Nothing fascinates me more than a good old California love story. And I’m not just talking about those that we see on TV—you know, like, the love triangles that make shows like The Hills, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and Melrose Place go ‘round. I’m talking about those that we see on the big screen, too: the collection of intertwining love tales in 2010’s Valentine’s Day; Crazy/Beautiful from 2001 (starring Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez); the classic Pretty Woman from 1990 (starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere); and, of course, (500) Days of Summer from 2009 (starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel). And then there are the real life love stories that prove to be infinitely more irresistible than the ones in celluloid: for a time there I was obsessed about, for example, how Pamela Susan Courson became inextricably linked to the Jim Morrison legend, and so all I ever looked at online were these Websites dedicated to their tragic romance; I even got hooked on all that tabloid coverage around Lindsay Lohan’s relationship with Samantha Ronson; and very recently I’ve been doing some research on Harvey Henderson Wilcox and his wife Daeida Hartell, turn of the 20th century settlers who bought a ranch up the hills west of L.A.
Why do I find these love stories fascinating? Well, simply because they are stories of more than just the relationship between two people—there’s a third character that plays a pivotal role in these romances, and that’s California. The ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier where Spencer Pratt proposed to Heidi Montag. The Venice Canals where Ashton Kutcher’s and Jennifer Gardner’s characters kiss in Valentine’s Day. The pier (presumably Santa Monica’s again) where Dunst’s and Hernandez’s characters meet in Crazy/Beautiful. The Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Pretty Woman. Of course, I do not need to enumerate the architectural wonders of downtown L.A. used in (500) Days of Summer. Meanwhile, there’s the now-defunct Sunset Strip nightclub west of Whisky a Go Go where Morrison met Courson. How, post-breakup and post-rehab, Lohan rented an apartment in Venice right next to Ronson’s, which freaked the latter out. And that canyon land that Wilcox and Hartell purchased in the 1880s? Well, they named it “Hollywood,” and for some reason it stuck. I guess what I am trying to say is love stories on their own speak volumes—but when they’re set in places that tell their own tales, they make lots of noise.
Such was the inspiration behind this couples shoot that I did during my last week in L.A. this past May. After a series of family shoots, I was in dire need of a love shoot to break the, um, monotony (for lack of a better term)—so imagine the wave of excitement that washed over me when Rotchel Siglas asked me to come hang out with her and her boyfriend KrisJhon Villaceran for one whole day, and, well, to photograph them while I’m at it! Rotchel and Kris are such a cute couple. At the time of this shoot they’d only started seeing each other (a little over a month), but they had such great chemistry it was as if they’d been together for years. Always sweet-talking each other (even when the situation called for one to be, um, a little rough), always holding each other’s hands (even when one of them was busy, say, driving), always telling each other jokes, always singing to each other (they both loved music). And I was always walking into them curling up with each other on the couch watching TV! But that couch potato mode is on only when it’s American Idol season or when the weather isn’t too great, because 90% of the time they like to be out and about. Yes, what I loved about them was that they were always showing each other around their city—every time I checked Facebook there were always updates about her taking him here, him taking her there, them taking each other everywhere! What can you say? Apparently California is a great place to be in love because you never run out of places to see, new and old. Of course, I said yes to photographing them, but on one condition: I was picking the locations. Nervy and brash of me to impose, I know, but, hey, I was the tourist here, was I not? I mean, they have this place to themselves all year long! Luckily, they conceded, and I got to have it my way! They had a special request, though, to get a couple of shots with a couple of items that meant a lot to them—like Kris’s guitar, or this one teddy bear that he gave Rotchel. Who was I to say no to a teddy bear?
I was happy with my choice of locations—or, at least I was happy about the fact that I was successful at coming up with a lineup that juxtaposed the usual suspects with L.A. arcana:
- It was a given that I was gonna pick Venice Beach for the beach sets, not so much because I was all too familiar with the place, but because it made sense and was the practical choice—I mean, I couldn’t imagine “guitar-by-the-beach” shots in, say, swanky Santa Monica or Marina del Rey; and plus I demanded Kris wore a Baja California hoodie for one of these sets, and thanks to my friend Paul I knew you could get decent ones for less than $15 at one of the Venice Beach Boardwalk souvenir shops! (I had to be careful not to use the Boardwalk, though, or the Venice Public Art Walls, as I had already used these two spots in a previous shoot.)
- I couldn’t discount the fact that this couple lived a “healthy” lifestyle, too, and so I took them to Pan Pacific Park between Beverly and W 3rd so we could have a couple of shots of Kris sweating it out playing ball and Rotchel having a good jog. Just so you know, this was where Brody Jenner and friends liked to play ball, and, according to my brothers-in-law, where Manny Pacquiao loved to run in the early mornings (I think the Pac Man has digs in Park La Brea, which is right across the street).
- Rotchel loved to shop, so a shopping set was in order. Initially I toyed with the idea of recreating that one scene in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere’s character takes Julia Roberts’s character on a shopping spree down Rodeo Drive, but dismissed that once I realized Kris would look too old in a suit, and that that area was always flooded with tourists. I had to scratch Melrose off the list, too, because that was too artsy/hipster for their taste, and plus that area was too hot between noon and 3PM. So off we went to Robertson Blvd. where the ritzy boutiques were aplenty but the crowd not madding, the vibe not too cliquish, and where you had tree-lined sidewalks to shield you from the heartless California sun. (Had to make a conscious effort to sidestep the AllSaints Spitalfields, though, lest I wanted to hurt my finances!)
- Of course, for the breakfast/brunch set, I looked no further than Lulu’s Café down Beverly (between Formosa and N. Detroit). It was my best friend Julie who’d introduced me to this place some two or three years ago, and immediately I’d fallen in love with it. Apparently this was where the grownup cool kids liked to have brunch, not to mention the celebutantes like Kristin Cavallari and Lo Bosworth. But that wasn’t the only reason why I loved this place—their Chocolate Chip Banana Filled Pancakes and Breakfast Quesadilla are to die for! Right now, though, I wasn’t after a The Hills cast member sighting or a serving of offensively delish pancakes—my goal was to capture that mellow, carefree vibe that was so dead-on L.A. People from back home were always asking me, “What’s it like in L.A.?” and so I felt I needed some pictures to show them what it was really like, you know? Leisurely brunch at a sidewalk café with your Ray-Bans on, a good book, someone who makes you laugh, and all the time in the world to kill? I couldn’t think of anything more L.A. than that.
Needless to say, I had so much fun doing this session. They didn’t really tell me, but I think Rotchel and Kris had a pretty good time, too. I mean, most of the places we shot at they’d never really been to before—and that’s always fun, right, playing tourists in your own city? The irony of it all was that it was me, the tourist, who played tour guide!
My favorite location, though, wasn’t one that was on the original list, but rather one that was added at the eleventh hour. So after hair and makeup, as Kris was getting ready to plot the route to Lulu’s on the GPS, a lightbulb moment hit me, and I begged him to make a detour to that area of Rampart Village where the L.A. Jollibee was. Not ‘cause I was craving for some Peach-Mango Pies, but because in that very area where Jollibee sat, just before N New Hampshire crossed Beverly, there were these towering, very regal-looking palm trees that lined that street, and I felt like I just had to use them as backdrop. It was my brother-in-law Chester who’d pointed this spot out to me a couple of weeks back, and all I could think of the moment I’d laid my eyes on it was how beautiful California was—and how charmed my life was. Ever since then, every time we’d drive past that stretch, I’d look up, squint, smile dreamily, and play a Long Beach Shortbus song in my head: “A palm tree can grow up and reach the sky/ I never did stop and wonder why/ It seems they climb into outer space/ I guess it’s cause they’re living under California grace…”
And that, my dears, is how this unassuming little area down N New Hampshire and Beverly has shot up to the top of my list. How could it not, when it’s testament to the fact that the life I’ve always dreamed of is the life I’m already living? Now ask me if I regret getting California Love tattooed on my right arm.
By the way, to those who know this couple: Kris and Rotchel are not engaged, OK? At least not yet. Just wanted to do something, you see, to prove to the world that you don’t have to wait to be engaged (or married!) to have an excuse for a love shoot. To be young and in love like that—that’s reason enough to smile. To be young and in love like that, and be in an incredible place at the same time—well, that’s reason enough to smile for the cameras.
KrisJohn Villaceran and Rotchel Siglas | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 22, 2012 | Hair and makeup by Mayce Aparis Arradaza | Tomato cardigan, black tiered lace trimmed floral cami, printed tiered flounce dress, and leather jacket, Forever 21 | Denim jacket, H&M | Brown lace-up boots, Aldo | Sky blue cotton oxford shirt, Hollister | Denim-washed garment dye khaki pants in dark olive green, Gap | Grey cutoff shorts, Levi’s