Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Fantastic Ms. Luna

5:29 AM

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Shaira Luna is a woman who wears many hats. Not just in the physical sense (she does confess that she owns a significant number of them), but in the figurative one as well. She's been quite a number of things over the years: a child genius, an expert ukay-ukay shopper, a talented musician, and a t.v. show producer — all labels that have shaped who she is today in one way or another. Nowadays, she is simply a photographer (and occasional model).

If you haven't been living under a rock for the past year or so, you'd know that Shaira is a widely known name in the publication industry, having photographed everything and everyone—from celebrities and politicians to furniture and food.

Look no further than the credits column of any random magazine (that you probably already own or spot on a rack in a coffee shop): there's a 95% chance that you'd see her name under the “photographers” heading. To prove that I am not exaggerating, let me tell you this: her work has graced the pages of over 50 big name magazines like Mega, Preview, Philippine Tatler, People Asia, Esquire, Town & Country, and Candy.

I'd been seeing her name in passing many times, but it was only last September that I decided to read up on her, after I came across her photo in an underwear catalog (of all places!). It was the caption that struck me most, which was an answer to a question about what she considers brave about her line of work. She spoke of how her goal is always to communicate a vision in spite of her introverted personality.

A couple of emails later, and I got to meet her on a Saturday morning in late October. It's safe to say that as the product of so many different experiences and labels, she's knows what it's like to go through phases in the same way that we have. It isn’t just about the fact that she was successfully able to transition—it's in how she was able to do it (hint: it involves saying yes a lot).

This hardworking quality, combined with her lovely personality, was what showed even during our interview. The power had just gone out at the mall we were at, and Top 40 hits blasted noisily from inside the grocery. As a self-declared morning person, Shaira still answered every question with her signature wide smile and her contagious cheerful disposition — two characteristics that reminded me of Roald Dahl's BFG, except with the same countenance as Matilda.

Read on to see what she had to say about the importance of these characters in her life, the problem with the whole concept of “finding yourself”, and the History Channel!

Let's start with how you're doing now. What can you say about your current self?
I'm coming to terms with me being 28. I cannot for the life of me believe that I'm 28. It's so surreal, 'cause it sounds so old. I actually feel younger than I did before, if that makes sense? So many new opportunities are coming along, and I feel like I don't have enough arms or enough time to do what I wanna do.

I'm at a really good stage in my life.

Is photography your only thing now? I mean, have you been doing anything else lately?
No, it's really been photography for the last 8 years.

Before that, how did you end up getting to photography?
I really started as a writer. When I was in high school, I was already writing for Mod magazine, and then I was writing for News and Current Affairs in ABS [CBN]. I worked for a morning show. I was a segment producer, so I'd make the stuff you watch on the morning show, my own little segment for young people.

So I was really writing. Photography—I never had that. I didn't even own a camera.

My exposure to media was really early on, like mass media in general.

Do you feel like your growth as a photographer coincided with specific milestones in your life? If so, how have these experiences translated into your work?
I don't really record milestones... well my mom used to. When she was still here, she would document every single event of guesting, hosting. So I think that's where I milestone[s]. I just go with the flow; I don't really have any plans.

It [my photography] has a life of its own. That's the way to describe it. I just go with the flow. For example, I did a magazine cover, it doesn't really coincide with anything in my life.

And that doesn't really translate to your work?
No, not really. 'Cos even if you look at my work, it's so many different things at once. It's really hard to tie it down with something that happened with my life. Basically it's always daydreaming. That's why you can't really pin it down to anything: it's always in the clouds.

You have a background in science. You say that letting go of the technical side makes it easier—you just let things flow. Was it easy to come to that realization?
I like details. If I weren't a photographer, like if I were still in medicine, I'd probably be CSI [laughs] or something like that. I think it's just when you do experiments in science, like when you observe, I think that's the only good thing you're good at.

Do you ever go back to that background? As in, do you ever feel the same way you used to when poring over those science books or erm...dissecting frogs?
Maybe before I was used to that 'cos I didn't know there was anything else. Now, even if I know that there are a lot of options for me, I still enjoy photography.

Does it feel the same way?
It's better.

Was there a moment where a light bulb just switched on in your head and you decided to switch fields entirely or was it really just a gradual change?
It was really gradual. I would just be thankful every time someone wanted me to shoot. “Oh, okay cool, I'll shoot. Maybe I'll just do my serious studying next week.” or “maybe I'll just go back to school next month.” But there would always be a shoot after. That was the lucky thing for me—I would always have shoots coming even though I wasn't looking for shoots.

So it was just all for fun?
Yeah, and then new requirements. Like, “hey, can we shoot in daylight and there won't be shade. Maybe I need a reflector.” So I'd get a reflector. And then all of a sudden I had all of this equipment. After a while, it was “hmm... maybe I'm a photographer.” So it was really just going with the flow.

You can never exactly set it apart from your past because the past is the basis for that. Did you decide to just turn your back on it and start anew or are there still shadows of it lurking around somewhere?
The funny thing is that the stuff I was doing before is sort of coming back now. All of sudden I wanna play the flute again, suddenly I wanna play this instrument again. I don't think I really turned my back on it. Maybe I was just distracted or I just found something new. You can't totally turn your back on something, it'll always be there. I don't mind it being there.

Do you still know how to play these instruments?
Oh my god, I'm learning how to play the drums again.

It's like my photography, I always like having shadows of the past.

You've talked about how it was easy for you, as a kid, to try out everything in terms of musical instruments and dance styles. How did going through all of that feel like in retrospect? How did that feel?
It was easy because I always had a teacher. Photography was the only thing that wasn't taught. So that was what was challenging, I had no one to ask whether what I was doing was right or wrong. I didn't have YouTube. There was nothing.

That was the challenge, not having a teacher—which I enjoyed a lot.

You said that photography was something that challenged you. What made it challenging, and why did you decide to pursue it in spite of that fact?
First of all, I'm scared of gadgets. When I got a camera, I didn't even wanna touch it. 'Cos I might mess it up, it being so expensive. The challenge was that I had so many things in my head that I wanted to do, but back then I couldn't. It was always imagination. I didn't wanna touch my camera. The challenge was telling yourself “it's okay, it won't explode.” It was always a battle with myself, like “just try it.”

What can you say to people who have fun doing something, but are not really sure whether they should keep doing it?
It's okay not being sure. I was never really sure about what I was doing, I just kept doing it. It's hard to say now because everyone has a camera, and there's social media. I think the situation's very different. During my time, I wouldn't recommend what I did because it's really uncertain. But now it's pretty easy to get into photography or to contribute to magazines. There's really no excuse for not being able to do what you wanna do. But I think it's really being dedicated to your craft. It's studying a lot.

Studying in what way?
I mean researching... it's not just shooting. You have to be aware... especially if you wanna be in magazines. You have to know what's required, who the audience is. It's basically being aware of everything.

So observation is one thing that you've always
Yeah, 'cause I really always look at light. Even if you tell me to shoot it and make it look like it’s a cloudy night, I can probably remember what the light looks like and I can figure out how to do it for the photo.

So can you say that there's a scientific sort of aspect to it [taking a photo]? I mean unconsciously, but it's probably there.
The geek lives [laughs]. And, even when I bounce flash, it's like basic Physics. If you point the flash up there, it's gonna end up that way, you know. I can't explain, but you know. Sort of like that.

Our readers are mostly high school and college students—a majority of whom are still in the process of "finding themselves". What can you say about your own journey to where you are now?
It's like we make finding ourselves a really big deal these days, it's like soul searching or whatever. But sometimes we get lost in the process of finding ourselves. I don't think it's necessary to find yourself when you're in high school or when you're college—even when you're 40, maybe you don't really actually find yourself. It's really living in the moment, just being you. If nothing's happening in your life right now, that's okay. It's really just society telling you that by this age you have to do something. I think it's about time we can chill about things and take everything as it goes.

It took 10 years for me to do what I'm doing now and be happy. I was happy in the process, but it's not like I set goals that I had to meet or else I'd beat myself up over if I didn't get to meet those goals. Umm...yeah that's what I always tell people. This wasn't overnight. I started shooting at 19, I'm 28 now. I mean, it's a lot of hard work. Just really taking things slow.

You don't need to find yourself now. Take everything in.

How did you come to move on from the labels and begin to embrace yourself?
I just kept shooting. I never introduced myself to clients as “I was this before...” I mean if they'd say “[w]eren't you the something something?” I'd say “[y]eah.” For the first maybe four years, “She's our photographer, remember she used to be the Promil Kid...” But now, hardly anyone knows about it. Unless they're my age, or if you'd Google me, you'd know. It's like I've come into my own as a photographer, and I didn't have to force that. It was very gradual.

Did you have any sources of inspiration growing up? Did you have any phases when it came to your interests?
When I first started, I thought I was gonna be a band photographer. That was my only exposure. I didn't know about fashion or shooting billboards. It's cause I would take any shoot I could. So that's when my eyes were opened to different kinds of photography. And I tried everything, so that's how I was able to start to find inspiration for things I liked to do.

When I started shooting fashion, “Ooh fashion is interesting,” and that's when I started getting into clothes. When you get into clothes, you get into the history of clothes. Then you look at icons “who wore those clothes?” And then suddenly you're in the era of film and music. It's a lot like mushrooming... once you're interested in something and you research, that's gonna open up so many different doors. It's like when you go on YouTube and you click on the right part [suggested videos], suddenly you're on a weird part of YouTube.

Like with Buzzfeed!
I love Buzzfeed!

It's like whenever you scroll to the bottom and there are always those suggested articles, and you always end up clicking them.
I've watched every single taste test video on Buzzfeed. Have you seen those?

Yeah! We actually attempted to do one for our school paper's online magazine. People had mixed reactions.
Well, at least you guys tried. (laughs).

So did you have any specific inspirations in terms of pop culture?
Just recently. I didn't used to have inspirations.

So you just went with it?
Yeah, whatever was needed, I would do. So if you look at my early pictures, for each client, it's so different. I would be like the Genie. They'd rub me, and I'd give their wish. I used to be like that. So I think that's how I was trained. I taught myself to do everything people needed until I sort of [figured] “Oh, I can just do my own thing,” or "I can do my own thing outside of work."

I read that you're into old movies and the feel of them, and it comes out in your pictures...
Mostly my personal pictures. It's good if the new photographers can do that, but like with the stuff I do...I shoot, and whatever money I get I put into my personal stuff. It just goes around.

What was your style at the start?
I didn't have my own style. It wasn't until a make-up artist or hairstylist said “Saan yung personal work mo?” What. “Wala kang shino-shoot. Like, just on your own. Your own photos.” [and I said] “Oh.” [He replied by saying] “Sige, mag-shoot ka ng sa 'yo lang!” And it just went from there.

Yeah, weird, no? A lot of people do their personal stuff first then they move to magazines. Which is good because now a lot of the pegs come from my own shoots.

Usually people think that they have to find out what they want to do right away, but then you don't really have to, right?
You'll get there eventually. I have a lot of really ugly photos from before. I'd experiment with Photoshop, and contrast and do those four-colored green-yellow-red things that [people] did before.

We do a lightning round for everyone we interview, where we ask them about their favorite stuff. I'll say them and all you have to do is answer with the first thing that comes to mind. 

Food: Cucumber
Movie: Matilda
T.V. Series: Ancient Aliens and Long Island Medium... It's pretty mababaw—Pickers, Storage Wars. I wake up at 4:30am to watch Ancient Aliens, Pickers, and Storage Wars. 
Book: I'd say Matilda, but I already said that. The folk of the faraway tree. It's by Enid Blyton. 

[EDITOR'S NOTE: She has a tattoo of Quentin Blake's illustration of Matilda and Enid Blyton's signature on her arms!]

Place: In my imagination, I guess maybe like the moor in Sherlock Holmes. That would be my favorite place.
Angle: Behind something. Like I'm always watching the subjects.
Shooting Location: Wherever it's cold and gray.
On location or studio? On location. I do a lot of studio shoots, but you hardly see that on my Instagram. 
Era: '50s menswear. I tend to go by eras. I also like long billowy, fairy-looking things, but you can't wear that in real life. 
Character: Big Friendly Giant! And Jane Birkin if it's a favorite person
Author: Roald [Dahl].
Dream places to shoot: The UK. All my influences are from there, all my favorite authors
Song/Album: I really like Fiona Apple. Fiona and Florence are really good poets.
Crash into me-Dave Matthews
Photographer: Street photographers from the 50’s.

Do you see yourself doing anything else at the moment? Do you see yourself in another phase?
Well, maybe if it's going to happen, it'll happen somewhere else. 

At the moment, there are still so many things I wanna shoot and so many stories I wanna tell. I can't even fathom thinking about something else at this point. It's almost exhausting. I have so many things to do that I really wanna do, like that I'm excited to do. It's never been like “Ugh, I have so much stuff to do”. It's always like, “Oh. I wanna do something so I have to wake up early”. It's like I have caffeine in my veins or something.

Maybe doing the same thing but somewhere else, in a different environment. Maybe in the UK. 

That's about it, thank you very much for doing this!
You're welcome! I'm so sorry, I'm just very hyper in the morning. I'm a morning person. 

You can check out Shaira's amazing photos on her website
, as well as on her Instagram and Facebook accounts.  

This interview is part of a segment that we have every theme where we feature awesome people. If you want us to feature anyone you know, please email us at with MUSE OF THE MONTH NOMINATION in the subject field. In the body, please include a brief explanation (10 sentences max.) of why we should pick the person, your relation to the person, and attach a picture of the two of you (may be separate or together). Please and thank you! 

Article by Gaby
Photos by Arielle

Gaby is used to working quietly in the background. The Thing is her first big attempt at taking the lead. She isn't sure how it is going to go, considering that most of her time is spent trying to get her dog to listen to her. On most days, you would find her at her computer, excessively bookmarking links to DIY projects and articles about teenage wunderkind.

Arielle is currently a fine arts student (Information Design). She loves taking pictures, watching movies, going to new places, hoarding books and collaborating with other people to make things. She would like to pursue a career in photography, film and design (yes all three) in the future.


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