So, OK, my friends have been asking me what my favorite thing about this year was, and, gosh, and I don’t even know where to begin! Aside from the fact that the world didn’t end like they said it would last December 21, so many major stuff top my list, like finally meeting my baby niece in L.A., seeing a retrospective of my all-time favorite photographer Herb Ritts’s work at the Getty, and getting to meet and talk to my idol Lauren Conrad in the flesh on my birthday. Career-wise, though, I must say that the best part of 2012 was that I got to work with a lot of people from all over the place this year. And, well, not just me—that applies to the rest of the Shutterfairy Photography team, too! When I got back from California/New York, where I got to photograph a couple of people (mostly close friends and family, of course), suddenly we were barraged with assignments to photograph/style clients from the States, Singapore, New Zealand, Ireland, etc.! So crazy, I know! And to think our team is barely three years old! We must have done something right to deserve this huge boost to our reach!
The biggest bulk of our “extralocal” clients are from the Lion City, like Gwen and Edgar here. I’ve lost track of the exact figures, and to quote my boss/mentor Malou Pages, “I [can no longer] count how many Singapore-based couples [we have] photographed,” but suffice to say that it came to a point where it got us wondering: How did these people find out about us and our work? did these people know each other? did it start with one couple who were happy with our work, and then it all trickled down through their communities via viva voce? There might be no finding out now, but that’s OK. I’m just glad to know we have quite a fan base in a place where none of us (me or Malou) have even ever been to before in our lives!
It had used to baffle me why overseas-based couples to be married would opt to fly home to have their engagement photos taken here, when they could easily have them done in their new cities where the amount of gorgeous shooting locations are endless, and where I’m pretty sure there are no shortage of exceptionally talented portrait photographers and stylists. But working with Gwen and Edgar here made me realize this: these people wanted their engagement session to be a sort of homecoming at the same time, a nice little break from their busy working lives. In the case of this couple right here, it was to serve a third purpose: for Gwen to show Edgar her home. It’s just Gwen who’s from Cebu, you see, while Edgar is from Pampanga, and he’d already shown her around his hometown a couple of times in the past (the most recent being some six months before this shoot), and so now it was her turn to show him around hers. Which was why when Gwen said she wanted to do the shoot at a resort, I knew better than to oppose the idea. In most cases, you see, whenever our subjects bring up the faintest idea about shooting at a resort (most popular picks: the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa down Marigondon, Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa in Punta Engano, the newly opened Crimson Resort somewhere in the Maribago area), I would be quick to talk them out of it, just ‘cause everyone else was doing it, and I wasn’t a huge fan of crowds or onlookers. But who was I to say no to this couple, who made it very clear they wanted to treat this whole thing as a vacation at the same time? Their resort of choice was the Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort in Maribago. Relatively new and an irrefutable favorite among locals and tourists/vacationers alike, I just knew the crowds out there were going to be crazy and that it wasn’t going to be easy trying to look for decent, peaceful spots, but I took comfort in the fact that the clothes were going to be amazing.
Yes, that is one upside to shooting at a beach resort: the vacation theme calls for nothing else but resort style, and isn’t warm weather wear the easiest to put together? Ask every stylist you know, and they will tell you resortwear is, pun intended, a breeze—especially to those of us who are from these parts where we’ve got year-round sun-drenched climes! I mean, it was never something I had to closely study or do a lot of research on, just ’cause it was something that I saw everyday; and plus I got a good head start by virtue of my early experience at various Cebu-based magazines/publications, where, safe to say, about 70% of my styling work entailed resortwear and swimwear. For this assignment right here I had to keep it low-fuss and straightforward. At first I was tempted to look to various spring/summer catalogs from Free People for inspiration, but then there were too much Coachella-inspired elements and Bohemian references in there—Gwen here was nothing if not sweet and simple, and so I knew I had to keep the “overstyling” in check, lest I ended up stripping her of those qualities. Trendy, but a little more on the timeless side, that was the agreement. So what I did was I used the formula in the “Warm Weather Vacation” subsection of the “What to Wear Where” chapter of the Who What Wear book (ABRAMS, 2009): global prints (they “never go out of style,” according to the book, so I introduced Gwen to ikat), punchy brights, kaftans (“long enough to go over a bathing suit and brief enough to wear bloused up over a pair of shorts”), maxi dresses, denim cutoffs, statement necklaces, and hobo bags. (The nicest thing about all these outfits that we put together: Gwen will be able to use them after the shoot, like for, say, Sentosa weekends or something). Not to say we didn’t leave room for a little experimentation, though, because we did go for a little print-on-print/mixed prints action: I usually shy away from swimwear if it’s engagement shoots (except when the theme is surfing, then the Billabongs and Roxys becomes non-negotiable), but I politely asked Gwen if she could wear a bikini for the shots by the pool; this frightened her at first, but once I showed her the complete look—sheer beach wrap in traditional-color leopard print, over a fuchsia-and-black leopard print bikini—she went for it (albeit with a joke, “My very first daring role!”). Needless to say, that set we did by the pool was my favorite. Although coming in as a close second was the one that was never in the mood boards to begin with, and that’s the set we did in their hotel room where I had them wear nothing but bathrobes. I swear, pure accident: it was 2PM, and therefore too hot out for us to be able to take decent pictures, and as I walked into the room I realized I was digging the color scheme (eggshell and mint green!), so I decided to take pictures of them in there! I love happy accidents!
I guess I have to mention that, when all these e-mails from Singapore-based clients started to pour in, I initially declined them and proceeded to ask my boss to hire another stylist to do the job. My previous experience with long-distance styling, you see, had been extremely unpleasant, and in an effort to save face I expressed that, moving forward, I was only going to accept clients who lived in the same city as me—the job’s always easier when you can physically take their measurements, do house calls that give you the chance to take a peek inside their closets, or personal shop for them. It took the boss some time to find another stylist, though, so I had no choice but to take on some of the projects, and I remember choosing Gwen and Edgar here because during our initial correspondence they were very congenial—and thankfully they remained that way all throughout the planning phase! Just a couple of days ago we were in Boracay to photograph a Chicago-based couple’s beach wedding, and I met the inimitable and ever-effervescent wedding/events planner Amanda Tirol of Boracay Weddings, who told me that “about 80% of my clients are from out of the country,” and shared that the key to successful long-distance coordination was timely and effective correspondence. I couldn’t agree more. What I’d feared at the onset to be a rough ride turned out to be a smooth-sailing one, thanks to Gwen and Edgar’s timely feedback whenever I had questions. Helped, too, that they trusted my abilities, valued my input, and respected my boundaries, leaving what was to be done by me to, well, me! Now, if it looks like my faith in long-distance styling has been renewed, that’s thanks to this couple right here!
But what made this shoot truly memorable for me wasn’t all the prep, or the clothes, or the lengthy (but healthy) exchange of e-mails. Rather, it was the fact that, for a change, it was the groom-to-be that I connected with the most as we were shooting. Normally, you see, during engagement shoots, it’s the fiancée that I get to bond and exchange stories with—it’s always the woman that’s excited about things like this, right?—while the fiancé just sits on the sidelines, patiently waiting for the session to be over. Not saying that Gwen was detached that day, it’s just that she had a couple of close friends over for the occasion and she had to entertain them in between sets, and so it was Edgar who I got to chat with the whole time. It was kind of weird having to ask the guy about their love story, but Edgar was very eager to share, anyway. Unlike most of our Singapore-based couples, they didn’t meet in the workplace (in fact they work for two very different companies: she for United Overseas Bank, as systems analyst; he for the interior architectural design firm BuregaFarnell) , or through mutual friends—rather, it was their mutual love of volunteerism that brought them together. Yes, they shared a favorite cause, and that’s the Gawad Kalinga (GK), a movement dedicated to community- and home-building to help improve living standards among the deprived. One fateful day three years ago they attended the same GK Singapore fellowship meeting, and that’s where it all started—ever since then they would go on the same GK immersion/building activities/trips, and their relationship would eventually turn into a full-fledged romance. I’d heard about couples falling in love because they shared the same taste in music, or the same taste in food, etc., but this was the first time I met a twosome whose bond was cemented by their mutual love for reaching out. Something tells me this is one bond that will be very difficult to break.
Edgar Gonzales and Gwen Pinca | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Maribago, Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, on August 20, 2012 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup: Ramil Solis | Special thanks to the staff of Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort