About Face,Part 2: Models-Turned-Photographers

Sara Black and Ton Lao represent the new breed of models-turned-photographers.

[svgallery name="sara"] Sara Black, 28 Sara knew she definitely wanted to be a photographer at age 22. In ï¿½ 2002, straight out of college, ï¿½ she apprenticed with top advertising photographer Pancho Escaler. During her internship, she met many clients from fashion and advertising who kept asking her why she was not a model. "Modelling wasnt really something I had planned to do, but I met an agent, and that was that. It wasn’t something I wanted to pursue to begin with, but I could see an opportunity a mile away. Because of the commercials I did, I was able to save enough capital to invest in my business. It really worked out for me! It is, however, hard work (to smile when you’re just not in the mood too), so when I had made enough to set up my studio, it was time to take it easy in that department." When did you start shooting photos as a hobby? Professionally? Photography became a serious hobby for me in college, around the summer of 2000. In 2002, i did my apprenticeship and in 2003 set up my own studio. First big break in photography? Most important job so far? My first shoot ï¿½ was published in Youngstar magazine. It’s been a long, long journey since then! The most important project to me so far is my first book, When I Look in the Mirror, published by Dove. It’s a project I had been wanting to do for three years, but in this industry you really have to earn your place before people will be willing to invest big in you. Why do you think models like you have gravitated towards photography? I can’t speak for the others because photography was my primary interest and modeling just happened along the way. ï¿½ But maybe when you are put in a position where you a tool to create something and you know you have the capacity to be the one creating rather than just being a tool, it’s quite natural for you to gravitate toward actually making something than just partaking in it. What makes a model a good photographer? What are your advantages over other photogs? They say I’m quite specific with giving directions to my models. I suppose it helps them that I can verbalize exactly what I want. I also know when to push more or back off because I’ve been on the other side of the fence-if the model looks like she’s dying of hypothermia because I’ve submerged her in a vat of milk, then I won’t be so heartless to keep shooting for an hour-be precise, say exactly what you want and get the shot quickly. Which photographer have influenced and inspired you? Were any of them your mentors? Locally, I have a lot of respect for Jun de Leon-his passion even after all these years is so admirable and he’s always around if you need any help. We call him Daddy Jun. Internationally, I love the style of Camilla Akrans. Who is your favorite local model? Why? I love Joan Bitagcol because she makes modeling unsuperficial. I don’t know how to explain it but she draws "it" from within-almost like a dancer or an actress, and it’s very genuine. Any challenges or obstacles in your career? People often tend to judge you based on your appearance. Because you look a certain way, some immediately think you’re not capable of being anything else but are just a pretty face. It’s so annoying, it’s like you aren’t entitled to being intelligent. But you just have to suck it up and prove them wrong. Perks? What do you love about it? Everyday is different and stimulating. I would die if I had to do a job that had a strict routine. Can photography pay the rent? Can photography make you rich? If you plan to own a yacht and a summer home in St Barth’s, then keep on dreaming. It’s a long way there but achievable, I guess, if you’re able to go international. It can definitely pay the rent and you can definitely live a life of travel and luxury. Dream assignment? I’d love to make more books. When you’re not shooting fashion, what do you like to shoot? Anything I find inspiring at that specific moment-shadows, the glare of the sun, the sky when it’s a certain color. It feels good to be able to find beauty in the most normal things. [svgallery name="ton"] Ton Lao, 28 After just three years of modeling, Ton Lao stopped in 2004. "I wasn’t getting any younger and I wanted a more challenging job," he says. "Modeling became monotonous. I did mostly runway shows, and I got tired of all the waiting around and all the rehearsals. Most of my batchmates had retired already, and there were so many new models. So, one day, I just decided to stop." He joined their family business, but says "na-miss ko ’yung saya ng fashion industry." He approached Metro Him and offered to be a contributing stylist. This started his styling career, the milestones of which include the Bench Model Search, Pinoy Big Brother, Philippine Dream Academy, Fear Factor, Folded and Hung’s last fashion show, and Streetcast. In the last couple of years, Ton has added photography to his many talents. What year did you start shooting photos as a hobby? Professionally? I started to like photography as early as when I was 10 years old. I shot the graduation photos of my sister, and even my lola I’d shoot during parties. We’d set up kunyari studio lights using the ï¿½ lampshade in my room. I started photography as a serious hobby in 2007. Both my mom and dad are into photography, as a hobby. They each have their own individual sets of camera and accessories. My friend Jeff Sonora is a photographer who has a studio near our house, so I helped him to test shoots for models. First big break in photography? Most important job so far? I’ve shot fashion editorials for for Supreme (Philippine Star), Chalk, Meg, and press releases for Coke and Timex. Were any of our local photographers your mentors or inspiration? How? Doc Marlon Pecjo and Mark Nicdao are my good friends who have helped me learn. I’ve worked with them as a stylist. Doc Marlon teaches me techniques and lets me practice on test shoots for models. Which photographers do you admire? Locally, Mark Nicdao and Doc Marlon. Internationally, I admire the work of the Dutch duo Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Why do you think models like you have gravitated towards photography? Because it’s related to fashion. I love the industry! What makes a model a good photographer? What are your advantages over other photogs? Working with the best photographers. After a while, parang alam ko na kung sino ’yung mga OK na photographer and sino yung mga type ko yung style. But I never really asked questions when I was still modeling. Any challenges or obstacles in your career? None yet. Perks? None yet. Can photography pay the rent? Can photography make you rich? I think so, if you do advertising work. I have friends who became rich as photographers. Dream assignment? I’d love to shoot ad campaigns. When you’re not shooting fashion, what do you like to shoot? Situational shoots and portraits. To see Part 1 of "About Face," click here. Images from Sara Black and Ton Lao.

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