Work Horses and Show Ponies: My Month in Instagrams | November 2011

Only a few months into this whole blogging thing, and already I’ve been a delinquent. Yes, some of you might have noticed that I didn’t have a journal entry for last month (October). And I’d promised I was going to do it every month! Shame. I can assure you, though, that it wasn’t out of plain laziness. If anything, it was quite the opposite. It was a very busy month at the office, and so I had to give two hundred percent at work.

Yes, as few of you might know, I do have a 9 to 5. This whole photography and styling thing, I only do during weekends. It’s tough having two jobs. My friends ridicule me for always being busy: “Two jobs, but no social life? No thanks!” one of them quipped at one point. But I love being busy! It kind of gets boring—nay, nauseating—when I’m idle. And it’s not even about the money, too. Always I tell, say, my brother,  you know, that money is good, but at the end of the day it’s good old-fashioned hard work that makes you to sleep like a baby at night.

I am in love with both jobs. A little too much, in fact, that I had no trouble saying goodbye to my social life in favor of them! But between the two I have to prioritize my 9 to 5—it is, after all, what puts food on the table, and it is what sends my brother to school everyday. So you have to forgive me if I become delinquent in updating this blog right here—it only means everything’s in full swing at my other job. I may be a show pony when it comes to photo shoots and all, but I’m a work horse when it comes to my 9 to 5.

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Speaking of ponies and horses, I was lucky enough to be part of two shoots that involved a couple of them this month.

My mentors Malou Pages-Solomon (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing) and Paul and Charisse Calo (of Calography) were commissioned to do the engagement photos of Carl Bual and RJ Serafin (01-05), and they asked me to style the thing. Of course, I said yes! Especially after they mentioned horses.

The groom-to-be is a veterinary sales rep, and grew up in Bukidnon surrounded by horses, and so it was only natural that he would ask for an equine-related concept for their engagement shoot. The original plan was to do it in some ranch in his hometown of Bukidnon, but it couldn’t be done due to scheduling conflicts. And so we had to settle for something closer. Thankfully, Carl’s veterinarian friend Marlo Causin (02, 03), who also happens to be an equestrian, allowed us to shoot at his fishing pond in Barili (some hour and a half southwest of Cebu City) which also served as a ranch that housed three of his babies: Sabina (01, 02), named such because she looked like a sabino-white, her daughter Venus, and a strapping stallion named Bravo (03).

We could only use Sabina for the photos because Venus was kind of in a foul mood and thus had to be kept at bay, and Bravo had a nasty cut in his right pastern, but that was alright because Sabina by herself was already very, um, majestic. I made the couple wear shades of pink for their set with Sabina to make them stand out (01), only to realize later that the mare would end up being the star anyway no matter what I made them wear—what a beauty! So well-behaved, too, as if she knew she was being photographed.

I also loved how there was horse fencing along the road that lead to the Causin property (04, 05). I had to ask for a set to be done in that area, to make everything look authentic! Save for the palm trees, the whole scene took me back to my visits to Kentucky in the last couple of years. Nice to know there’s charming country roads in this part of the world!

Malou has not uploaded her photos from that session yet, but, here, you may view Paul and Charisse’s set by visiting the Calography Facebook page.

The second shoot that involved horses was something that I did solo. After more than a year of promising my cousin Amanda Liok that I was going to visit her in her new home in Palompon, Leyte, and photograph her and her daughter and, well, their horses, I finally got around to do it last Sunday, November 27 (06-10).

Up until that day, I’d never seen their horses in the flesh, although I’d memorized their names by heart. Always I’d been obsessed with horse names, and Amanda had given some of the prettiest to her, um, brood: Salsa (08), Moondance (10), Chili, Ginger, Ola, Baila and Sol (09). It was so nice to be finally able to put faces to these charming names!

It was Moondance that we used for the shoot because she was the most mild-mannered of them all that day. Amanda also favored her because she knew her strawberry roan would look gorgeous in pictures, and was she right—against the vegetation her chestnut coat looked dazzling.

For her daughter Mia’s photos Amanda chose to include the newest addition to their family: an adorable miniature horse named Iris (06). All these years she’d been wanting to get Mia a mini, and it had finally materialized! (Actually, the little girl got not just one but two minis—the other was named Barrack, although we couldn’t take pictures of him because he was in a funk that day).

Can you imagine how much fun this all was for me? For months I’d been praying to be able to photograph horses up close, and here I was actually doing it! Right now, of course, the photos are still in my hard drive, waiting to be retouched, but I’m hoping to find the time to put a preview up real soon! I’m telling you, it’s good stuff—made the two-hour bus ride from Ormoc to Palompon all worth it!

Out-of-town shoots are not uncommon these days. The beginning of this month (actually, the tail end of last month) saw us driving 3 ½ hours up north to Bogo/Medellin for Rey Dauz and Sheryl Guzman’s engagement session (11-13). By us, I mean the Shutterfairy team and the Calography team, plus the videographer Marlowe Guinto and his staff. I love it when it’s a big crew working on a project. Before that day, you see, I’d been made to believe that “the fewer people, the better, because that way you get to keep your focus,” but that day happened and I realized it was so much funner if you were part of a big group—to quote Alicia Silverstone’s Cher from Clueless, “But by the end of the day it was, like, the more the merrier!” Of course, there were a couple of minor setbacks, like Malou’s bright yellow camera bag stepping into your frame, or Marlowe’s heavy duty equipment, or Paul’s head (LOL), but those sorts of things only make the whole thing amusing, you know? And there’s nothing like the free-flowing exchange of ideas that takes place when you’re having fun—I mean, when the mood is too serious, everyone shuts their mouths, and so very little sharing happens. It was definitely a plus having a videographer around, ‘cause then I got to learn a lot of new things, like different angles that I’d never thought were possible, and panning, and the value of moving around.

Rey and Sheryl’s theme was “vintage travel.” Which was why we had to go all the way to Bogo/Medellin, because they had rail tracks and vintage locomotives (albeit in various states of disrepair) over there (once owned by an institution called Bogo-Medellin Milling Company). The inspiration was this one portfolio that Annie Leibovitz did for the February 2010 issue of American Vogue called “Brief Encounter,” starring Diddy and the model Natalia Vodianova, inspired by the rapper’s most recent album Last Train to Paris.

This session was special to me because this was the first time I tried my hand at set decorating—I was able to set up a vanity table diorama (13), among others, in the middle of a grassy field. It was also the first time I went all out in sourcing for props. It took me a good two weeks pulling strings for me to get my hands on vintage suitcases. I was beginning to run out of hope when I remembered to consider the novelty shop Casa Mella, and with one phone call they let me borrow these gorgeous wooden suitcases (11)!

This train/railroad set (12) was just the first of many that we had in our boards. We couldn’t fit everything into one session, so we would have a second session a week later to accommodate the rest of the sets—a boating/shipyard set, an airfield/hangar set (14), and a scooter set (15).

I didn’t take a lot of pictures during these sessions because I was busy with the clothes and the props, but, here, feel free to visit the Shutterfairy blogsite to view Malou’s photos from both sessions (click here for her photos from the first session, and here for photos from the second), or the Calography Facebook page for Paul’s set. (I haven’t seen Marlowe’s video yet, but I’ll be sure to share it with you guys as soon as he makes it available online).

Remember Mickey (17), my friend Meyen’s 14-year-old niece who likes to tag along during shoots ‘cause she’s an aspiring makeup artist and stylist (I mentioned her in a previous post a couple of months back)? Well, she’s back. This time to help me style a Lapu-Lapu-based couple’s (Chito and Tuesday Delavin, 18) engagement shoot, particularly in the legwear and footwear department (19)—she grew up in a household where leggings and stockings and shoes were aplenty, so her advice proved to be invaluable. In between sets she would also help scour the locations for great spots, and observe the makeup artist Owen Taboada and the hairstylist Nan Castillo as they did their magic (20).

Mickey wasn’t the only kid who was with us that day. Malou’s 10-year-old son Matthieu also tagged along (16), and his mom handed him an instant camera so he could try his hand at taking pictures. I think it’s a great idea to have young ones with you during shoots, even if it’s just every once in a while. It helps spark their creativity, encourages them to use the right side of their brain. You don’t necessarily have to force them to like what you’re doing and/or to follow your footsteps—Matthieu here, for example, is bent on becoming a pilot one day, and Malou has no plans of taking that dream away from him. Still, it doesn’t hurt to instill in them a little sense of creativity—I mean, one way or another, at some point in their lives, they’re going to be faced with a life-changing decision that involves visuals, or images, or aesthetics, and that’s when a little imagination will come in handy. Of course, infinitely more important is showing them the value of hard work, and of being passionate about your job, whether it entails creativity or not.

I myself am starting to take my youngest brother with me to shoots, and I plan to do the same to my nieces and my nephews as they get older. I feel like it’s my obligation to pass it on, you know? I mean, when I was a kid I would go with my grandfather as he taught music to other kids, and look at what that has done for me!

This month I had the pleasure of working with the entrepreneur/designer Grace Querickiol-Nigel (22) when I was commissioned to style a catalog shoot for her fashion accessories line Gracie Q. She is set to participate in a trade show in Europe some time next year, you see, and it turns out you can only bring so much to those kinds of things, so she decided to produce a catalog so she could take everything with her without having to take everything, if you get what I mean. Aside from that, she’d also been toying with the idea of redesigning the Gracie Q website, and so new photos would come in very handy. Malou was photographing, and it was her who’d recommended me to Grace, perhaps leveraging the catalog work that I’d done for Mark Tenchavez’s shoe line Shandar.

During our first meeting Grace made it very clear that she didn’t want the whole thing to look high fashion-y or cutting-edge or anything like that. She wanted something that was “modern but simple, and world-class but still very much Cebuano.” In the past, whenever she’d sold her pieces to buyers abroad, she’d found herself telling them the stories behind each piece, and not just about the design and the materials, but also about what had inspired her to create them. “And almost always it’s something that’s uniquely Cebuano, like the [hanging rice], for example,” she added. This was what she wanted her catalog to accomplish: “I want it to be able to tell stories—I want something that showcases not just the products, but the beauty of Cebuanos and the beauty of the island of Cebu, as well.” And, as if sensing that Malou and I needed a little help in wrapping our heads around the concept, she handed us a copy of Tour du Monde (21), German outdoor furniture brand DEDON’s bible-thick catalog showcasing their 2011 collections, featuring photographs (by Oliver Helbig and Rainer Hosch) of their stuff shot in different places around the globe—from Chang Mai to Shompole, Cape Town to Seychelles—and with different faces.

Products, people, places—turned out to be a very effective formula, and it resulted in a visual smorgasbord that told very compelling stories. Unquestionably more refreshing than the usual still life (i.e., just products). What I’d done for Shandar had almost achieved this, with Mark’s shoes worn by the women that had inspired him to create them—but the place element had taken a backseat, and most of the time only served as secondary character. This time, Malou and I made a mental note to make the place element ride shotgun with the rest of the ingredients. It got us real excited thinking up locations for the shoot. Not that Grace asked for an “around the world” sort of thing a la the DEDON catalog—she wanted to keep it local for now. Which, if you come to think of it, isn’t exactly a bad thing—sometimes it’s fun when you get to play tourist in your own hometown.

I love it when books, magazines, catalogs—or just about any form of publication—are handed to me by clients in an effort to communicate their vision. In my line of work, keeping a compendium of references is critical, but between my left and right hands I can only amass so much, so I appreciate it when others take the time out to contribute. Mood boards are funner to build when there are more than two hands working on them.

Another inspiring slab that fell on my lap courtesy of Grace was Coming Home (23), a limited edition coffee table book featuring the work that the legendary American fashion photographer/filmmaker Bruce Weber did for, well, a DEDON ad campaign last year. What an astonishingly exquisite collection of images! The premise was simple: Build a multi-storey tree house among the branches of a giant tree, fill it with beautiful DEDON masterpieces, some personal effects and furnishings (from the photographer’s own home), couples, dancing boys, dancing girls, even a garage rock band, and you have the makings of a perfect outdoor living fantasy. I’d been a huge follower of Weber’s work, and for more than 10 years images from his 1999 book The Chop Suey Club had haunted me. Now that I have discovered Coming Home I guess I am covered for the next 10 years!

Needless to say, Coming Home quickly became one of my inspirations for one of the two solo shoots I did this month (by solo shoot, I mean just me, not as assistant to Malou). Five days ago I packed my bags for Ormoc to photograph an interior decorator/retailer and her two daughters (24-28). Lots of fun because this client had a lot of tasteful little bric-a-brac lying around her house, it was like being lost in a quaint little home furnishings consignment shop! For once, I didn’t have to borrow from someone else’s house (or take anything from our own house—well, except for my Diana Vreeland book). Of course, I didn’t build a tree house—I mean, hey, I don’t have a staff the size of Bruce Weber’s (in fact, I was a one-man team that day: not only did I shoot, I styled and set decorated too)! But I was happy with the al fresco living room that I was able to rustle up (25, 26, 28)—carved hardwood settee, patchwork quilt for that touch of shabby chic, plump pillows in needlepoint and damask, a porcelain doll, couple of watercolor paintings, and an antique-looking chest to serve as coffee table! Rita Konig would approve! The whole thing was so charming and so inviting that I wanted to stop shooting and, you know, just sit there. I can’t wait to start editing the photos!

Of the seven shoots I worked on this past month (5 as assistant, 2 solo), I have to say the one we did for Gracie Q was the highlight of them all. Why, you ask? Well, because it reunited me with someone I’d grown up with in this field but had somehow lost touch with in recent years.

Yes, the model Fretzel Buenconsejo (29-38) and I go way back. It was I who’d cast her for her first ever shoot, back in 1999, and she remembered this: “It was a chocolate brown jersey dress by Oj Hofer that you made me wear,” she recounted. Since then she had become part of some of the more important shoots of my career, including that one assignment with the great Wig Tysmans for the now-defunct CeBu! Magazine that I keep on talking about on here (30, 31)—one of the photos from that session (30) even made it to the book Filipina: A Tribute to the Filipino Woman (published 2004)!

She would move to Manila sometime in the mid-2000s, and it was there that her modeling career would really take off—suddenly she was appearing in high-profile ad campaigns for Nescafé, Gatorade, McDonald’s, Paradise Mango Rum Liqueur, and Pampers, among others. I remember standing at the Buendia station and then getting goosebumps as the MRT train pulled up in front of me—there she was, larger than life, with a cup of coffee against her face, plastered on the side of the train. I’d always known she would make it big, but not this big, you know?

She has since moved back to Cebu, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. When the Gracie Q team said that they wanted “a very Filipina face” to grace their catalog, I knew I had to look no further. I arranged a sit down dinner for them to meet Fretzel, and they were floored. Grace and Malou said, almost in unison, that she was exactly what they’d been looking for.

She did me proud on the day of the shoot, too (29, 32)! She was work horse and show pony at the exact same time: arrived 30 minutes prior to call time, moved at a bullet-like pace, breezed through 15 or 16 outfits in less than 7 hours, helped with the styling, treaded barefoot on dirty pavements and rough terrain—all this while managing to tell jokes to keep the mood light. Grace and Malou fell absolutely in love with her professionalism, her attitude towards work, and her goofiness. So wonderful to see that, despite the places she’d been to in her career, she was still the same hard-working, down-to-earth girl I’d worked with more than a decade ago.

* * * * * * * * *

Only a slightly bigger treat than being reunited with Fretzel was what came after the shoot wrapped: a thank you card from Grace (33). How very sporadic it is to get a thank you card these days! Well, of course, I get a lot of thank you e-mails, or thank you phone calls—but I must say nothing beats the feeling of receiving a thank you in stationery, and in long hand. This makes Grace a very rare creature in the industry these days. The very essence of a classy modern woman.

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10 thoughts on “Work Horses and Show Ponies: My Month in Instagrams | November 2011

    1. She is! I was close to tears when I got the thank you card. I mean, come on, how many times have you received a thank you card in the last couple of years? I don’t even give them out anymore and I should be ashamed. Our work is not done, though. Still lifes some time after December 11, and then we have to talk about the lay out. I know just the guy to recommend to Grace to put the catalog together.

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