Am I boring you yet? You know, with all these journal-type posts? That question, of course, goes to those who know me personally—friend or foe, I must say—because I just know that a couple of brows are going to raise, and they’d be, like, “Tell us something we don’t know,” or, “Show us something we haven’t seen!”
I can’t exactly blame them. It’s no secret that when I put up this blog a little over two months ago I declared that I was going to be using it as a vehicle for my foray into photography. An inconvenient truth, as it turns out now, but it’s the truth anyhow. It’s only natural that people are expecting this to be more of a photoblog than anything else.
But you gotta cut me some slack. One thing I can tell you right now is that, being new to this whole blogging thing and all (I’m not even sure if I can spell blogosphere correctly—did I get that right?), I’m not sure if it comes with a set of rules, and if it does, where to get a reliable handbook. You must remember that, in the beginning, I wasn’t exactly sold to the idea of blogging. I’d never thought I’d live to see the day that I would be putting up a blogsite. For eons my friends had been badgering me to start a blog, and always I’d rebuffed them by saying, “I’m a writer, not a blogger.” My contention was that to those of us who had seen our work on newsprint or some other sort of physical medium a little over a hundred times pre-Internet era, the idea of intangibility was frightening, not to mention the notion of self-publishing a little unceremonious, slapdash and narcissistic. And so when that day came when I had to erect this whole thing, I didn’t have a single clue what I was doing, much less if I was doing it right. Safe to say that until this very day I’m still clueless! Which is why I rely on friends who’ve been doing this a long time to give me some direction (one of them my writer friend Debbie Rojonan, who maintains two blogs—including Balaki Ko, which aims to encourage penning poetry in the vernacular—and whose Tweet from months ago that said “Where in the social media engagement pyramid are you? Still a lurker? Move up. Share, comment, produce, curate. It’s the information age” was what had given me that much needed thrust).
To cut to the chase, the consensus was that, no matter what your reasons for putting up a blog, it has to show the world your character, a dose of your personality, and ensure that your identity doesn’t get “lost in translation” in the process. This tenet is especially crucial for someone like me, a startup photographer, because it offers people who have not met me or heard of me yet a window into what it’s going to be like working with me. I’ve decided the best way to do it is through snippets from my journal—not only does this give my audience a peek into my progress in learning the craft, it also shows what inspires me, in the hopes of perhaps catching the eye of those who are inspired by the same things, and of eventually paving the way to winning collaborations.
That being said, you’re going to have to get used to this, because from here on out, at least once a month, this is what you’re going to be getting from me. What it is is I’ve elected to tap into Instagram to help me carry this whole thing out. (I’m sure all of you know what Instagram is, but to those of you who don’t, it’s the free app for iPhones that lets you take snapshots, apply filters to them, and then instantly share them with friends.) And so, you see, it’s not going to be all writing, and somehow I’ve managed to figure out a way to carry on in the same lane! Instant photos are still photos, whether you like it or not!
One day I will eventually get to that point where I get to do what most seasoned photographers do—that is, just STFU, post the damn photos and then let them do the talking. Wouldn’t that be nice? But I know I got an awful lot of work to do before I can turn up at such plateau. In the meantime, I’m just glad I can share with you the little things that make this work in progress an exciting one and this journey worth the while.
* * * * * * * * *
The beginning of this month saw me getting the New York blues. I was browsing through my good friend Kathleen’s Facebook photo album of her trip to the City that Never Sleeps, feeling sorry that I wasn’t in any of the pictures. I was supposed to go with her on this trip, you see. We’d talked about it for a year—the plan was for me to leave for L.A. late May, and then meet her in the Big Apple a month later—but, as luck would have it, her vacations dates were approved, while mine got the red light. To say that I wallowed in pain would be saying the least. My brother would find me crouched in the breakfast nook, just staring blankly at my I Heart NY keychain and the MTA subway/commuter railroad map (01) from my first trip. I even hung my $3 I Heart NY souvenir shirt in my bedroom window (06) just so I could stare at it before falling asleep. It all turned out fine, though, because while I couldn’t go to New York, it was New York that found its way to me!
Yes, my friend Anne Alegrado and her family (04, 05), my gracious hosts during my first NY trip some two years back, came to Cebu for a quick vacation early this month. It was nice to be within hugging distance with her again, and with her daughter Ellis (02). Remember Ellis from my previous post? The little girl who took me to the Brooklyn Bridge—or, as she called it, “the bridge from the princess movie” (she was talking about Enchanted)? Yes, that girl. She remembers me as “the uncle who slept in our couch and walked me to school couple of times.” Last time I saw her she was into, well, “princess movies” and mathematics. Now she’s into ballet and yoga (03). Proud mother Anne was happy to report that the little girl was learning to play the guitar, too! “[Her Dad] Jovi bought her a Beatles guitar chord songbook,” Anne shared, and then Ellis wasted no time in singing to me her favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” from Abbey Road (07). She knew all the words, and sang in perfect tune! It makes me happy seeing my friends’ kids grow up like this—I’m never going to have kids of my own, so moments like this are the closest I can get to feeling like a proud parent. Our reunion had to be cut short ‘cause they had lots of other people to see—and plus they couldn’t stay long in Cebu ‘cause they had a European trip to embark on (as of this writing they’re in Madrid, I guess). For days I couldn’t get Ellis’s rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” out of my head. It inspired me to take this snapshot of a sunrise one morning (08). To me, the song represents her future, one that’s definitely going to be bright. I hope I live to see the day when she gets there—remind me to bring sunglasses!
Not really big on taking photos of flowers, but I was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen (it was the 136th anniversary of his death the beginning of this month) and the stories I’d grown up with—particularly that one that told of a butterfly looking for a flower to become his bride, and it was a daisy named Marguerite he first approached for guidance as she was “the wisest one.” I’m not really sure these were daisies (09, 10), but they were gorgeous.
* * * * * * * * *
My favorite pieces from fashion designer Dexter Alazas’s most recent collection (12)—he calls it the “peacock collection.” Always I’ve been a sucker for tasteful melees of ornamentation, and these pieces are testimony to Dexter’s mastery in this department. I would love to be able to use them for a shoot one day—that is, if no one beats me to it and I can find a client who can fit into them! I love visiting my friends’ ateliers and browsing through the racks. Dexter’s atelier (11, 12) is special because not only does he put on display his newest creations, pieces from his past collections are within reach, too—and these things, they have a way of taking you back (I think he still has this one gala gown that was used during a shoot I had with the photographer Wig Tysmans and the model Melanie Ediza for CeBu! Magazine some 10 years back.) Rumor has it that for his 15th anniversary two years from now Dexter will be putting up a retrospective. If there’s any truth to that at all, then I’m not the least worried—his archives are carefully arranged, and so curating is going to be a no-brainer.
* * * * * * * * *
The indefatigable Ms. Marlene fitting me into a Dexter Alazas barong Tagalog (13, 14). This was my first time ever to slip into a barong. Always I’d been a suit person. My sister saw these snapshots and exclaimed, “Never thought I’d see the day!” I mean, I still remain partial to suits, but this time I had to make an exception—I was about to attend one of the most important wedding of my life, and the dress code called for traditional Filipino for the gents. The things you would do for a best friend getting married are nothing compared to the things you would do for two best friends getting married to each other! Well, that, plus the fact that, as you get older, you strive to be more polite in social functions—and that includes playing close attention to the dress codes. Turned out wearing a barong wasn’t too bad after all—the only downside is that you can’t smoke a lot or be around smokers ‘cause one flick of ash on the material and then you’re dunzo.
But enough about barongs and dress codes and stuff. Let’s talk about Ms. Marlene. Most of you don’t know her, but I have so much respect for her. She’s, like, the Cebu fashion industry’s best kept secret. She’s non-exclusive; she works for quite a handful of local design houses. The reason she is indispensable is that she sees eye-to-eye with these designers. A designer gives her a sketch, or an idea, and she executes it flawlessly. She is very diligent, too—working long hours, especially when it’s show season. She and I go way back—always at my side whenever I was commissioned to style a Kate Torralba fashion show, and always ready with her quick fix kit for instances that required last-minute alterations and I refused to let pins and binder clips do the trick. I look up to people like Ms. Marlene—the people who work behind-the-scenes tirelessly and fervently to bring beautiful clothes to life.
New York just wouldn’t stop coming to me. This time it was in the form of Nila Romano and Dr. John Seno, who flew into town early this month so they could get married in front of family and friends (17-28). Well, technically they’re not from New York but from New Jersey, but they live in a town called West New York, which is nestled right by the Hudson River and is considered a part of the New York metropolitan area—you can see the Upper West Side of Manhattan if you face east—so, yeah, they’re still New Yorkers to me. (Nila was also one of the few people who showed me around the Big Apple when I was there during my first visit two years ago.) This wedding was special to me—I’d waited for it like it was my own. I’d been with this couple, you see, since the beginning, since the courtship stages, and I’d witnessed the whole thing blossom into a beautiful, strong bond. Fifteen years! That’s how long they’d been together! Very few relationships get to stand the test of time. It’s a connection cemented by his unwavering faithfulness and her eternal optimism. Nila’s older sister Dory Cusi, who’d flown in from SoCal, would later toast to many of John’s finest qualities and heroic deeds, including how, when Nila couldn’t fly to the Unites States yet, he single-handedly chaperoned Dorly’s little children across the Pacific so they could finally be reunited with their parents—“and that’s when I knew he was the right guy for my sister.” They tied the knot at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral (21-23)—it was my first time to step inside that church, and it was glorious. The bride wore a dazzling floor-sweeping strapless sweetheart-neckline gown that they’d snatched in Manhattan. John’s mother had commissioned a choir to sing “Ave Maria” as Nila’s walk-down-the-aisle song. The whole thing was so surreal I was brought to tears. A great bonus was that I got to be reunited with my some of my closest friends from college, and with the rest of the Seno family, especially John’s brothers Joey (25, delivering his best man’s speech) and Rico (26), both of whom I had become close to as John and I had lost touch.
Just a couple of photos from a recent engagement session that I did (29-32). This one took two days because we had to go up the mountains! Yes, it was grueling! The pictures came out pretty good, though, thanks to the fact that this was the first engagement shoot wherein I had absolutely nothing to do with the styling—i.e., someone else took care of the clothes, leaving me with nothing else to attend to but my camera! I should do this more often—you know, just take pictures and leave all the other aspects like the styling and the props to others. It gets you focused like that. I am unable to upload that set on here just yet ‘cause I am not allowed to publish the photos until the days leading to the wedding, so you will have to stay tuned.
Every Wednesday morning my friend Jeff and I make it a point to visit the Carmelite Monastery down Mabolo (just a good 10 minutes’ walk from our office) to light a few candles and say a little prayer (33-35). (By the way, last week, August 24, was the 48th anniversary of the consecration of the Monastery.) I can tell you that not one prayer has been unanswered. More often than not I pray for good health for me and my family. Sometimes I pray for good shoot weather, and I almost always get it! Of course, I go to the Redemptorist Church, too (36)—I live right next door!
* * * * * * * * *
So a friend brought me to a place that specialized in bespoke menswear (37). I can’t disclose the name of the institution ‘cause I’ve kind of been sworn into silence, but they’ve been making bespoke suits and barong Tagalogs for a privileged group of Cebuanos for years, relying mostly on astute word of mouth. I ran my hands through some of the suit jackets laid on the dress forms and was amazed by the precision and the sharpness—what great handiwork! I hope to make an appointment soon.
* * * * * * * * *
That’s a tally of my daily cigarette consumption right there (38). I was really sick beginning of this month, and when the doctor asked me “How many sticks do you smoke in one day?” I could not answer her. And so she told me that I “better start keeping track.” And so here we are. Turns out I am a pack-a-day smoker. Yikes. The good thing about keeping a record, though, is that it kind of disgusts you every time you look at it, and so it kind of keeps you in check. I am not in a struggle to quit or anything—I just really want to minimize my burning up is what it is. Smoker’s cough is not exactly music to anyone’s ears—even to the smoker himself.
* * * * * * * * *
One of my best friends from high school, Rhoderick (39), blew another birthday candle this month. While I could count the candles, what I couldn’t count was how many times this person had been there for me and my family throughout the years, so I knew it was time to give back. I threw a little birthday dinner for him at my place, and we had habichuelas (his favorite), among others, and I made Do-Over-style sangria, too! I’m happy to report I’m getting good at this thing—that is, cooking and entertaining at home. Sure, it’s labor-intensive and time-consuming, but it gives little celebrations a great punch of importance and a touch of individuality, as opposed to, say, just dragging someone to the usual restaurants. Just a little something I picked up from my recent obsession with Rita Konig (I talked about this briefly in my previous post). It is not my intention to do this more and more, but to do it more often than not, maybe at least once a month. You see, there was a time I could not cook, even if it meant saving my life. To borrow a line from Carrie Bradshaw, “The only thing that I have ever successfully made in the kitchen is a mess.” But I’m not twenty-something anymore, and now that I am running my own household I am somehow responsible for injecting a little, um, wisdom into it. Those closest to me will laugh when they read this because they know I am a first-class slob. But, hey, I am working on that, too. One step at a time! This year it’s all about cooking for me, and maybe next year it will be cleaning (LOL). Here’s a serving of the vegetable/seafood pesto pasta that I whipped up some two weeks ago (40). Yes, my brother loved it, and I’m making it again this week.
One of my all-time favorite shirts: a black and white “she-Che” raglan (41) from Cecile Zamora’s Defect that my best friend Yna Varias gave to me for Christmas ’99—yes, it is 12-years-old, and I still wear it like I only got it yesterday!
* * * * * * * * *
Herb Ritts is, like, my all-time favorite photographer. As a young boy growing up in a small town, I would flip through my Mom’s and my aunts’ old Vogues and be mesmerized by his work. The first time I knew I was going to make fashion a huge part of my life was when I saw the cover of American Vogue’s April 1993 issue—Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Stephanie Seymour all playful, wearing candy-striped crop tops by Marc Jacobs paired with white Daisy Dukes, photographed by Herb Ritts. I would later find out it was him who’d directed two of my all-time favorite music videos, too: Madonna’s “Cherish” from 1989, and Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” from 1990. Ever since then I’d become obsessed with his style, his penchant for black-and-white and the way he’d approached chiaroscuros. I remember crying so hard when he died in December of 2002. Three weeks ago, on the week of his birthday (August 13, he would’ve turned 59), I paid tribute by setting my favorite Herb Ritts photograph (“Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage, 1990″) as wallpaper on my phone (42, 43). Around the same time, the Getty announced that they had just acquired 69 Herb Ritts photographs, and that they were planning to put up a retrospective in the spring of next year—God, I hope I’ll be in L.A. in time for that!
* * * * * * * * *
Another person whose demise brought me to my knees: the Filipino actor Rico Yan. I was watching Got 2 Believe, his last movie, in which he’d played a wedding photographer. I had to grab my phone and take pictures of freeze-frames (46, 47) of him crying. He was most beautiful when he cried.
* * * * * * * * *
So, remember last month when I talked about how I stockpile on Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Green in Lemon Jasmine? I got an e-mail from someone who blogs about teas asking why I loved them when there were a lot of better tasting sleep-inducing teas out there. Here’s my answer: They come in string-less, tag-less, staple-less pillow-style teabags (44)—in short, they are environment-friendly.
* * * * * * * * *
Another e-mail I got was from someone who wanted to know how the oversize mustard grandfather cardigan that I let a client wear for a nautical-themed set qualified as, well, nautical. My answer: I know that when we say “nautical fashion” we are quick to think blue-and-white stripes, and then a little red highlights here are there, but what some of you don’t know is that yellow is part of the basic sailorman palette, too—owing to the yellow slickers that sailors use (I did a little bit of research and found out that the yellow “resulted from treating canvas with linseed oil to make it waterproof”). Also, I did take a closer inspection at the buttons of that cardigan: they were gold-colored, like those of the traditional Service Dress Blue uniforms, and they had these embossed yacht anchor details, too (48)—you can’t get any more nautical than that.
This past month was special for a lot of different reasons, but this one right here could be the biggest highlight of them all: A little over two weeks ago I started my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy Photography. Single-handedly run by the beautiful and brilliant Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon (49, 50), Shutterfairy is one of the best-known boutique wedding/lifestyle photography firms in this part of the country. I had been an avid follower of her work, even before I could get a camera of my own. It was a bold step in my part deciding to pursue this apprenticeship. Towards the end of June, after five or so solo shoots, I’d felt I’d needed to push myself some more, and that all this business about being self-taught was getting old. I’d read somewhere about Victor Demarchelier, Patrick Demarchelier’s son, being his father’s principal assistant. “There are [other aspects of photography] that you can grasp faster as an assistant,” he had been quoted as saying. How cool is a father-and-son team? But my father was no longer here to teach me, so I had to look outside the family circle. I pulled a couple of strings, managed to get good viva-voce recommendations, sent a letter of application, and in no time found myself under Mai’s wings.
My first session with her was for an engagement shoot. We were going to be shooting at a farm up the mountains in Carmen, some two or so hours northeast of Cebu. As luck would have it, the couple we were going to be shooting were from New York—I swear to God, the New York streak just kept on coming! Cherry, who has roots from Cebu, was about to marry her fiancé Christian (56) in less than a week. I asked why they decided not to have their engagement photos taken in their new hometown of New York, and she said it was Christian’s idea for them to be taken here, in this very farm, ‘cause he’d fallen in love with this place when they’d first visited about a year ago. What was not love? I looked around me and I couldn’t keep my jaw from dropping—everywhere you turned it was picturesque (49-56). The place is called Noah’s Farm, and it is owned by Cherry’s sister, Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who likes to take her family up there once in a while when they want to shy away from the city life.
What I did was mostly help the couple with their outfits and scout for settings, but I did take a couple of pictures, too, ‘cause Mai would be, like, “Where’s your camera? Why aren’t you taking pictures?” I can’t post any of my photos from that day on here yet, ‘cause I have yet to get approval from Mai and, well, the clients, but, here, feel free to go to the Shutterfairy blogsite to view Mai’s gorgeous set from that day.
Remember two months ago when I inaugurated this blog and I talked about how photographers these days, in an effort to stand out and be cut above the rest, “hold back on the sharing?” Well, I take that back now, because Mai here was just amazing. She answered all my questions, even those that I did not ask out loud (it was as if she was reading my mind!), and she was always pushing me to get to the work at hand. I will write more on the things I’ve learned from her in my future posts. Right now let me just soak up in the awesomeness of how lucky I am to have found a mentor who is as generous as she is talented.
I have quite a number of Nike Dunks, but this pair right here (57), I must say, is my favorite. The sangria/saffron combo always does it for me.
* * * * * * * * *
OK, so I’d been hearing through the grapevine that there was this store in Cebu that sold items from IKEA, but I’d never really paid attention to the buzz. And then I chanced upon the store myself. The store is called Förskö (60), and they are located at the second level of the Banilad Town Centre. I must’ve foamed in the mouth a little when in the corner of my eye I saw the IKEA logo. Never in my wildest dreams had I seen this coming! Not a lot of stock in there, though, and their space isn’t large enough to accommodate the showroom types of displays that IKEA is known for, but they do have a couple of winners, including the LACK side tables (the solid painted versions and the clear lacquered birch effect versions), the silver TERTIAL work lamp, and the MAKROS pendant lamp (58) that I loved from the 2011 catalog. They also have the KNAPPA pendant lamp (59) which I don’t remember from the 2011 catalog, so presumably it’s from a newer line. If you can’t find anything you love, that’s alright—just flip through the pages of the catalog, point at something, and they’ll place the order for shipment later! I’m thinking of getting the NASUM storage baskets (in clear lacquered banana fiber weave). We’ll see.
* * * * * * * * *
The fresh carabao’s milk pastillas (64) from Carigara, Leyte, are simply the best. You should try them.
I forgot to mention my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy comes with a huge bonus: For package deals—e.g., engagement session plus day-of-the-wedding coverage—Mai works with a husband-and-wife team, Paul and Charisse Calo (71), a.k.a. Calography. I met Charisse (66) during the previously mentioned first session with Mai, and I would get to work with both her and her better half a couple of days later during my second session. Both teams were commissioned to do the engagement photos of visiting Zamboaga-based couple Al and Pie (67, 68, 69, 72) who were going to be married in two months. It was fun for the most part because Paul turned out to be the adventurous, adrenaline-driven type, and there was never a dull moment because we were always moving from one location to another. Even more amazing was the camaraderie between the two teams, and that they saw eye to eye and there was never a conflict of ideas. That day I learned some of the technicalities of shooting under harsh lighting conditions, like minding my ISO and all that other good stuff. It’s so cool that I get to pick at not just one brain but three! I cannot wait to work with them again. Click here for a couple of Paul’s and Charisse’s shots from that session.
Proud of myself because this month I kept true to my promise of buying more books and fewer magazines! In fact, no magazine purchases at all this month! (Well, next month is a going to be a different story altogether, as I am determined to grab the September issue of Vogue—Kate Moss on the cover, my dears, and an exclusive coverage of her wedding to Jamie Hince!) So my brother Jake came across this bookstore that sold hard-to-find volumes at steeply discounted prices, and I wasted no time in checking it out. The photography shelf was what I checked out first (73), but it turned out all it contained were books on graphic design and illustration—the salesperson told me they were running low on photography titles, but I enlightened her that maybe all they needed was a little rearranging, because I did find this one baby, Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan by Douglas R. Gilbert (with text from music journalist Dave Marsh and a foreword by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian), in the shelf labeled Fashion. I couldn’t believe they were selling this book for, like, less than Php 200. I loved all the photos in it, but my favorite was this one photo of Dylan singing to the poet Allen Ginsberg in some kitchen while Sally Grossman (better known as the lady in red on the cover of Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home) looked on (74). As I did more digging I was able to unearth a copy of Vivienne Tam’s China Chic (75). For years I had been looking for this title, and finally here I was holding a copy of it with my bare hands. My first impulse was to add it to my cart, but then after leafing through the first few pages I decided it wasn’t for me. No disrespect—Vivienne Tam is one person I look up to, along with other Asian and Asian-American designers like Anna Sui, Vera Wang, Jason Wu, and Alexander Wang. But this book was just not me at all—best left to Winnie Narazeths of the world. Perhaps Anna Sui by Andrew Bolton would be more in my lane, what with her rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic and all. So, no, I do not regret not buying this one. One thing I do regret not getting was this huge Collector’s Library Edition volume of Oscar Wilde’s works (76). I’d turned away from it in favor of a book on the makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin. Asinine move in my part, really, and I should’ve listened to my writer friend Xiomara Demeterio-Glindmeyer when she said, “I would grab Wilde in a heartbeat.” I was tempted, you see, by the immediate practicality the Aucoin book had offered—like, hey, I was going to be doing shoots for a living, so best to grab the one that would teach me a thing or two about makeup, a very important aspect of every shoot. I realize now, of course, that the Wilde book would’ve been the more practical choice—the Aucoin book, easy to find, whereas the chances or finding another Wilde book in this part of the world, close to impossible. Oh, well, you live, you learn.
* * * * * * * * *
Just a couple of days ago I was reunited with someone I hadn’t talked to or seen in a very long time—I’m talking about the singer/songwriter Cattski Espina (77, 78). She had just finished titling and tracklisting her new album (to be released really soon!), and now it was time to get to work on the album cover. She had commissioned Shutterfairy to do her portraits, and since Mai was in Manila for a family thing I took the liberty of setting up the pre-shoot meeting myself. What was supposed to be a quick discussion turned into 3- or 4-hour meeting, ‘cause there was a lot of catching up to do in my part. I confessed that the last album I’d heard about was Vacuum My Inside (released late 2003), the follow-up to their 2001 debut Cattski EP. Turned out that I’d missed out on a third album (a 2009 release called Sound Minds Speak Volumes) because this thing she was about to launch was her fourth. I also learned that she was on her own now—this new release was going to be the first from Cattski the solo artist; Cattski the band was no more. “Which is why I’ve decided to call it Zero,” she shared, “because it’s like I’ve gone back to zero.” I’m not allowed to let anyone in on the details just yet, but suffice to say that, like the album title, the recording is going to feature a pared-down sound—a departure from the heavier sounds in her previous works. “More electronica than rock,” she pointed out. This called for a brand spanking new look. We got to work, and I was happy with the styling concept we were able to come up with. The shoot’s this weekend, and I’m excited. I can’t wait to see how it’s all gonna turn out.
* * * * * * * * *
Cattski couldn’t help but notice the wallpaper on my phone. I told her that this was my own little way of paying tribute to someone. Couple of weeks ago it was Herb Ritts (42, 43), and these days it was Aaliyah (79, 80). It was the 10th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death last August 25. Can you believe it’s been 10 years? Feels like it was only yesterday that I cried myself to sleep, after seeing the news on the plane crash that killed her. In her song “Try Again” from the soundtrack to Romeo Must Die, Timbaland ad libs, “It’s been a long time/ We shouldn’t have left you/ Without a dope beat to step to.” Well, at least Aaliyah didn’t leave us without a dope beat to step to. Up to this very day I still dance to “Back and Forth” in my room, the same way I used to do it back in ’94, and it’s something I’m not ashamed of. Nothing wrong about getting up and letting “this funky mellow groove get you in the mood”—yes, “you know it’s alright.”
This was a tricky one. You see, it’s a feeling I was supposed to be familiar with—it’s no secret that I stockpile on Bigelow Cozy Chamomile Herb Tea (“Pure chamomile for quiet moments,” the package says) and Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Green in Lemon Jasmine (“Helping the world unwind,” says this one), and that I punctuate my each and every day, working or non-, with a hot mug or two of these babies. So when Sheila Desquitado said this was the feel she wanted her engagement photos with Cameron Bradley to evoke—that feeling you get after downing a good cup of chamomile tea/blend—you’d think I’d be chuckling, right? Well, wrong. Truth is, she kind of lost me there. “Light, airy, relaxed, and mellow,” she’d said at one point, as if sensing I’d needed help, and these words I’d jotted down in my notebook. But the more I stared at them the more I was convinced that they were describing, say, a white eyelet dress, and not a concept for a shoot. What kinds of themes could I tap into for that “light, airy, relaxed, and mellow” feel? For once I was clueless. And to think I’d thought this was going to be easy.
If you come to think of it, perhaps it was only apt—you know, that it was tricky—because Sheila here was kind of a tricky one, too. In all the years I’d known her I’d asked her a thousand times about her love life, and always she’d just shrug, smile coyly, and graciously change the subject. And then this past December, out of the blue, she’d left on a plane to Down Under—not a word spoken, if only in passing—only to come back weeks later with a ring on her finger! How’s that for dropping a bomb!
Well, to me, at least, it was like a bomb had been dropped, but that certainly wasn’t the effect she was aiming for. She’d chosen to keep mum about the trip to see the man of her dreams because “I didn’t want to make a fuss about it.” And that’s just her, you know: No-fuss, quiet, understated. Ever the lady. And so it was no surprise that she wanted something “light, airy, relaxed, and mellow” for her engagement shoot. But the issue here wasn’t that I was surprised, ‘cause I’d actually kind of seen it coming. It was more of I was taken aback, because it wasn’t something I’d done before.
You see, in all my years of styling and my few months of shooting, I’d come to a deduction that, if there was anything that was to set my work apart from others’, it was that my aesthetic was decidedly, um, masculine (see my very first solo effort here). Always I’d had a thing for some dirt, some grit, some pretty disturbing antics. And some adrenaline. Initially what I’d envisioned for Sheila and Cameron was something inspired by this one scene from the final episode of The Hills in which Stephanie Pratt spent a day in an off-road track in Corona to watch her motocross racer beau Josh Hansen in action—this was right after she’d told me that Cameron was into dirt bikes and all that good stuff. But then that wasn’t what she’d wanted. And although that was what I’d wanted, it had to be axed. Hey, this was their engagement, not mine! You can’t always get what you want.
It took a while for me to figure out what we were gonna do. Luckily I got into cleaning mode one day and that’s how I stumbled upon a couple of my old Vogues—including the October 2002 issue which had Christy Turlington, in a pewter silk Calvin Klein gown, assuming a Dhanurasana/Bow Pose on the cover. And just like that, total lightbulb moment for me. Photographers talk about their “money shots”—well, this was my “money thought” right here! But, of course! How could I have forgotten about Sheila being a yogi? We’re talking about my own personal Christy Turlington right here: one day she’s lecturing me on the dangers of smoking, the next she’s going on and on about the wonders of meditation. I’d been too caught up in that bubble of me that I’d overlooked Sheila’s very essence, the one thing that defined her. In no time I was on the phone with her—“Let’s do yoga! For a theme, I mean!”—and she was digging it. Perfect, she’d said, because it was a side of her that she’d been wanting to show Cameron, and she’d also been planning on converting him to the discipline. I was thrilled, too, for the most part because it was something I hadn’t seen anyone do before (this part of the world, anyway).
The next challenge was, um, “expanding” the theme, especially after she’d pointed out it would be backbreaking to do, say, the Downward Dog the whole time. She’d booked me for a 7-to-7, so it was an opportunity for four or more sets. We had to think of a location, and quick, so we could proceed with the rest of the mood board. At first I’d wanted something à la Madonna’s studio in The Next Best Thing—wooden panels, airy windows, homey. I was this close to booking my friend Gayle Urgello’s music room because it was all that, but then Sheila said she wanted the whole thing to be at a beach. I’d been trying to dodge the whole concept of a beach shoot, just ‘cause everyone else was doing it. But who was I to say no, especially since this was sort of like a vacation for Cameron, and possibly his first chance to see a Philippine beach. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that the only thing more novel than a yoga theme was yoga on the beach. Sold! And so now we had to build the mood board around this premise.
After a couple of meetings over chai tea lattes, this was what it all came down to: three main sets, each one inspired by, well, a soothing beverage— (1) A morning tea set (which was to include the whole yoga thing); (2) a mid-morning and siesta set that had a feel of a tropical fruit juice; and (3) an early evening set that had the fizz of champagne bubbles.
The first set wasn’t at all tough to style: plain old sleepwear for the actual morning tea frames (two nighties for her, one over the other, because they were too sheer!), all-white for the yoga series. It was the props that I had some trouble with—all we had were mugs, and how crass! Good thing my aunt Marilyn Davison came to the rescue, and she let me borrow a set from her prized collection. They were Shelleys, no less—fine bone china, and the cups were oleander-shaped with gold-plated rims. Did I mention they came in a dainty chintz pattern? I became obsessed with them for a while that I decided to extract my palette from the chintz pattern, and that’s how I ended up with puce, Bondi blue, sea green, celadon, and University of California gold.
The second set was a no-brainer. They wanted beach, well, that was what they were gonna get. Sheila was showing me snapshots of her and Cameron kicking it at Surfers Paradise (the Miami of Australia), and immediately I thought, wow, he was the kind of guy who would look good in navy stripes because, well, he had that sailorman look, what with his salt-and-pepper hair and all. She agreed, and at once I mentally updated my board with those 1952 Robert Doisneau photographs of Pablo Picasso wearing a classic Breton fisherman’s shirt. This meant putting together something nautical for Sheila to wear, too. She didn’t have a navy bikini or one with stripes, so we opted for a black one, and all I had to do was throw in an oversize mustard grandfather cardigan with gold buttons that had these embossed yacht anchor details, and a sailor hat that I borrowed from my fellow stylist Meyen Baguio. But that wasn’t enough, ‘cause I wanted a burst of color, too. I was browsing through runway reports on the Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear shows, and found myself hopelessly drawn to Naeem Khan’s melee of tropical prints and brilliant colors in Palm Beach silhouettes (petite wrap dresses, floor-length kaftans)—they kind of reminded me of socialite Helen Lee Schifter vacationing in St. Barts. I then remembered I had this Persian green/lime floral print silk chiffon kaftan with Indian silk trimming by Kate Torralba, possibly from one of her 2008 collections, that she’d given to me as a birthday present—perfect, because it had that exact aesthetic that I loved about the Naeem Khan collection (well, it wasn’t exactly floor-sweeping because the hemline was way up there, but that was fine because Sheila had the legs for that sort of stuff anyway).
For the third set I shifted to a gala state of mind. The idea of evening gowns for engagement photos had never impressed me much, but Sheila here had such a regal stance it would be a shame to let that go to waste. I found out it was my friend Humberto Villegas who was doing her wedding dress, and I thought, Great! Humberto was one of the few young local designers I knew who knew a thing or two about consistency and focus—he’d been doing evening and cocktail pieces for as far as I could remember, with very little distractions, and it was safe to say he’d become an expert in this department by now. Ever-effervescent and never one to miss a beat, he had this uncanny way of finding rare fabrics, and of sculpting ordinary ones into extraordinary folds and drapes. I wasted no time making an appointment, and a few days later I was in his studio sorting through his carefully arranged archives. It wasn’t an easy task because everything in there was just so beautiful, but in the end I got to narrow it down to two gala gowns, including this gorgeous carmine pink silk chiffon number with oxblood satin ribbon shoulder straps that he’d made for his sister Ana a couple of years back. And just like that, we were ready to roll.
When Cameron arrived in Cebu everyone that Sheila introduced him to went on to go crazy about him. “He looks like Richard Gere!” a common friend gushed. So he was winning everyone over with his good looks and charisma. I was more concerned about whether or not we were ever gonna win him over with what we were about to do—Sheila had told me, you see, that where he was from engagement photos weren’t exactly the norm. I was relieved when I finally met him the evening before the shoot and he said, “Let’s do this!” To my surprise he was more game than I’d expected him to be! Even apologized for not being able to bring with him his biker boots and other MX gear—“I was worried about my baggage allowance,” he explained—and I told him not to worry, the motocross theme had been called off. Well, he admitted that the whole concept of a shoot was still kind of strange to him, but it was something his fiancée wanted, and so he was more than willing to give it to her. (And how sweet is that, right? Like how, I would learn later on, he’d said yes to wearing the traditional Filipino barong Tagalog on their wedding day instead of a suit.)
Funny thing, ‘cause on the day of the shoot it was Cameron who seemed very ready for the whole thing, and Sheila, who’d been preparing for this for weeks, was starting to get the nerves—it wasn’t something she was used to, being in front of the camera and being the center of attention. Thankfully I’d remembered to bring with my some of my chamomile tea. It also helped that a few of our common friends had decided to tag along—Marnelli and Jurex to help with the props and the sittings, Jeff and Marla to help with accessories—and so we had a couple of laughs. But it was Cameron who ultimately helped her gain her composure back by saying there was nothing to be scared about. Like during the nautical set, when I asked her to lose the cardigan and sit for me in just the bikini, she hesitated for a moment—but then she stole a quick glance at Cameron, and he just flashed her a boyish grin, and just like that she laughed it off and obliged.
He had that kind of effect on her—just one smile from him, or one nod, or one word, and all her worries would melt away. Slowly I realized that this was exactly why she knew this man was the one she’d been waiting for all her life. Finally she got to meet someone who was her exact equal—in thought, temperament, and tenderness. He was like everything she’d ever held near and dear to her heart all rolled into one package. The effect that her beloved teas had on her, the effect that yoga had on her—these were the very effects that Cameron had on her. Perfect, then, that the song we’d chosen so get us in the mood was Nouvelle Vague’s lounge/bossa nova cover of Modern English’s 1982 hit “I Melt with You” (and, yes, I’d had Marnelli and Jurex help me out with red cardboard-cutout letters that spelled “I’LL STOP THE WORLD AND MELT WITH YOU”). So I didn’t get to have my The Hills-inspired motocross theme and my adrenaline rush, but I learned an important lesson: That peace of mind and contentment don’t just come from a hot mug—they have to come from everything you do and everyone you surround yourself with. You can’t always get what you want, yes, but that’s alright, because sometimes what you get is what you need.
As for Sheila’s effect on Cameron—well, that’s a different story altogether. Let’s just say he’s absolutely smitten. “Wow, she looks really beautiful,” he would say every time she emerged from hair and makeup. He must’ve uttered this over five times in a span of 12 hours. Over lunch he talked to me about how Sheila had that rare combination: “beautiful and down-to-earth.” In other words, she was just his cup of tea. So, wait—maybe it’s the same story, after all.
The couple would tie the knot 10 days later, at Dumaguete’s Bishop’s Palace, a quaint little chapel in the middle of a pastoral enclave (a fairy tale-like tree-lined dry-weather road leads to it) some twenty minutes southwest of the city proper, in an intimate ceremony attended only by Sheila’s immediate relatives, very few of her close friends, and Cameron’s best friend Mark, who’d flown in from Australia. I might have teared up a little when she walked down the aisle—particularly at the beginning, when she appeared on the chapel’s doorstep, bathed in the balmy afternoon light, looking radiant in her Swarovski-encrusted Humberto Villegas gown. The reception was held at the sprawling Ang Tay Golf and Country Club. The setting was rustic and unstudied, a lot like a love that would never grow old. And the mood? Well, “light, airy, relaxed, and mellow,” a lot like their relationship, and just like Sheila had dreamt it to be.
“I’m so happy for her,” said Sheila’s youngest sister Sheryl, who’d flown in from Singapore only a few hours before the wedding to be the maid of honor. “She finally found someone who brings her happiness, and challenges her intellectually. Someone to explore the world and spend the best years of her life with.” No one can say they don’t feel the same.
Cameron James Bradley and Sheila Desquitado | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Suba-Basbas, Lapu-Lapu, on March 27, 2011 | Hair and makeup by Michael Sotillo | Sittings and props: Marnelli Uyguangco and Jurex Suson | Special thanks to: Marla Baguio, Jefferson “Tyra” Mendo, Mia Bacolod | Persian green/lime floral print silk chiffon kaftan with Indian silk trimming, Kate Torralba; cosmic latte chiffon gala gown, Humberto Villegas; carmine pink silk chiffon gala gown with oxblood satin ribbon shoulder straps, Humberto Villegas
In my mood board (see below, clockwise from top left): Nouvelle Vague’s self-titled debut album from 2004, which contains bossa nova-ed covers of post-punk/New Wave hits, including Modern English’s “I Melt with You” from 1982; Christy Turlington on the cover of American Vogue, October 2002, photographed by Steven Klein; looks from Naeem Khan Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear, photographed by Gianni Pucci; Pablo Picasso wearing a classic Breton fisherman’s shirt, 1952, photographed by Robert Doisneau; palette inspired by the moody colors of the oleander-shaped fine bone china chintz tea cups used for the shoot, more specifically (L-R) puce, Bondi blue, sea green, celadon, and University of California gold (take note that, because I added some grain to them, the swatches here might be different—darker, if you will—from the samples in your matching system).