy looking at this set as much as we did shooting it.
Luigi Mangubat and Maricor Teves | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Borbon, Cebu, on April 10, 2011 | Hair and makeup by June Sy | Creative Director: Roland Caballero | Special thanks to: Mia Bacolod and Vice Mayor and Mrs. Ace Serafin of Tabogon
It’s kind of a funny story, how the proposal went.
Maricor Teves had absolutely no idea what was going to happen that evening. Well, she thought she knew, but she thought wrong. What she was certain of was that she was headed for a night of bacchanalia with her boyfriend Luigi Mangubat and his friends from high school. She was also certain that there was absolutely nothing to celebrate—no birthday, no anniversary, nothing. You see, in the eight or so years they’d been together, she’d pretty much gotten used to it all—the guys decide to get together, Luigi offers to host, and then his house turns into a virtual frat house, with beer overflowing, pizza slices flying at your nose, fifty different kinds of card games being played at once, and a guy named Jerry in one corner strumming the guitar and singing bizarre songs about, say, asthma and tuberculosis and stuff (no kidding). All this and more, while their girlfriends or wives sit on a couch, not allowed to complain. “I thought it was going to be one of those nights, so what I did was decide to go [plain Jane], in an old T-shirt, a pair of shorts that I usually wear to sleep—I didn’t even bother brushing my hair!”
When she arrived at the scene, though, one of the girlfriends was quick to jump her and grab her by the arm, blabbering something about being in all sorts of “relationship trouble” and desperately needing a fellow girlfriend’s advice. So off they went upstairs to Luigi’s bedroom, away from the crowd, locking the door behind them. But the girl never opened her mouth to speak—the only thing she got herself to open was a bag of cheese curls, or maybe they were cheese puffs. When it became very clear to Maricor that there really was no “relationship trouble” to talk about, and that all this was some kind of trick, she grabbed the bag of cheese curls—or cheese puffs or whatever—from her friend’s hands, made a mad dash for the door, rushed down the stairs, only to be stopped dead on her tracks by what she saw when she got to the landing.
There, staring up at her from the foyer, the parlor and the dining room, stood eight or so of Luigi’s closest friends and a couple of his male cousins, along with their girlfriends and wives. This wouldn’t have been a shocker, except everyone was awfully quiet, and had the same kind of half-smile. And everyone was wearing white. From head to toe. What kind of joke is this? was all that rang in Maricor’s head. She was pretty damn sure she hadn’t seen anyone in white when she’d stepped in just a couple of minutes ago—it had only taken them a blink of an eye to change their clothes and find their places! What was even stranger was that Luigi was nowhere in sight. She scanned the place, but couldn’t find his face.
And then it began. Friend number one stepped forward and started to tell the story of how he’d been there when Maricor and Luigi had first met, back in 2002. Friend number two spoke up, telling the story of how he’d been around during the couple’s wildest year, which was 2003. Friend number three followed suit, and touched on a rather sensitive subject: the couple’s first major breakup in 2004. That was how it all went—all eight of Luigi’s closest friends, taking turns in stepping forward and telling the couple’s love story, tracing the evolution of their relationship year after year after year. After number eight punctuated his snippet from 2009, there was a brief lull. And then they all stepped aside to make way for…Luigi.
If you think this couldn’t pass as a scene from a movie, consider: As all this was happening, they had some pretty good background music, too. And I’m not even talking about Jerry (no disrespect to Jerry, because everyone—myself included—loves him and his songs about asthma and tuberculosis and stuff). The score was courtesy of no less than young violinist Jake Juleous Gacang, of Pilipinas Got Talent fame. It was Luigi’s cousin Kyle who had commissioned the dreadlocked virtuoso to do this for them, and it was a haunting rendition of Ric Segreto’s “Don’t Know What to Say (Don’t Know What to Do)” that Jake played as Luigi made his entrance.
Like how the song goes, Maricor didn’t know what to say or do. Her jaw dropped, and that was about it. Luigi had been hiding in a corner the whole time! And now here he was, in a tuxedo that she’d never seen him wear before, walking ever so slowly, head down at first. And then he looked up at her and began to speak, breathlessly. With the past eight years having been covered by his best friends, there was nothing left for him to talk about but the present. Not a whole lot of words—it had all been said. To him, the here and now could only be reduced to ten words: “Are you ready to change your last name to Mangubat?”
To which she just shrugged and said, in the faintest half-whisper, “I don’t know.” And then she burst into tears. She cried like she’d never cried before. Luigi, of course, took all this as a yes, and then proceeded to grab her by the waist and give her a big kiss.
Just like that, the house was brought down. Everyone broke into laughter. The solemnity they very rarely saw was out the door, and in its place came the usual clamor. Beer bottles popped, greasy food was served, decks of cards were shuffled, and once again Jerry was back behind his guitar. Same old, same old. The only difference, of course, was that this time around they had every reason to celebrate.
So, did she really mean to say yes? I would ask Maricor this question a couple of months later. “Of course!” she exclaimed, laughing. “It was just that I was shaking the whole time, and so I couldn’t bring myself to say yes. But, of course, I meant to say yes! It was the most romantic thing! How could one not [mean to] say yes?”
She then went on to tell the untold back-story about the night of the proposal. Turned out that earlier that evening she’d had plans of skipping the party altogether. “My father was sick, and I was feeling pretty down because this was a first for us, for him—to me, [he’d always been] the healthiest man to ever walk this planet. And suddenly he fell ill, and we were so worried so we decided to take him to the hospital.” She’d ask Luigi if she could take a rain check, because she’d wanted nothing more but to stay with her old man. For some reason, though, her mom had offered to stay in the hospital, saying that Maricor could have her turn in watching over her father the next day. (Who can tell now if it was Luigi who secretly made arrangements with her mom—but to think the whole thing might have never happened!) And so, with a weary heart, Maricor had dragged herself to the party. And then he’d proposed. She’d cried for the most part “because it was like going from one extreme to the other. One minute I’m very sad, the next I’m very, very happy!” Her father would get better a few days later, and she was happy that by the time he’d checked out of the hospital she’d had nothing but sweet news to share.
No tears for her eight months later, though, on the day of the wedding. She wanted to cry, she could feel the tears building up behind her eyes, but she had to hold it all in. Why? Well, because it was her groom who was crying this time around! And she felt that if she cried along with him it would all look funny—you know, with the two of them crying at the altar. “He cried three times” was what it was. First, when his big brother Lawrence called to apologize about not being able to make it to the wedding as he was marooned in Manila due to flight delays. This came as a shock to Luigi because he’d thought that Lawrence, who lived in New York, couldn’t make it at all to the Philippines, but now it looked like he was able to take those flights after all—who cares if he couldn’t make it to the ceremony, as long as he was in the same country! Second was when he spotted his big sister Maia walking into the church—apparently he’d been made to believe that Maia, who was now based in Fresno, couldn’t make it, too, but now here she was, radiant as ever in her California tan and her bejeweled halter dress in slate gray, beaming at him. It was his mom Marilyn, who’d also flown in from California, who’d orchestrated for everyone to come home for the event—without telling him, of course, for that surprise element. The third time he broke down was when he saw his aunt Rose, the woman who’d been there for and raised them ever since their father had passed away. Witnessing all these crying spells, Maricor felt her heart balloon—here was a man who, on the outside, was at turns tough and comical, but on the inside was a softie and cared deeply about family. She knew right there and then that she was marrying the right person.
If she could do it all over again, would she? “I would probably change a few things,” she would tell me a few weeks after she officially became Mrs. Mangubat. “I mean, he was in a tuxedo the night he proposed, and I was in an old T-shirt? [Not to mention] my fingers were all yellow from all the cheese curls? I’d like to have a chance to wear a nice little cocktail dress, you know, to go with my engagement ring. Also, isn’t it the bride’s job to cry during her wedding day? He just had to steal the show!”
Of course, she was only joking when she said all this. Because the truth is—and she knows this in her heart—that she wouldn’t change a thing, even if she could.
* * * * * * * * *
As with more and more guys these days, there was nothing startling about Luigi admitting he’d had no plans for engagement photos. He’d figured, everyone was doing it, so he’d opted to play it down. He’d wanted to do things a little differently. “The plan was to film the proposal, show the footage at the wedding reception,” he shared. Wouldn’t that have been a lot of fun? As luck would have it, though, the guy he’d asked to film it had remembered to bring the camcorder…but forgot to bring the batteries! And so here they were, left with no choice but to do a photo session.
No convoluted mood boards for this couple. I mean, sure, we sat down and talked about the shoot perhaps two or three times, but in all these meetings we always ended up electing to keep things simple and straightforward. A lot like their relationship, if you come to think about it. The thing about Luigi and Maricor was that, together, they weren’t very fond of plans, or of fuss, and liked to keep things spontaneous. (Fact of the matter is that the night he proposed was one of the very few things he ever planned in his life.) They would go to sleep at night talking about staying in the next day, and then he’d wake in the morning and say to her, “Let’s go to beach!” and that was that. Or it could be the opposite: they’d talk about going to the beach the next day, and in the morning they’d decide to do nothing and just laze around and watch DVDs. This was exactly the kind of spontaneity-slash-leisureliness that they wanted their engagement photos to evoke.
People are gonna find it hard to believe that I agreed to do this kind of thing, knowing that I am nothing without my mood boards and pointless props and superfluous styling. But, hey, I had to give it to them—or not give it to them, as the case would be. When shooting real people I always remind myself: “This is not editorial, this is not an album cover…” Makes it easier for me to exercise some restraint, and keeps me from overstepping my bounds. Their engagement photos, not mine. Their vision, and, well, a little of mine.
I did give them a small list, though: “Just a few items I want to include in the pictures, if you don’t mind.” And that included a vintage sedan. The overall theme was road tripping, which was exactly the kind of thing the two of them would do whenever they woke up bored, and I figured, hey, if we were gonna do that, might as well do it in style. Thankfully they knew exactly where to get the kind of car I was looking for. Luigi’s uncle’s Volkswagen 1600TL fastback coupe turned out to be a beauty, alright—with paint the color of eggshell, plush leather upholstery the color of red velvet cupcakes, I was tempted to baptize it “Desire.”
Not that I had Brando and Leigh in mind—like I mentioned, there was no mood board involved. OK, OK, so I will come clean now: the whole “no mood board” thing, that was only as far as they were concerned. What they were not aware of was that the whole time I was shooting, I had a song in my head.
“Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol is, to me, one of the most beautiful songs ever written in modern times. And it only bested itself, by all accounts, when it was covered by the British chanteuse Natasha Bedingfield in 2007. I picked the song as inspiration for this one shoot, in part because the idea had been hanging around my head for too long and I couldn’t hold it in any longer, but for the most part because no other song embodied the spontaneous, and at times laidback and languid, spirit of Luigi and Maricor’s relationship. It’s worth mentioning now that, because of this very nature of their relationship, some people had doubts that they would last, but by staying true to themselves and not changing a thing to live up to others’ expectations, they were able to see each other through and prove people wrong.
These photos you are looking at right here, these are just from our first session. This set pretty much covers the song’s main lines: “Let’s waste time/ Chasing cars/ Around our heads…” Yes, we had a second sitting, to embrace all the other beautiful lines from that song, and I hope to post the photos from that session on here in the next couple of days. Until then, please join me in celebrating the beauty of really going somewhere, even if it looks like we’re going nowhere.
Luigi Mangubat and Maricor Teves | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Mandaue, Cebu, on March 13, 2011 | Hair and makeup by June Sy | Creative Director: Roland Caballero | Special thanks to: Victor Francis Espina III and Kyle Mella