Come Fly with Me: Arvin, Mayce and Aira

I don’t know, but do you think the universe is trying to tell me something by throwing planes my way? Of course, when I say “throwing planes my way” I don’t mean that in the literal sense, but, well, almost. It all began with my first commercial/catalog assignment (for Shandar), which entailed photographing one of the models in a hangar. A couple of months later I would find myself in another airplane shed to do an Amelia Earhart-inspired set for a “vintage travel”-themed engagement session. And now here I was at the Van Nuys Airport for a family session!

If the name Mayce Arradaza rings a bell, that’s because she’s responsible for hair and makeup for most of the shoots I did in California. I wanted to do something in return for all the help she’d extended , so I offered one afternoon to photograph her and her family. Her partner Arvin is a pilot and a flight instructor, so it was a little difficult to pin him down. When he finally found the time in his busy schedule to come home to California, he had to be at the Van Nuys Airport to see an old friend and colleague, and so we decided to tag along and just do the session right there.

It was pretty sweltering in the San Fernando Valley that day (I think we were up to the mid-80s by the time we got to the airport) that I almost felt bad that I’d asked Mayce to be bundled up in scarves—the inspiration was Lauren Conrad’s airport looks, you see, which consisted of tunics, black leggings, brown boots, and scarves—but she never complained. I told her to just stand still and not move too much, that way it wouldn’t turn into a sweaty, sticky situation, but it was impossible not to move because their little girl Aira was so hyperactive that day, darting from one corner to another, and somebody had to chase her around somehow!

Of course, no one was about to chide Aira—in fact, we encouraged her to run around some more. All this frolic was like an answer to our prayers, you see, because the little girl was usually very shy and didn’t like her picture taken. In the days leading to this shoot we’d taken her out a couple of times (to Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Pier, and even San Diego!) for a few test shots, but she just wouldn’t smile for the camera! There were times she’d even hide! Luckily she was in a very playful mood that day at the airport, and she didn’t mind me taking pictures of her at all! She even brought her own camera—a Fisher-Price—so she could take her own pictures, too!

At first I had no idea where Aira’s change of mood was coming from—I thought it had something to do with the fact that we bribed her with Wetzels Pretzels (she’s crazy about their Cheddar Cheese dip). As the afternoon progressed, though, it became very clear she was just happy to be around her airplane. And, no, I am not talking about one of the model planes that we asked her to play with for some of the shots—those belong to her Dad. I am talking about the real deal red-and-white 1981 Cessna 152 that we used as backdrop for this shoot! Yes, that is her plane! Arvin bought it for and named it after her. Exactly how many little girls can claim that their dad bought them a plane? My guess is not a lot! Aira is a very, very lucky girl.

Which brings us back to my original question: What is it about planes and hangars and airports, and why do I gravitate towards them? Does it mean that, like Aira, I’m lucky, too? I hope it’s nothing ominous or anything. I mean, they’re keeping me busy, so that should be a good thing, right? Let’s hope so. I should consider myself lucky, right, to be able to shoot at a storied location? How many people can claim that they’ve shot at a place where some of the more important scenes from 1942’s Casablanca were shot? My guess is not a lot!

Speaking of luck, I got real lucky that day when, on the way home from the airport, Mayce and Arvin decided to make a quick stopover at the LACMA so I could take a few shots of them with Chris Burden’s Urban Light—the installation of restored antique street lamps from various Southern California municipalities, at the museum’s entrance on Wilshire—as backdrop. Didn’t exactly have strobist equipment on me in order to be able to take decent night shots, and plus the whole thing didn’t exactly fit the aviation theme, but who was I to say no to this place? Here was my chance to tick one off my dream locations list! You’d think shooting at a legendary airport would be enough for me, but, no, I just had to get me some Urban Light!

Yes, Urban Light is one of those L.A. landmarks that I never get tired of. I don’t know, but just look at that whole thing, and tell me if it isn’t the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. To me, though, it’s more than just beautiful. They say it’s easy to lose yourself in a city like L.A.—there’s even a song that goes, “Remember, Hollywood’s not America”—and I sure can attest to that. Luckily I have this place to run to whenever I need to regain composure and borrow some optimism. I look up at those lamps and I am rejuvenated. To me, they represent a future that’s bright. And, unlike airplanes, they may not signify dreams that are about to take flight, but they sure do remind me of those that are standing tall.

Arvin Nacario Eslit, Mayce Aparis Arradaza and their daughter Aira | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Van Nuys and Los Angeles, CA, on May 24, 2012

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