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