15 Minutes With BJ Pascual
The fashion photographer dishes on creativity, his most memorable shoot, and more.
(SPOT.ph) You might not realize it, but you've definitely seen the work of fashion photographer BJ Pascual around the Metro. Remember Anne Curtis' concert posters with the big, red apple? Or the infamous "Celebrate Love" Bench billboard that launched a #painttheirhandsback hashtag after it was met with controversy? Yep, those were his.
But he's not just about billboards! At 27 years old, BJ's work has appeared in dozens of fashion magazines and lifestyle publications—many of which you'll find in his new book, Push: Muses, Mischief & How to Make It in Manila. The book traces his journey from his childhood to his career of shooting many of your favorite celebrities, including Nadine Lustre, Liza Soberano, Kathryn Bernardo, Georgina Wilson, Janine Gutierrez, and more.
We dropped by BJ's book launch on November 25, where he and editor-slash-writer Raymond Ang talked about fashion, celebrity muses, the setbacks of youth, and more.
Photos by Majoy Siason
BJ with Julia Barretto
What's your most memorable shoot?
BJ: Siguro my early shoots from Preview [magazine]...the first editorial na ginawa ko sa Preview. Nakakatawa because if you read my time capsule letter [in my book], nakalagay doon na 'I want to shoot for Preview.' Ang tagal ko naghintay, [it took] years until naka-shoot ako para sa Preview. By chance lang siya na nangyari kasi meron silang na-kill na editorial and bigla na lang kailangan nila ng [new] editorial in a week. I had just assisted for a shoot they had out of town, so from the assisting job, bigla akong nabigyan ng editorial. Naaalala ko pa 'yong suot ko noong shoot na 'yon, ganoon siya ka-memorable. I think that was when people really started taking me seriously.
What were the challenges that you initially faced when you entered the industry at such a young age?
BJ: I think the challenge in the beginning was that whenever people would see me, especially back then—I was really skinny—so they would always think that I was the assistant, not the photographer. When I would shoot, they would say, "Siya ba talaga 'yon?" One of my first major shoots was a Metro shoot...it was all [celebrity] girls. Whenever I shoot, kailangan by group sila, hindi lahat because I have to make sure everyone looks good, everyone has great lighting. I guess hindi sanay 'yong mga tao na it took so much time. Naiinip sila and they'd say, "Sino ba 'yan? Bakit ang tagal? Parang hindi marunong." I guess 'yong mga ganoong experiences, I just try to prove them wrong and give them a great output.
Raymond: We both started at around 21 or 22 [years old]. There's really that skeptic look from people, like "Why are you here?" No one really owes you anything. We have this phrase...
Raymond: 'Yon. No one really owes you their love or their approval, so you have to prove your worth.
BJ with Solenn Heussaff, Kelsey Merritt, and Janine Gutierrez
Which [of the celebrities you've shot] was the easiest girl to shoot?
BJ: All of the girls are different. Some girls are easier to shoot in one way, some girls in another. I think it's obvious that I really like shooting a girl when napakaraming shoots ko na lumalabas with them. All the muses in my book...they're my favorite girls.
Raymond: And they're all very different. Some of them are models, others are artistas...
BJ: Iba-iba. I don't think it's just one thing. It's really the connection, especially during the first shoot when you like someone.
How is it different shooting men from women?
BJ: It's surprisingly harder for me to shoot men, kaya every one of my muses is a girl...except for Enchong [Dee]. I just really like [shooting] girls more. I think the challenge with shooting men is trying to make the shots more interesting. It's really the same range of poses, dapat not too feminine...
Raymond: And they're more guarded.
BJ: Yes, and there's hair and makeup to consider, too.
BJ and Raymond Ang
You've done and achieved so much in such a short amount of time. What fuels your creativity after all these years?
BJ: It could get really repetitive working in this industry. Sometimes, pare-pareho na lang 'yong sino-shoot, lalo na mga advertising products. So what really fuels my creativity is doing editorials, just creating pictures that tell a story. I think traveling, watching shows and movies, visiting museums...
Raymond: You can't just be inspired by fashion or magazines...
BJ: Yeah, parang ngayon...I want to study art history, so it's really everything. It's art, culture, so many things.
You didn't really start your career as a photographer, and you dabbled in a lot of things before getting there. What pushed you to make that change?
BJ: Photography was really my interest, even back in high school, but I never considered it as a career. I was from Cavite then I went to Manila for college, and there were so many new things I wanted to try. I dabbled into graphic design, styling...ganyan. I think there was just this one point where I thought, "If you really want to be great, I think you have to be great in just one thing, and not just 'okay' in many things." So I just went back to my first love...photography.
Any piece of advice for aspiring photographers who want to enter the industry?
Raymond: It's such a cliched thing to say, but a lot of people enter this industry thinking it's really glamorous and it's super fun every day. I mean, a part of it is fun—for example, this [book] launch is fun, but there was four months that we would really toil for the book. There are days that shoots would last from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., and then the next day, there would be a shoot that would start at 8 a.m. That's not glamorous. We would love to sleep [laughs].
BJ: It's not an easy job. I think young people have to understand that kasi minsan, maraming gustong mag-assist, tapos kapag nakita nilang mahirap pala 'yong trabaho, ayaw na nila. If you really want to make it, you really need a good work ethic.
Raymond: If you want to be a photographer for the glamorous life, don't do it.
Push: Muses, Mischief & How to Make It in Manila is out in bookstores and newsstands for P395.