If you’ve been following this little blog of mine for a while now, the name Rhia de Pablo is gonna ring a bell. She’s my baker friend whom I commission to make custom cupcakes whenever a photo shoot’s concept calls for them—for example, and most recently, I had her whip up a bunch of red, white and blue cupcakes with seafarer details (fondant toppings in the shape of helms, anchors, sailboats, kisby rings, and even crabs) for one of my nautical-themed engagement shoots last year. (She is also my go-to girl whenever there’s a birthday in the family and I need birthday cupcakes or a birthday cake, or when New Year’s is fast approaching and I need a good old-fashioned homemade apple pie.) So when it was her turn to get engaged (to her boyfriend of four years) and to think of a theme for her own engagement photos, it was only natural that she would gravitate towards one that involved cupcakes or baking in general. And how could one say no to that, right? The idea of a shoot that was going to give me the license to gobble half the cupcakes that she knew how to make proved far too delicious for me to turn down!
At first she was sold to the idea of a picnic for two kind of setting, with the picnic basket and blanket filled to the brim with a hundred cupcakes of different shapes and sizes. I could picture it in my mind’s eye, and it was whimsical, alright, and I would’ve loved to give this to her, had the picnic thing been something I hadn’t already overdone. So I proposed a kitchen setting, since that was something I’d always been dying to do—well, I’d already done the kitchen thing when I photographed stylish young pâtissier Gayle Urgello for the catalog of Shandar Shoes’ premier collection some two years back, and again last year when I photographed a young family making Devil’s Food cupcakes in their charming Brooklyn home, but I’d never before done it for a love/engagement shoot. Rhia was adamant about doing an outdoor thing, though, ‘cause she wanted the photos to have a “fanciful touch” to them—she felt that indoor photos would be too formal. She had a valid point there. So what we did was meet halfway by deciding to put up an outdoor kitchen!
Rhia had an additional request: she expressed she also wanted the photos (or some of them) to toy with one of her favorite love quotes that go, “Once in a while, right in the middle of an ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale” (author unknown). How to squeeze this into a bigger picture that involved cupcakes/baking? I could not think of a more effective and more ingenious way to do this other than by way of a “Hansel and Gretel”-inspired setup, complete with a life-size gingerbread house and all (minus the witch part, of course)!
Quite a challenge to assemble the outdoor kitchen that I almost regretted suggesting it in the first place! Aside from the “fanciful touch” that she envisioned, you see, Rhia had other requirements: she wanted parts of it to be in keeping with the color scheme that she had chosen for the wedding—citrusy colors of orange, lemon yellow, lime green, and grapefruit pink—and she wanted a ‘50s kind of feel, since that was her favorite era. The former was piece of cake, really—I only had to throw in some yellow flowers, a couple of dish cloths in orange and yellow and green stripes, and I only had to ask her to make cupcakes in those colors. It was the ‘50s bit that proved to be tricky. Not that it was hard to find vintage or vintage-looking cooking utensils or bakeware, because between my own kitchen and hers (and her family’s kitchen in Samar) we had a decent amount of stuff that we could pile together. The real backbreaker came in the form of this 250+ lb., 8 feet tall cupboard dating back to the late ‘50s/early ‘60s—imagine having to lug that thing down two flights of stairs, and having to transport it three miles, from my apartment in Guadalupe to our shooting location in Camp Marina up the Lahug hills! We had to hire three moving guys and a moving truck to help us tackle that monster! Funny thing ‘cause when we got to Camp Marina there were other photo shoots under way, and the other photographers couldn’t resist approaching Rhia and asking, “Wow, you brought your whole kitchen with you for your engagement photos?” Yes, the sight of us lifting a bulky cupboard (plus an oven and a kitchen table) was enough to interrupt their deadly serious proceedings. I couldn’t blame them. I mean, sometimes I myself am shocked by my own bravura—but, hey, you have to take bold risks if you want to paint a pretty picture, right? Right. Please nod so I won’t feel too bad!
Because putting together the outdoor kitchen scene was already too much for one personal to handle, I had to ask another set decorator, Jenny Hortillosa, to take care of the improvised gingerbread house for the “Hansel and Gretel”-inspired scenes. I say improvised because, right from the start, we seemed to know that it would be expensive to make a real gingerbread house in the size that Rhia wanted, not to mention that would require the skills of a professional confectioner. At first we were scared that the whole thing would come out too artificial, but Jenny’s idea of using graham crackers stacked together like bricks actually worked—if you squinted a little bit it all looked legit! She even used colorful marshmallows for the trimmings! It kind of made me feel bad that we were being wasteful, though—I mean, imagine how many s’mores you can make with over a hundred crackers and fifty marshmallows—but I knew I had to give in to Rhia’s request of a fairy tale touch, otherwise it would all turn out to be nothing but your ordinary engagement photos!
Loved the dress that I had her wear for the outdoor kitchen and “Hansen and Gretel”-inspired sets. FYI, I had that dress made especially for this shoot! After three or so days of scouring the thrift shops for dresses that had a ‘50s housewife kind of silhouette and having no luck at it, I decided to just have one made. So happy that I was able to find (with the help of my designer friend Peewee Senining) a fabric pattern that had all of Rhia’s favorite citrusy colors! From that same cloth I asked the seamstress to make a matching bowtie for Rhia’s fiance PJ (I was upset at first because she made one that was a tad too oversize, but then PJ put it on and it actually worked for the pictures because it only added a campy touch—and isn’t campy a characteristic of most ‘50s musicals?).
I wanted to expand on the ‘50s theme, so I decided to give them a bonus set in the form of a couple of ‘50s diner-inspired scenes. Couple of weeks before this shoot, you see, I’d stumbled upon the local launch event of Archie’s Girls, MAC Cosmetics’ new collection inspired by the main characters of the Betty and Veronica comic book series, and they’d had these dancers wearing red-and-white ‘50s-inspired ensembles swinging to rockabilly. Immediately I’d called the seamstress so she could begin throwing together a red-and-white polka dot halterneck dress for Rhia! We’d made arrangements to shoot at Sam’s ’50s Diner over at North Reclamation (near Cebu Doctors’ University), but when we got there they were closed (the owners had had to go on a business trip, the security officers told us), and so we were left with no choice but to take just a few photos by the diner’s entrance, and then carry out the key scenes at another ‘50s-themed restaurant called District 50 (at the J Centre Mall in Mandaue). This unanticipated change in location offered up some minor setbacks: (1) the limited floor space at District 50 left us with very little room to move around, and (2) we were not allowed to use the electrical outlets, making it impossible for the hairstylist to give Rhia the Beehive hairstyle that we’d been visualizing in our minds since the start. But, well, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got, right? It was better than having to move the shoot to another day! Thanks to the management of District 50 for accommodating us at the last minute! Food was great, too—their burgers and strawberry floats were to die for!
But, of course, the real treat came in the form of Rhia’s cupcakes! Swear to God, I usually don’t hurry through my shoots, and everyone I’ve ever worked with can attest that I like to take my sweet time, but for this one right here I could not wait to finish the job just so I could let go of the camera and attack the cupcake pan! Yes, I can be a douche sometimes!
Thank you so much, Rhia and PJ, for allowing me (and my interns!) to take these pictures that will serve as a prelude to your happy ever after! I hope that you (and your guests at the wedding) will enjoy them! And thanks to Rhia’s friends (I’m sorry I can’t mention each an everyone of you on here—there’s too many of you!—but you guys know who you are) for being such darlings and for helping us during the shoot! Here’s hoping Rhia will have more cupcakes for us when she gets back from the wedding!
Paul John “PJ” N. Aleria and Rhia de Pablo | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Mandaue, Cebu, on April 20, 2013, and in Cebu City, Cebu, on April 21, 2013 | Hair and makeup by Michael Sotillo | Set decorators: Angelo Kangleon and Jennifer Hortillosa | Special thanks to: Dianne Acebedo, Marla Baguio, Andrew Lisen, Kristal Pinili, Arrah Quistadio, Monique Rosal, Marnelli Uyguangco, and Martin Yutiu