It was bound to happen. You see, if you’re a photographer based in Cebu, it’s inevitable that you’ll be doing a session at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa. I’d sworn I was never gonna let that happen to me, and not because I’d disliked the place—it in fact remains on top of my list of favorite places in this part of the world, despite the bevy of stagy pop-up resort hotels that having cropping up like mushrooms as of late, and I will forever be in love with the architecture (nothing is as bewitching as the view of colonial plantation-style cottages and villas through dewy palm fronds)—but simply because I’d wanted to avoid doing what everyone else was doing. What I’d failed to consider was that there was always going to be someone somewhere out there who couldn’t wait to come home to the Plantation Bay, and to share that part of their world with their newfound loves from another world.
Such was the case of Cherry, who came home from Dublin with her Irishman groom-to-be Niall O’Brien and their son Leo, and wasted no time in whisking them away to a nice little retreat at the resort. They didn’t have a lot of time before their wedding, and so they decided to invite the Shutterfairy team over so we could do their pre-wedding photos right there and then while they were on holiday.
I think it took us a good 30 minutes to convince Niall to say yes to being photographed. In our exchange of e-mails Cherry had warned me about this: “He’s not used to being photographed!” He would rather take a dip with his son or hit the in-house gym to pump some iron was what it was. Thankfully, after some gentle prodding and sweet-talking from his fiancée, he said yes (on the condition that he wasn’t gonna be wearing anything silly, and that no makeup brush was ever going to touch his face)!
In between sets Cherry would fill us in with stories about Ireland, to feed my imagination of charming, bucolic Irish countrysides and thatched roof stone cottages (with the hypnotic drone of uilleann pipes playing in the background). How wonderful must it be to have a shoot there (I’m thinking à la Stella Tennant’s family portraits by Mario Testino in the October 2005 issue of American Vogue (OK, those were shot in Tennant’s home in a Caledonic countryside, and not in Ireland, but you get the drift)! Of course, that was just my imagination running away with me, because Niall and Cherry here were not from the country; they lived in a modern, bustling area of Dublin. She was quick to confirm, though, that beer was kind of “a way of life” in Dublin, which was why, even when visiting the Philippines, she would allow Niall to go out with her friends or relatives for a few beers every now and then—well, a little more often than every now and then, really. Niall declared that he liked the taste of San Miguel Beer Pale Pilsen.
It was quite entertaining when Niall got into talking about the stuff he loved about the Philippines or about Cebu (it was this topic that actually helped him warm up to the cameras)—and, no, it didn’t stop at beer. Asked if he knew a few Cebuano phrases or expressions, he exclaimed earnestly, “I know some! My favorite is ‘Party, party!’” We laughed and told him that that wasn’t even Cebuano. He just turned red and said that, well, that was what most of his Cebuano drinking buddies said all the time. He also shared that he found it amusing how, every time he goes shopping at a local store and he pays for something at the counter, the cashier would say, “Ma’am, sir, I received five hundred pesos.” Sometimes he’d even buy something useless just to hear a cashier say “Ma’am, sir, I received five hundred pesos”—and he would actually get disappointed if he ended up with a cashier who wouldn’t utter the line!
No, he wasn’t allowed to have a beer during the shoot, but I did get them some tropical fruit juice. Old hat, I know, but it was something I needed to have in the picture to set the mood—I was thinking The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” where it goes, “Bodies in the sand/ Tropical drink melting in your hand…” Niall admitted that he couldn’t get enough of our beaches, and that he was so looking forward to doing Boracay for their honeymoon. Here I was daydreaming of the Irish countryside, and here they were willing to give anything to be able to live here!
I won’t take credit for the styling because we didn’t pick their clothes until the day of the shoot, and everything came from their own closets—or suitcases, as the case may be (I don’t take credit if I didn’t work on it from mood board development to sourcing to pre-shoot fittings and all that good stuff). But I was pretty happy with some of the dresses—the neckerchief dress in particular got me weak in the knees, ‘cause nothing spelled plantation chic quite like it did. And thanks to accessories designer Grace Querickiol-Nigel for letting me borrow bags upon bags of archival and new Gracie Q stuff! You never know when you need accessories to save your life!
It wasn’t so bad shooting at the Plantation Bay, after all. This I concluded after finding myself standing right by the deck of their singular Riverboat Suite (situated on the edge of their Children’s Lagoon, right across the Tahiti- or Syechelles-themed villas, if I am not mistaken) and I thought, Wow, this place just gets more and more beautiful as time goes by! I even fell head over heels with the white wooden railings that led to their gazebos. One thing’s for sure: This shoot has prompted me to reassess the rules I’ve made for myself—a place as beautiful as this doesn’t deserve to be punished just ‘cause I was unwilling to do what everybody else was doing! What was more magical was the feeling that washed over me as I treaded barefoot down Orion Beach and was brought back to those times some 10 or so years ago when I’d come here to style some of the more important shoots in my career (one of them a collaboration with the great Wig Tysmans)—it was like I’d come home.
Niall Francis and Cherry O’Brien (and their son Leo) | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Marigondon, Mactan, on January 8, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy (click here to view Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by Carditho Sarcol | Accessories, Gracie Q