I was at a vintage/junk shop in Williamsburg helping a friend look for various curios/bric-à-brac for her redecorating project when I got stuck in a corner with piles and piles of antique chests and was reminded of my mom. She would’ve loved it here, I thought as I ran my fingers through the more gorgeous ones (especially those with intricate carvings, brass trimmings and bone inlays)—my mom has always had a thing for old chests and trunks. I inched away from that recess to rejoin my friend, only to bump into a wall of floor-to-ceiling vintage vinyl—David Bowie’s Low from 1977, The Clash’s London Calling from 1979, Michael Jackson’s Thriller from 1982, The Smiths’ eponymous debut album from 1984 and Meat is Murder from 1985, etc.—and the whole thing reminded me of, well, my mom again, her love of music, and how I’d been surrounded by her (and her father’s) collection of vinyl growing up. Well before I could explore the entire shop it occurred to me that it was going to be Mother’s Day in just a few days—and I was nowhere near my mother! I certainly picked the wrongest of times to put an ocean between us. (And my sister, who’d recently become a mother, I’d left in L.A.!) I was starting to feel bad about my choice of travel dates when I realized that, hey, I wasn’t exactly going to be mother-less (or sister-less) on Mother’s Day—although my mom was some 7,000 miles away (and my sister some 2,000), I still had someone to celebrate with here in New York, and she was right under my nose!
Anne Alegrado is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and is my perennial hostess in New York. It was her that I’d stayed with during my first visit to the Big Apple in the fall of 2009. At the time she and her little family had lived in a modest-size 24th-floor apartment off 3rd on the Upper East Side, just a mere four blocks away from Central Park’s E 72nd entrance. So I’d crashed in their couch, and that was when I had grown fond of her children, and witnessed firsthand how much of an amazing mother she was. I think I wrote about this in a previous post—about how Anne liked to grow her own vegetables in her Brooklyn backyard during the day (yes, they have since hightailed it from the Upper East), and then squeeze her way through throngs of sweaty rock fans at, say, Terminal 5 to watch Nine Inch Nails live in concert, after tucking her babies in bed. I don’t know about you, but I personally find this trait praiseworthy. This was actually the subject of conversation between a common friend and I, one rainy evening when Anne dragged us to a Chairlift concert at the Webster Hall—Anne was swaying her head to “Bruises,” and we stared at her admirably, agreeing that it was cool what she was doing, enjoying her big city life to the fullest without sacrificing her quality of motherhood. This was what prompted me to consider: Who better to celebrate my first Mother’s Day in New York with than this super cool mom right here?
Come to think of it, Anne reminded me of my mom in some ways, too. One thing I loved about my mom was that we shared the same taste in music, and that was me and Anne, too—we both loved the same rock bands, and we shared a concert bucket list (from which we’d just scratched the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails off of). And, like my mom, she, too, loved decorating and home improvement—in Anne’s case, it all started when she’d moved to that first apartment of theirs in the Upper East (apparently a first NYC apartment is like a milestone of sorts, and so you have to do it up, and do it up good), and then mushroomed when the move to Brooklyn had afforded her more room (and that’s literally speaking) to get creative. Now she was telling me about how she had every intention of going all-out Rita Konig—scouring the city for the best antique/junk shops, and even looking at design school catalogs to find out where the best short courses on interior design were being offered.
And so I told her I was spending Mother’s Day with her and her family, and that I had a Mother’s Day present for her in the form of a family photo session. It was a long overdue thing, anyway—when they’d visited Cebu a couple of months back I’d promised to take pictures of her and her kids, but then we’d had trouble reconciling our schedules so that plan had never materialized. I was afraid she would say no, thinking her husband Jovi and the kids had had something planned already. Turned out they had already made plans, alright, “but it’s just a simple Mother’s Day lunch at home, so, by all means, join us!” She said “simple,” yes, but I knew I was in for a real treat—never a dull moment when it’s her family we’re talking about!
Loved, loved, loved their new neighborhood. Can’t recall if it was Prospect Park South, or Kensington—it may have even been Greenwood, due to its close proximity to the Green-Wood Cemetery—but it was right by the Church Ave. station, somewhere in the right atrium of the heart of Brooklyn. I especially loved how the tree-lined streets and brick terrace homes—and the peace and quiet—lent the place a kind of suburban feel, very refreshing for me because all I’d ever seen in the past week or so were skyscrapers, high-rises, tower blocks, and the fast-paced life. It was like being handed a bunch of homemade cookies after days of having nothing but, say, tiered cakes! This cookie’s soft and gooey center I found once I walked up to Anne’s charming American foursquare, and there they were, her and hubby and their two kids, flocked in the kitchen making spaghetti with meatballs, and Devil’s food cake cupcakes. For the first time in a long time, I felt right at home.
My original plan was to take them outdoors for the shoot—I was thinking the Williamsburg waterfront, that area where the Domino Sugar plant stood like a beacon, because I wanted a kind of industrial feel to underscore Anne’s indie rock-loving persona; I even thought of Coney Island, inspired by that one pivotal scene from 2003’s Uptown Girls starring Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning (and so the kids could have a good time while I was photographing them)—but as I showed myself around their house, admiring every little detail, I began to feel it would be very remiss of me not to show this side of Anne, the young mother who worked very hard to create a lovely home for her family. Just like that, we decided to stay put. Most people cringe at the thought of being photographed in a domestic setting, but thank God Anne wasn’t like most people. I don’t know why people think being photographed at home is unglamorous. I mean, it’s all a matter of imagination! For her first set Anne and I decided to add a Bree Van de Kamp touch to it—you know, with one hand on the dishwasher, the other cradling a glass of Chardonnay. Needless to say, the photos came out gorgeous!
I was so happy I finally got the chance to photograph their daughter Ellis. Even if I hadn’t brought a camera and we’d made this nothing more than a “couch and a movie” kind of afternoon, I’d still be happy just being around the little girl. Two and a half years ago I’d waxed poetic about how Ellis was the most profound thing to ever happen to my first New York trip when she’d acted as my little tour guide and taught me to look at things through a little girl’s eyes—her referring to the Brooklyn Bridge as “the bridge from the princess movie” (Enchanted), her teaching me how to “do some mathematics” in your head to keep your mind off all that walking, and her showing me it was OK to take a power nap on your subway train from point A to point B, all these I’d kept very close to my heart, because these were the only ways I could have ever appreciated the real New York. It made my heart balloon that she still remembered me, but it delighted me even more to see how much she’d grown in just a few years. Thanks to a The Beatles songbook that she’d gotten from her mom, she was learning how to sing now; and thanks to an acoustic guitar that she’d gotten from her dad, she was learning to strum, too! And as if all that wasn’t enough, the folks had to get her a journal, too, and so now she was also getting her write stuff on! She showed me some of the stuff she’d written, and I’d never been prouder of a child in my life! She even wrote a little something about me as I was taking pictures of her in her bedroom! What a sweetheart! Asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, without hesitation she shared that she wanted to be a musician. I hope she ends up becoming a writer, though. Or, come to think of it, it wouldn’t be impossible for her to end up becoming both—not only was she being raised in such a nurturing and devoted home environment, she was also living in this incredible city where it was virtually impossible to be uninspired!
As for little Lucas, well, I wasn’t too sure where it was coming from, but he said he wanted to be a ninja when he grew up. You know, at first he didn’t even want to be part of the shoot—he saw me yank my camera out and then he ran as far away from me as possible—but then his mom tried to cajole him into it by telling him that “Uncle Angel here is a real ninja from California, don’t you know that?” Of course, the little boy didn’t believe her, even sized me up to see if there really was a single martial arts bone in my body (funny that whenever I am at the Narita or Nagoya airports people would come up to me and start talking to me in Japanese, but that there is no fooling a little boy). Ultimately it was Ellis who won the coaxing game by handing him a cup of yogurt. Yes, nothing like a little dairy product to make him weak in the knees, but don’t get him wrong: he really was serious about the whole ninja business. At one point I went down to their basement to check if there was anything in there that was photographable, but had to hurry back up because I could feel the asbestos falling from the ceiling, thanks to Lucas who wouldn’t stop practicing his flying kick on the floor directly above me! Happy to report, though, that he allowed me to take a few shots of him, and that no photographic equipment—or bones—were harmed in the process.
I’d never thought I’d enjoy photographing children this much. I’d never even thought I’d be photographing children, ever! I’d sworn to myself that I would never do anything that involved kids, thinking it would be too much of a pain in the backside to get them to sit still or whatever. But then I’d met my mentor Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography), and she’d taught me how to “make a connection” with these little ones: “Just let them be,” she’d opined, “[because] if you ask them to pose or move [in a certain way] you won’t get to capture who they really are—it’s like you’re telling them to quit being children.” That was exactly the formula that I stuck to right here as I was photographing Ellis and Lucas. Ellis didn’t want to pretend like she was reading a certain book? Fine. Lucas didn’t want to put a shirt on? Fine! I just basically let them call the shots. And, you know what, it kind of worked! Because that way it became all about me trying to find that child-like wonder in order to level with them—not them trying to “grow up” to level with me! I hope these photos show that happening.
We were supposed to take the shoot outdoors after doing two sets indoors. Anne wanted to take me to the neighboring Green-Wood Cemetery because “the vibe there is so…ethereal.” Unfortunately, by the time we got there the property had already closed for the day. A common friend who tagged along with us for the afternoon quipped that she was kind of thankful the place was closed because “taking pictures in a cemetery is kind of creepy!” I wouldn’t have complained, though. I mean, to be able to shoot at a place where great people like the neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story) have been laid to rest? That would’ve been something, right? Oh, well, there is always a next time. I was actually thankful we didn’t get to do it at the time—gave us the chance to just melt in the couch and pop in Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. I got to have my “couch and a movie” kind of afternoon, after all!
Thank you, Anne (and hubby Jovi!), for once again opening up your home to me, and for giving me a family away from home! One day I will find a way to repay you for your incredible hospitality. Until that day comes, let’s just settle for me documenting your little ones’ milestones as they journey through the years!
Roxanne Roldan-Alegrado and her children Ellis and Lucas | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Brooklyn, NY, on May 13, 2012
Not a planned shoot or anything—just me taking pictures of my fine homegirls Melanie and Michelle Ediza as they showed me around their new home, also known as New York City. So lucky that my travel dates coincided with the end of their spring term—with school out of their way (for a couple of days, at least), they had no excuse not to make time for me! “Come on, you’ve been to that place before—give those girls a break and show yourself around,” a common friend had quipped as I was booking my plane tickets. When will people understand that the point of going to a city like New York is to be with people who love the place as much as you do? I mean, it’s not called “the Big Apple” for nothing—small apple, knock yourself out and enjoy it on your own; but a big one is definitely meant for sharing. Besides, there was one part of the city that I never got to see during my first visit, and that’s Brooklyn—and these girls lived right by the Marcy Avenue station, which was just perfect! Funny thing, ’cause on the plane to JFK all that ever played in my head where those lines from that one Estelle song that goes: “Let’s go on the subway, take me to your hood/ I’ve never been to Brooklyn and I’d like to see what’s good…”
The hood in question being Williamsburg, and, boy, did I get to see what’s good! Fell in love with the quirky little storefronts down Bedford Ave., and the quaint little sidewalk and rooftop cafés that lent a deliciously eccentric touch to brunch hour. But, of course, none of these were as enthralling as the people that you bumped into on the streets—the guys looked like they were clones of a circa Midnite Vultures Beck, and like they were headed to some experimental rock jam session in some ultra-obscure basement; and the girls looked like they’d just stepped out of a Free People catalog! It was official: I had walked into hipster, grownup cool kid territory. And none of this bohemian coolness was contrived, too! If someone looked like an artist, there was a 99% chance he really was an artist. Yes, this was where paint-splattered jeans were authentic (it was in the early ‘90s that the area became publicly known as an “artists’ colony,” when about “an estimated 2,000” of them hightailed it here from Manhattan to eschew the hype and the perversely rising rents—as Brad Grooch wrote in the June 22, 1992 issue of New York, “Bohemia has always been 90 percent low-rent and 10 percent dream”). There was an obvious joke here that I tried so hard to restrain from making, and that was that, with their uptown girl style sense, Melanie and Michelle almost seemed like misfits in this part of town—I, however, had no trouble blending in, what with my acid wash denim vest with the insignia of the ‘70s horror punk band Misfits handpainted on the back (yes, the Misfits factor made me not a misfit!). Still, the girls couldn’t imagine settling anywhere else—why look further when they were digging the artsy, offbeat vibe (Melanie for one seemed to have gotten in touch with her muse, and she was getting her write stuff on now, not to mention she was also starting to get into painting), it was peaceful enough at night, and they were surrounded by good eats (one of their favorite places to take me for late dinner was this Dominican cuchifrito restaurant some 5 minutes away from their apartment that had something that tasted like our lechon kawali)? And even if it wasn’t their scene in terms of fashion, Michelle still knew where the cool consignment shops were, and she even took me to one where I got to buy boots that looked like they could’ve once belonged to Patti Smith (or Johnny Depp) for only $22!
Of course, we didn’t make it all about Brooklyn—70% of the time we spent taking Manhattan, too. I loved how there was a “division of labor” that took effect when it came to showing me around the island: Michelle was assigned to take me to the East Village, Gramercy, the Flatiron District, Korea Town, and Midtown, while Melanie took it upon herself to drag me to the Lower East Side, SoHo, Nolita, Bowery, Chelsea, the West Village, the Meatpacking District, Central Park, the Upper West Side, and the Upper East Side. So I’m writing this and making it sound like I was working them up pretty bad, but trust me when I say that they were very sprightly about the whole thing and approached their “tourist guide” duties with much gusto, and that it was me who nearly had a breakdown due to all that walking! I wouldn’t even wake up early—trust me to oversleep in the City that Never Sleeps—and they would tell me off for wasting time! Swear to God, there were times I felt like I was being punished, like when they’d insist I had to grab something to eat in every single neighborhood we stopped to see—normally I wouldn’t complain because, like them, I can eat everything in the world and gain only 1 pound, but it slows me down when I’m bloated, you see (of course I didn’t feel this way about when they introduced me the Halal guys down 53rd and 6th, and to Café Habana and Rice to Riches in Nolita—I would eat that stuff all day, everyday, if I had my way)! Still, I was grateful for their “iron hand” treatment—I mean, I’d probably end up seeing only 10% of the city if not for them!
Speaking of “iron hand,” did I mention that one Saturday evening found us at the Bowery Hotel’s Library Bar, with Zooey Deschanel just a maraschino cherry’s throw away from us? Yes, I legit foamed in the mouth, and was about to jump out of my seat to have my picture taken with the (500) Days of Summer and New Girl star, but Melanie shot me a glance that said, “Don’t even think about it,” so I had no choice but to sit my ass down and settle for my glass of Hemingway. But strictness aside, Melanie and I did get to enjoy a lot of lighthearted, LOL moments—like when we went to the Met together to check out the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Costume Institute (ongoing until August 19, so if you’re in New York right now do check it out while you still have the chance), only to find out that the style of dress that we loved was actually called “ugly chic!” Nothing was funnier, though, than when we were standing somewhere in Broadway and W 81st, and then I ducked because I thought I felt an earthquake, and then Melanie just cracked up and said, “That was the 1 train under your feet, my dear!” Thank God not a lot of people were around to witness my stupidity!
My most memorable Manhattan moments with them, though, were those that had to do with our favorite Sex and the City hotspots (yes, no need to spend $48 on the SATC tour package ‘cause these girls got me covered). Wasn’t it only a couple of years back when we’d all went to watch the Sex and the City movie and cry over it together? And now here we were, Michelle and I, inside the New York Public Library, standing on the very staircase where Carrie Bradshaw had dragged her fabulous Vivienne Westwood wedding dress in shame after finding out Mr. Big had decided to stand her up. “Don’t get too ‘Carrie-d’ away, love!” Michelle screamed laughingly, perhaps because she sensed that I was about to cry. Of course, the trophy went to Melanie when, after a sumptuous late lunch at Le Charlot (the “little Paris off Madison”—and, yes, their crab and avocado salad is to die for), she asked for us to pay a little visit to the Ladies’ Pavillion at the Hernshead over at Central Park West. I’m sure most of you have never heard of this place before, but it’s where Carrie and Miranda, approximately an hour and 56 minutes into the first movie, sat down with pretty little Granary bread sandwiches and juices from Pret A Manger (they’re yummy, by the way) to discuss the issue of forgiveness, of putting things behind them and letting the past be the past, with India.Arie’s cover of Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” playing in the background. This was my second time here, since I’d made it a point to see the place during my first New York trip some three years ago, but I guess this was Melanie’s first time despite having lived here for over a year now. I just thought it was cute how, right before we stepped into the foothpath that led to the Pavillion, she yanked her iPhone out so she could play “The Heart of the Matter”—nothing like good old-fashioned background music to set the mood, right? Now it’s impossible for me to think of that place—or to listen to that song—without thinking of her!
I love visiting friends from home in their new cities. It reacquaints you with the part of them that you miss the most, and acquaints you with the part of them that’s brand spanking new. Most people are gonna say that’s a pretty sticky situation to be stuck in—i.e., when you’re face-to-face with who a person used to be, and who they’ve become or are about to become. I say it’s the ideal situation, though, because then you get to enjoy the best of both worlds (not to mention it’s a great way to ensure you don’t get dropped from the equation as they make the transition). It’s kind of like being caught between two places. Like when you find yourself smack in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, for example—you look at Brooklyn, and then you look at Manhattan, and you can’t decide which view is more captivating, and so you just smile dreamily and soak both up. I loved the Melanie and Michelle in Cebu—the diligent, dreamy-eyed family-oriented sweethearts—but I also happen to love the Melanie and Michelle in New York—fearless, adventure-loving and independent young women, who were not afraid to laugh at themselves, and who were easily inspired. Again, it’s like when you’re made to choose between Brooklyn and Manhattan: you just don’t.
Melanie and Michelle Ediza | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in New York, NY, on May 8-16, 2012