When I first met with my mentor Malou Pages to join her Shutterfairy Photography team almost two years ago, one of main things we discussed—apart, of course, from my expectations of the apprenticeship program and her expectations of what I could do for her in return—was what our dream engagement shoots would look like. Needless to say, being the Chatty Cathy that I am, and plus there was an obvious need for me to “sell” myself to her (this was, after all, like a job interview of sorts), I launched into a barrage of outbursts: “Oh, my God, it has to involve grunge!” followed by “Something that involves a yacht and nautical-inspired clothes!” followed by “Something inspired by Little House on the Prairie!” I think I even said something ridiculous like, “Through the glistening snow, on a dog sled!” Can’t remember if Malou rolled her eyes, but I remember her looking very baffled. I couldn’t help it! She opened a can of worms in the first place! But in all the superfluousness that I brought to the table, Malou didn’t lose sight of her uncomplicated aspirations. “A dream engagement shoot for me would be something that involves books,” she shared. And that was it—no convoluted themes, no impossible props, no fantastical locations! “Just books, hanging from branches of a tree, or something like that.” As the months passed and I would get to know her better and visit her at her home office, it would become very clear to me that, yes, the woman indeed loved her books, perhaps even a little more than she loved photography—there were books all over her living room, and even a mini library in the hall that led to her bedroom. Most of them hardbound, too—she had a thing for hardcover, vintage-looking books. And we’re not even talking photography books—we’re talking novels, novellas, literature anthologies, biographies. There were a couple of times I would ask her about a movie, a short film, a music video, or a TV show—like, “You watch Mad Men, right? If you don’t, please watch a few episodes because our next shoot is inspired by it!”—and she would just laugh and brush me off, saying, “You know I don’t watch TV! Ask me to read a book, and I’ll gladly do it!” Swear to God, sometimes it disturbs me to think that she has a very visual job, but she rarely gets inspiration from the visual world. But, well, that’s Malou, and that’s just one of the few things that make her unique!
For close to two years I’d been trying to pitch scenes that involve books to our engagement session clients/prospects, but somehow the idea would always get rejected in favor of a premeditated concept/theme. And then we met Jeff and Niña here, who got really excited when I first mentioned the idea to them. Their mood boards were chock-full of picnic-inspired scenes, you see, so I told them that, instead of doing the regular picnic scenes, which we’d done a lot of times in the past, why not give it a twist by filling it with books—lots and lots of books! Sort of like a “poet and muse” scenario, something that my event stylist friend Deo Urquiaga had hinted at me not so long ago. Luckily I didn’t have to explain a lot in order for the couple to picture the whole thing in their minds’ eyes—they said yes right there and then! And so began a grueling but very enjoyable three weeks of preparations, with the couple gathering at least a hundred books (from their own bookshelves, and some of them borrowed from friends), and me and Shutterfairy Photography’s in-house set decorator Jenny Hortillosa researching ways to turn pages of old books into, well, set décor elements. I was a little worried I would get flak for, um, destroying old books for the sake of crafting, because didn’t Lauren Conrad suffer a nasty backlash a couple of months back after she’d posted a video tutorial of how to turn hardcover books (in this case they were Lemony Snicket books) into unique little storage bins? So I came up with a set of criteria: we were only to use ones that were completely unuseful to us (like, say, The Official Gun Digest Book of Guns and Prices), or those that were already missing a couple pages, or foreign-language books that we couldn’t understand in the first place. Luckily, it wasn’t hard for us to find these kinds of books—that’s what the Php 5 bins at the used book stores are for, apparently. Here’s hoping I don’t land in hot water for this! Jenny and I proceeded to accordion-fold pages to create decorative circles/balls, and we even made cute little paper flowers and letter cutouts. Also, we made a huge picnic blanket out of the more yellowed pages. It was so much fun, my Mom even found it irresistible to help out! At first I was afraid that all of them rolled together into one scene would create quite a mess, but then the day of the shoot came, and they created quite a mess, alright, but it was a pretty kind of clutter. Not a word had been spoken to Malou about the theme in the days leading to the shoot, so imagine her surprise when she saw hundreds of books and book craft being unloaded from the car and watched as this scene unfolded slowly before her eyes! You can tell when she’s happy about the set décor because she won’t stop Instagram-ing the littlest details! We couldn’t give her her ultimate “books hanging from branches of a tree” dream set because the trees at our shooting location were so tall that we couldn’t reach the lowest hanging branches even with the aid of an 8-feet-tall utility ladder, but it still involved books, so we were fine.
The splatter painting scenes were executed at the request of groom-to-be Jeff. When I’d first sat down with them two months before this shoot, he’d put an emphasis on “something colorful and bright,” and at the same time “something where we can get down and dirty,” and he’d proceeded to show me some sample photos of people having fun with splatter paint—his inner Jackson Pollock wanting to break free, apparently! Now, I’m known for having a total aversion toward repeating themes/concepts, and I’d actually begun to politely reject this request of his, citing a family shoot that Malou and I had done just a couple of months back (in December) that had involved fun with paint, too. But then I’d realized that that family shoot had actually featured fingerpainting, not splatter painting—two very different things, if you come to think of it! And so, on the day of the shoot, Jeff got what he wanted. I think you can tell by the pictures you see on here that he had a crazy good time during those scenes! (Our set decorator Jenny wasn’t very pleased, though: on the days leading to the shoot, you see, I’d promised her that the paint was going to be water-washable, only for her to find out after the shoot that they actually weren’t, and now her favorite pair of workpants is a total mess! I’m so sorry, Jen! Blame the guy at the paint store! It was him who swore to me they were washable, and I took his word for it without reading the label!)
Perhaps my absolute favorite part of this shoot—well, not just mine, but everyone’s, I guess—was how it turned into one big party when members from both Jeff’s and Niña’s families showed up at the location to cheer them on. When Niña had texted me hours prior to tell me, “We’re inviting a lot of people to join us today! I hope you guys don’t mind!” I had warned her that bringing too many spectators might ruin the whole thing. I mean, it was true for many people, especially those who were not used to being in front of the camera a lot, so I just assumed that it was true for them—you know, that having more than enough watchful eyes could make them feel ill-at-ease. Well, I was proven wrong when the couple showed us that this setup had the exact opposite effect on them—turned out that an audience was what they needed in order to feel comfortable in front of the cameras! It was a riot because now we had a dozen other directors, and there were little kids running around the place, but who was I to complain when it also meant having a dozen extra helping hands? Not to mention we got to grub on a delicious home-cooked meal prepared by Niña’s mom! Yes, that right there was a pretty nice treat—for once in our lives, we got to skip out on the usual packed lunches that came with photo shoots! So amazing when a make-believe picnic turns into the real deal. I’d never burped that much before in my life!
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So sorry I haven’t been blogging much lately. I actually was not going to open my blog today, but then I realized that, wow, it’s been more than a month since I last posted something on here, and so I had to cancel some of my plans for this morning (and cut my gym time in half) so I could write something quick. I can assure you, though, that it’s not laziness or anything like that. It’s just that these past few weeks have been really hectic for me, and I’ve been up to the eyeballs with the grind. Because the truth is it’s not just shoots for Shutterfairy that’s keeping me busy nowadays—I am also working on building my solo portfolio. And it’s not just shoots, period—there’s some consultancy work going on on the side, too, and on top of that there are guest lecturing stints to carry out and workshops/seminars to conduct. Swear to God, sometimes I think I’m crazy for juggling all these at the same time, and there are days that I actually think about giving up. But I know that the rewards are gonna be great, and so I keep on keeping on! Best part of keeping busy, I must say, is the network you build along the way, and the people you meet. Just a few days ago one of my favorite authors, Joyce Carol Oates, posted something on Twitter that said something to effect of: “Something magical can happen in a writing workshop. Don’t know why, but I have seen it countless times: writers are inspired by one another.” And that’s exactly how I feel about me attending/conducting workshops/seminars of late: I meet people who are as passionate about being creative as I am, and I am inspired to do more, create more! In fact, I have started to collaborate with some of these people already, and I can’t wait to show you guys the results! So, again, I’m sorry I’ve been such a delinquent when it comes to blogging. Rest assured that it doesn’t mean I’m not working on anything! If anything, it only means I’m working on something good!
Jeffrey A. Vivero and Maria Niña D. Maneja | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City on May 19, 2013 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Farrah Castillo | Set decorators: Angelo Kangleon and Jennifer Hortillosa | Sittings assistant: Dianne Acebedo