Couple of photos from the album cover shoot that I did some two weeks back. The band is called Womb, a trip hop/electronica/experimental rock collective signed to Cattski Espina’s 22 Tango Records, and they are set to release their debut album late this year or early next, depending on how fast they breeze through all the studio work.
It was Cattski who’d commissioned me to do this project, perhaps because she was happy with the work I’d done for her own album 0:00:00 (released middle of this year). Or, maybe she’d asked me in an effort to stay true to the record label’s mission to support striving artists, whether in music or elsewhere? This renaissance woman and I go way back, and we’ve become close enough to have that kind of creative relationship where one can talk about what inspires and motivates them without fear of being judged by the other. She knows that I’m not particularly picky when it comes to my subjects, but she understands that I stand by one very important criterion: they have to be open to the idea of styling. Some people have given me flak for this (like, “Why can’t you just show up and take photos?”), but I am not about to let others dictate the direction of my creative process—after all, the styling thing came long before I decided to pick up the camera, and when something is as deeply-rooted as that it’s going be fiendishly difficult to shake off. I appreciate Cattski for being one of the very few who respect this core tenet of mine. When she first told me about Womb, she was, like, “I have exactly the kind of band for you! Yes, they are willing to be styled!” Music to my ears! There was no way I could have said no.
Actually, part of the reason I said yes was because I felt I needed to redeem myself in the eyes of these people. See, I’d been set to photograph their labelmate Undercover Grasshoppers beginning of this year, and I’d thought things were going OK—I’d sat down with the frontwoman, laid down the blueprints, set a date, etc.—but then…nothing. That shoot would push through, but with a different photographer. Up to this day I can’t tell what went wrong there—was it my travel schedule (I had to leave for L.A./New York and be gone for almost two months)?—but I knew I was never going to let anything like that happen again, so when I sat down with Womb for our initial meeting I had to make sure I looked like I meant business. Luckily it didn’t take a lot of work for me to hit it off with the band. Cattski had been right in saying she’d finally found my match. That first meeting—and the subsequent meetings—turned out to be really enjoyable. I was spewing out cultural references at spitfire rate—that circa 1975 Annie Leibovitz photograph of a bathrobe-clad Mick Jagger in a Buffalo, New York, hotel elevator; that circa 1987 Herb Ritts shot of the pop star Madonna wearing Mickey Mouse ears (photographed in Tokyo, if I am not mistaken); the circa 2011 portraits of Frances Bean Cobain by Hedi Slimane—and their faces would light up at every single thing that came out of my mouth because they knew exactly what I was talking about! Nothing quite like when you and your subjects are on the same wavelength!
Funny thing ‘cause in the days leading to this shoot I would refer to it as a “solo effort”—like, “Wish me luck! It’s a solo thing for me this Sunday!” That’s how I refer to the projects, you see, that I carry out sans my mentor/boss Malou Pages (i.e., outside her Shutterfairy brand). Believe it or not, it still gets me a bit nervous when it’s a gig I know I gotta do all on my own. But then came the actual day of the shoot, and I realized that it wasn’t going to be all me, after all, and that I had a huge team ready to back me up! For one, makeup whiz Justine Gloria had agreed to stay for the entire duration of the shoot (13 hours!) to ensure she was going to be ready for every single touch-up (I would later feel bad about us holding her hostage for that long a time, especially after finding out that Sundays were usually her time to take the kids out for a little R&R). Up-and-coming designer Paco Serafica, whom I’d commissioned to provide a couple of cocktail pieces for frontwoman Chai, had agreed to assist with the styling. 22 Tango’s April Ordesta acted as our logistics lead and made sure everything in our project plan—timeline, locations, props requirements—was adhered to. And then there’s videographer Marlowe Guinto, who not only was kind enough to lend me his lighting/strobist equipment, but also stuck around to actually design the specific look and setup required for each set, and to dispense invaluable technical advice. I couldn’t have done the indoor and the evening shots without him, that’s for sure!
I wish I could post more than these 28 shots that you see right here, but my work is not done, you see. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to be the one solely calling the shots here—I want the band themselves to be involved in the editing and the selection process. I mean, hey, these aren’t just your regular photos—these are the photos that are going to end up in the cover/CD package of their debut album! A lot of careful consideration needs to go into these kinds of things (and I should know because I used to be publicist for a couple of local rock bands back in the early 2000s). I am also a little tempted to tell the story of how I came up with the concept and the styling right here and right now, but I guess it’s wiser to save all that for when I am going to post the final photos. Allow me to say this, though: shoots like this make me very happy because they are…what’s the term? Oh, right up my street.
Those of you who’ve been following my body of work to date (and I’m not sure if there are actually people who follow me, I’m just making assumptions here) can probably attest that the grunge aesthetic is more me than anything else—that’s, like, the wellspring of my creative being, simply because that’s the very mise en scène that my style was born into. Not to mention I was raised in a household where musicality was, for the most part, what kept us together when everything else failed, and that I happened to come of age at the exact same time that the local (Cebuano) music scene reached its peak (late ‘90s/early 2000s), and so I got to play an active, albeit modest, part in that movement. This is why photographing (and styling) musicians is delightful and important to me—in a way, it’s kind of like coming home.
“Sadly it’s not something that one gets to do on a regular basis [in this part of the world],” a friend of mine told me just a couple of evenings ago. Perhaps if she’d said this some seven or eight years ago, during that seeming decline post the “boom” era (i.e., beer behemoth San Miguel discontinued the Cebu Music Awards franchise, Artist Dais closed shop, the bands that mattered—like Glitch—decided to disband, and a number of acts were forced to relocate to the capital, etc.), I would’ve agreed with her. But with establishments like 22 Tango Records now in our midst, whose mission is to bolster local talent by guiding them down the “revolutionary road” (e.g., digital distribution) and coaxing them to abandon old avenues of production/promotion, it looks like all that just might change. Currently the label houses 10 artists/acts, and who’s to say they’re stopping there? I am putting my faith in these people, like they have always, in some way or another, put their faith in me. I cannot wait to collaborate with more of these brave and brilliant folks, and be brought closer and closer to home.
Charisse “Chai” Fonacier, Anthony Uy and Fender Figuera, collectively known as Womb | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City, Cebu, on September 30, 2012 | Makeup by Justine Gloria | Hair by Sherwin Amodia | Lighting director: Marlowe Guinto | Sittings assistant: April Ordesta | On Chai: Black semi-sheer stripe chiffon corset minidress, Paco Serafica; scarlet leatherette-and-lace minidress with recycled plastic cup skirt in overlapping scale-like pattern, Paco Serafica; black mesh skirt, stylist’s own | On Anthony: Flannel shirt, Heritage 1981, Forever 21; black biker jacket, Zara Man; eggshell silk skinny tie, Springfield UP by Springfield; 8-eyelet 1460 Dr. Martens boots in cherry red, his own | On Fender: Black-and-white gingham dress shirt, Divided by H&M; black sleeveless tuxedo jacket, Protacio; black-and-white striped cotton/silk blend skinny tie, Urban Outfitters; “Misfits” acid wash denim vest, stylist’s own; grey micro fleece hoodie, Uniqlo Undercover by Jun Takahashi; black workboots, Topman; black faux plug earrings, Santee Alley (downtown L.A.)