About Face: The Rise of the Model-Turned-Photographer (Part 1)

Joanne Bitagcol, Josa Primero and Noelle Hernandez talk about moving from front to back (of the camera).

It makes perfect sense: who better to be behind the camera than someone who’s mastered the art of being in front of it? Think Ellen von Unwerth, Nigel Barker, and Helena Christensen-all former models who have successfully reincarnated themselves as photographers. Meet five of the hottest faces-shooting-other-faces in the local scene.

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JoAnn Bitagcol, 31 Her trademark tough girl gait has been a much-anticipated staple on local runways since 1996. After this former thread factory worker was discovered in a panciteria, her life was never the same again. Although she still models "by request," Joanne has successfully transitioned into her third career as a photographer. When did you start shooting photos as a hobby? Professionally? Around 2003. I started contributing to different publications while I was still modelling. I went full time in 2006. First big break in photography? Most important job so far? My first big break happened when I became part of the film CryingLadies as the still person. All jobs are important. I make it a point to always give my best. Why do you think models like you have gravitated towards photography? It’s a logical progression. For me, it’s a way to still work within the industry I love. What makes a model a good photographer? Which photographers have influenced and inspired ï¿½ you? Were any of them your mentors? Lilen Uy, Steve Tirona, Neal Oshima, William Klein, Inez and Vinoodh, and Bruce Weber. Who is your favorite local model to shoot? Ria Bolivar. She knows how to move, she’s easy to work with, has good proportions and bone structure. Any challenges or obstacles in your career? I had no equipment to start with. I’d borrow cameras, lenses, computers,and lights from Lilen Uy, Juan Caguicla, Nelson Villarica, Jun de Leon, and Mark and Lee Meily. I was fortunate enough to have good people around me who supported me from the beginning and until now. Any perks? What do you love about it? I love the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. Can photography pay the rent? Can photography make you rich? It could make your life comfortable. Dream assignment? A portrait of Madame Imelda Marcos, hair down. When you’re not shooting fashion, what do you like to shoot? Family members. [svgallery name="josa"] Josa Quintas-Primero, 33 Joanne Santos (JoSa for short) Quintas-Primero started modeling at age 12 after a friend’s aunt "discovered" her. ï¿½ After ten years of modeling, she married ex-model/events producer Domini Primero and went on hiatus to concentrate on raising their kids. Still an occasional model and accredited Shu Uemura makeup artist, Josa has branched out even further into her new love, photography. What year did you start shooting photos as a hobby? Professionally? I still don’t consider myself a professional, what with all the great photographers out there. It’s only been a year since I started seriously studying photography, but as a hobby I started around 2006, shooting marine life with my underwater camera. Photography’s still more of a hobby for me actually-but now with great passion, of course. First big break in photography? Most important job so far? When I shot the profile photos of Warehouse 135’s and Embassy’s resident DJ’s,I received a lot of compliments, and suddenly, everyone was asking me to take their PR photos. They said my style is dark and edgy-something they wanted to incorporate in their images. I consider every project right now important, since I’m just starting I need to build a solid foundation. This will be the deciding factor for my work to be recognized in the world of photography. Why do you think models like you have gravitated towards photography? I guess being in front of the camera for such a long time always made me wonder how it feels like to be behind the scenes. I’ve realized there is more art in looking through the lens than being in front it...but that’s just me. What makes a model a good photographer? What are your advantages over other photographers? Obviously models are always with great photographers, so we learn from the best even if we’re not taught directly. As models, we were always told what to do, how to do it, why we are doing it and how it can affect the person looking at the picture. The advantage is that you always learn a secret or two from different professional photographers-since the person taking your picture has no idea that in a couple of years you might be taking up photography as career (laughs). Which photographers have influenced and inspired you? Were any of them your mentors? ï¿½Locally I look up to Wig Tysmans, Doc Marlon Pecjo, Xander Angeles, Lilen Uy and Wesley Villarica. These people have influenced me greatly; I was already working with Tito Wig when I was just 18, Xander was the first photographer I worked with as a makeup artist. Lilen Uy’s and Doc Marlon’s work is flawless. Internationally, I admire Patrick Hoelck and Miles Aldridge. Who is your favorite local model? Tweetie de Leon is a professional in every sense of the word. She’s easy to work with and everything just looks good on her. Any challenges or obstacles in your career? There’s a lot that I don’t know yet or am still trying to learn. Then there are these offers coming in for projects or favors from friends and clients-I can’t say no to them, but there is also this fear that I might ruin my career at a very early stage because I might not meet all of their expectations. Perks? None at the moment. Being able to take photographs and getting booked for shoots is enough of a perk for me in a day. Can photography pay the rent? Can photography make you rich? It can... it does.... and it will! Dream assignment? It’s my dream to be successful internationally so any assignment will do as long as it’s abroad and I get to travel for free! When you’re not shooting fashion, what do you like to shoot? Everyday life. The fact that we all look at the world with different points of view is really interesting for me, and I just basically put these points of view in pictures. [svgallery name="noelle"] Noelle Hernandez, 25 "To tell you the truth," says Noelle, "I wasn’t really into modeling. I was the shy, quiet sporty type." Blame her sister, fellow model Nicole Hernandez, for sneakily starting her career. "I only got into it because my sister booked me for a shoot without my knowledge or permission. She said ’You have to do it. I already said you were going to do it. If you don’t do it, they will talk about you.’" ï¿½"At my first shoot as a model, I was so scared, I was trying to hold back my tears. I was very conscious and I thought they were going to eat me alive," she recalls. Her friend and agent Luis Espiritu groomed her as a model and boosted her confidence. With his help I kept on modeling." Maybe that’s why she isn’t sure what year she became a model. What she remembers is that she stopped two years ago when she decided to be a photographer. "I had to focus on my photography in order for people to take me seriously as a photographer," she says. After apprenticing under Xander Angeles in her last year of college in 2006, she started shooting professionally right after she graduated. First big break? Most important job so far? I’m not ï¿½ really sure what my first big break actually was. Everything happened so fast and it seemed liked they all came at the same time. There were times I ï¿½ felt like I wasn’t ready yet but I just said yes to everything. You never know what you can actually do until you do it. But I am very thankful to Xander, Marie Claire, Seventeen, Metro and Chalk. They all played a significant role in getting me started. My most important shoot so far was the Velvet Tribute to the Oscars Exhibit and Contest where my team won third place and I also won the photographer’s award for best creative execution. I didn’t see it coming at all, but it felt good to receive the two awards especially since I think I was the youngest and only female photographer that was part of it. Why do you think models like you have gravitated towards photography? Eventually I made friends with a lot of very important people in the industry. I also got to work with the best photographers. I realized every time I was in front of the camera I kept wondering what it would be like behind the camera. I would take note of the lighting equipment they used and the setup, shooting styles, etc. and compare these with what other photographers did. When I decided I wanted to learn photography it was very easy to make the switch from modeling to photography. I was already surrounded by the best talents in the industry and they all supported and helped me in so many ways. Maybe thats why I gravitated towards it. It was the environment I was in. What ï¿½ makes a model a good photographer? What are your ï¿½ advantages over non-photographers? I think it helps that I used to model because I can put myself in the model’s shoes when I’m shooting. I know what its like so more or less I know what’s going through their minds or what they’re feeling. I can take both sides into consideration. Which photographers have influenced and inspired you? Were any of them your mentors? Of course Xander influenced and inspired me the most since he is my mentor. I also the love the works of Lope Navo and Lilen Uy. I wanted to apprentice under Lilen when Xander left for New York but never got to because I just started shooting and shooting. Who is your favorite local model? Right now I love working with Bea Soriano. I like her look and her vibe. She is very easy to work with. Any challenges or obstacles in your career? Every day is a challenge. Every day I am learning. I have to keep learning. I ï¿½ think the only obstacle in my career is myself. If I don’t push myself I will never get anywhere. Perks? Travel and meeting people. Can photography pay the rent? Can it make you rich? Yes, definitely. But its not as easy as everyone thinks. Like everything else you really have to put in a lot of hard work to be successful. Dream assignment? A lot... [it’s a] secret. You’ll see, one day. When you’re not shooting fashion, what do you like to shoot? I do a lot of beauty tests. I like shooting beauty. Images from Joanne Bitagcol, Josa Quintas-Primero and Noelle Hernandez..

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