Don’t you just love those New York Girls? I know I do. And I’m not just talking about those who have made me want to sing, “At the risk of sounding cheesy/ I think I fell for the girl on TV”—like the fictional but fabulous Carrie Bradshaw, for example, or the very real but too good to be true Olivia Palermo. I’m talking about the, um, regular girls, too: like the Lou Doillon look-alike who stood beside me at the Garment District Pret A Manger, and who ordered nothing but sparkling water for lunch; or, like the girls I bumped into at the Time Square Starbucks, cradling Caramel Macchiatos in one arm and a pile of fashion magazines in the other; or, like the middle-aged woman and her Chihuahua that I ran into near the Christopher St. station, who wore matching granny-style crocheted wool square ponchos; or, like the cool mom who grows her own vegetables in her Brooklyn backyard during the day, and at night squeezes her way through throngs of sweaty rock fans at Terminal 5 to watch Nine Inch Nails live in concert (I’m talking about my friend Anne); or, like the little girl who likes to refer to the Brooklyn Bridge as “the bridge from the princess movie” (Anne’s daughter Ellis, named after Ellis Island, and, yes, she is talking about the movie Enchanted). Yes, there is a certain kind of magic when you are looking at, talking to, or just simply being around a New York girl. It gives you a certain kind of thrill—something about the exuberance of their unrestrained actions, their whimsical wits. Inevitably, you find it extremely hard to keep your jaw from dropping.
One such jaw-dropping moment happened to me a couple of months back when we were photographing the New York-based Cebuana transplant Cherry de Dios and her groom-to-be Chris Beck. They’d just flown in from the Big Apple, decided to do a quick stopover in Cebu to see family—and to have their engagement photos taken—before proceeding to tie the knot in Ormoc City, Leyte. We were at some farm up the mountains in Carmen (some two hours northeast of Cebu City), and I was inside this quaint little cabin helping Cherry sort their outfits while watching her do her own makeup. She’d elected not to hire a makeup artist for the occasion: “For the actual wedding I’m going to have a makeup artist, of course,” she said (and she was talking about my friend Sheila On, who did the makeup for my very first solo shoot months back—what a small world!), “but for now I just want to look like me, you know? I don’t want to look like somebody else in these pictures.” At first I was skeptical about this decision of hers, but in no time she proved me wrong. And by no time, I mean, well, no time—she spent only 20 seconds penciling her brows, another 20 applying eyeliner, and then 10 seconds glossing her lips, and then another 10 combing her hair with her fingers! “You just gave new meaning to ‘in a New York minute!’” I exclaimed in awe. To which she just winked and said, “Exactly!” She knew what she wanted, she worked on it herself, and she worked on it fast. The very essence of a modern New York girl.
Asked why they’d chosen to have their engagement photos taken here when they could’ve done it in New York City (I was imagining Bow Bridge at Central Park, or those pretty little West Village sidewalks!), she said, “I thought about it, but it was Chris who said he wanted to do it here.” By here, she meant this very farm where we were at right now. Turned out the fiancé had fallen absolutely in love with the place when they’d first visited a little over a year back. And who could blame him? I looked around me and asked myself, what was not to love about this place? Towering pine trees, windswept shrubs, pretty little hiking trails—it was like we were in Baguio! Plus, stand on the porch of the main cabin and look east and you get a breathtaking view of Camotes Island (or, is it Leyte?). My favorite part would have to be how there were these charming little makeshift birdhouses atop each of the pine trees—and they weren’t there for decorative purposes; little birdies actually inhabited them! How was it possible that a place like this existed in this part of the country? Well, made possible in part by Cherry’s sister Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who took her predilection for all things countryside and bucolic to create the ultimate vacation home for when she and her family needed to shy away from the city life.
That was it! It was the perfect retreat from the frenetic pace of their big city lives! That was why Chris loved it here! I was watching him as he walked around the place, took deep breaths and blinked dreamily at every little thing he laid his eyes on. And it looked like that was all he wanted to do all day—soak up the beauty of the place—and it got to a point it was almost too embarrassing to ask him to stop what he was doing so we could start photographing them!
It would later turn out that this place wasn’t the only thing Chris loved about the Philippines. When it was time for lunch, served semi-al fresco style—i.e., at the porch—he was more excited than everyone else was about the food. It was an all-Filipino fare that Cherry’s sister had whipped up, and Chris attacked the table with much gusto. And when it came to conversations, both while in front of the cameras and in between sets, he displayed a heady kind of sensitivity towards breaking the language barrier, trying as best he could to speak in Cebuano. It almost embarrassed me when I told the team to “be sure to speak only English when he’s around, ‘cause he might get the wrong idea,” and Cherry was quick to disabuse me of such notion, saying that Chris was actually semi-fluent in Cebuano, and was passionate about learning the language more! And what a romantic way of reconciling their greatest difference, right? This was probably one of the reasons why Cherry knew Chris was the one.
As for what made Chris know Cherry was the one for him… Well, no one needed to ask, either. August can be a pretty sticky, sweaty proposition in this part of the world, especially when you’re running around outdoors—and, yes, even when it’s atop the mountains where the breeze is somewhat cool. This was why I was kind of hesitant at first about making her do the things we wanted her to do in front of the cameras. I mean, this was a New York girl we were talking about here—what was she going to think if we asked her to, say, remove her Calvin Klein strappy sandals, tread barefoot on prickly, rocky terrain, and chase the farm animals around? To our surprise, she obliged, and even managed to laugh about it. When we asked her to jump into the freshwater pool—you know, like, really jump, in order to make a huge splash—she winced at first, saying she’d never done anything like it before, but she rolled up her sleeves and went for it anyway. Such a cowgirl, I know! You should’ve seen the look in Chris’s eyes as he watched his wife-to-be do all these crazy antic—it was like he was getting more and more smitten every minute! Emerging from the pool, all flushed from her feat, she chuckled, to thundering applause from her family (her mother and her brothers and sisters, who’d decided to tag along for this session), “You see, these people are never going to let me live that down!” And then she jumped back into the water, proving that, to borrow a line from Ms. Bradshaw, “city girls and just country girls—with cuter outfits.”
* * * * * * * * *
Apologies for the delay in posting these photos. No, I didn’t misplace them. I just had to wait ‘til the couple returned from their month-long (actually, I think it was more than a month) honeymoon in Italy before seeking their permission. I seem to know it’s kind of impolite to interrupt anyone who’s on a Roman holiday, for whatever reason.
This was my first session as apprentice at Shutterfairy Photography, by the way. I didn’t take a lot of photos—I think I only took a little over 400—because I was too busy observing my mentor Malou Pages (and “second shooter” Charisse Calo, of Calography) at work. Couple of things I learned that day:
- Organize and clean your equipment the day before a shoot—not in the car on the way to the job, and especially not at the eleventh hour when your subjects are already getting ready to step in front of you. I must’ve wasted about 20 minutes and was only able to take 10 or so shots during the first set because I was still busy dusting my camera and my lenses while Malou and Charisse started clicking away.
- Just because your subjects ask for breaks in between sets doesn’t mean you have to take a break, too. You have to be in the moment, all of the time! Look around you and take as many detail shots as possible—of a flower, a farm animal, or whatever else catches your eye.
- Always carry your mood board around with you. I had brought mine to this shoot, but left it inside my bag, which I left inside the cabin the whole time we were outside shooting. Clumsy, right? I mean, what’s the use of a mood board when it’s just gonna sit in the dark? Malou saved her boards in her iPad (she’s techie like that), which she carries around with her to every nook and cranny, so it’s easy for her to check back on them when she feels she is straying from her vision and she needs to be pulled back in track.
- Strike up casual conversations with your subjects while you are taking pictures of them. When photographing people you’ve just met, you see, there is a tendency for us to appear, um, serious, and to keep our mouths shut, in an effort, I guess, to look professional and all. As it turns out: Stiff photographer equals stiff subjects, and the whole thing comes out very unnatural! I loved that Malou asked Chris and Cherry all kinds of questions while she was clicking away, even exchanged jokes with them. I was quick to adapt this style, especially upon seeing the effect it had on the subjects—they became more relaxed, to a point they forgot they were in front of the cameras. Cherry and I exchanged stories about our favorite spots in the West Village (including the world-famous Magnolia Bakery), and in no time we became, like, kindred spirits. I hope these photos show that happening.
Christian Thomas Beck and Joan Grace “Cherry” de Dios | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Carmen, Cebu, on August 17, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo for Calography (click here to view Malou’s photos, and here for Charisse’s)