“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