The Philippine Star
BJ Pascual is a pusher
The wunderkind photographer is ready for his closeup. In a new book, BJ Pascual looks back on his kaleidoscopic seven years in the biz, in the name of telling you how to make it in Manila.
B J Pascual was on the verge of crying. What was supposed to be a perfect day was fast turning into a nightmare. After months of hard work, he had finally landed a plum project: a gatefold cover of a fashion magazine featuring nine of ABS CBN’s brightest female stars; an assignment his contemporaries would have killed for. The studio was packed. There were about a hundred people in there: handlers, road managers, and other behind-the-scenes characters who wield their own kind of power in showbiz. The floor was abuzz — with disappointed murmurs, that is. BJ was shooting the celebrities by twos and by threes, prompting the impatient spectators to (loudly) whisper, “Ano ba yan? Bakit ang tagal? Sino ba yan? Marunong ba talaga yan?”
“Mangiyak-ngiyak ako nun,” BJ shrieks, remembering how frazzled he felt. On top of hearing all the snide comments and working around the stars’ temperaments (two were at war, one was in the blackest of moods), there was supreme pressure to deliver a stunning cover. That cover shoot experience was a rude awakening for then-21-year-old BJ who, blame it on youthful bravado, thought he was the sh*t. “Aaminin ko talaga na nung bata ako, quiet lang ako pero in my mind, invincible ako,” BJ admits. “(My mindset was) Yung ginagawa nila, kaya ko yan! Mas magaling pa ako diyan… and then you step into the real world.”
Five years and many more humbling moments later, BJ Pascual is no longer the insecure lensman shyly instructing his superstar subjects to please turn this way or that. At photo shoots, the soft-spoken outlier no longer has to introduce himself. In fact, he is now a brand ambassador himself, capable of pushing premium smartphones and imported ice cream bars. Just recently, BJ flew to Singapore to be a panelist for Asia’s Next Top Model — a clue that his talent and impeccable byline are spreading beyond our shores. This month, he ups the ante by adding another layer to his thriving brand: BJ Pascual, author.
BJ GETS BOOKED
Push: Muses, Mischief & How To Make It In Manila (P395, available in all leading bookstores and newsstands) is BJ’s first book — a dream project realized way earlier than expected. “Wala talaga akong balak gumawa ng book ngayon,” he says with an eye roll, clearly aware it’s too early in the game for a retrospective. But Raymond Ang (noted writer and editor of Besties and Love Local, and BJ’s friend and frequent collaborator) made the photographer an offer he couldn’t refuse: to come up with a book for the high school and college kids who look up to him. “They tweet or send BJ messages, asking him how to become a photographer, a stylist, etc. Or how he got to where he is at such a young age. This is a book for those kids. Kasi we were all those kids when we were younger, di ba,” shares Raymond. But beyond that, Raymond had a very personal reason for wanting to make the BJ book happen: it was going to be his first project under Made of Bricks Philippines, his own imprint. “It’s an organic first step for my imprint
kasi totoo. This is a real friendship and I want to start with something I know.” (Cute trivia: Raymond and BJ actually met via Supreme some five years ago. Raymond, then a contributor, was helping produce a most promising young people list, which BJ was a part of.)
Once BJ gave the go- signal, Raymond got art director Patrick Jamora on board, and enlisted talented creatives who aren’t household names yet. For instance, though BJ has access to famous stylists, they decided to get under-the-radar Anna Canlas, David Milan, and MJ Benitez to style the celebrities on the book covers instead.
Cover stars Nadine Lustre, Liza Soberano, Julia Barretto, and Kathryn Bernardo weren’t chosen at random either. These girls grew up with BJ in a sense: He shot the first Supreme covers of Liza, Julia and Kathryn, and shot Nadine’s debut Preview cover. (“I was still so nene back then [in her first Supreme cover, alongside Julia Montes], and I didn’t know how to strike a pose. But BJ was a breeze to work with,” says Kathryn.)
BJ’s eyes light up when he talks about his fantastic four. Despite her super-busy schedule, Nadine “made it work for BJ,” says Raymond, driving herself to his studio at 8 a.m. on a Sunday so they could do a quick shoot before she rushed to Bulacan for a show. Kathryn, who just finished a killer 10-layout campaign for Primadonna, agreed to shoot for the book cover from midnight to 2 a.m. despite her early flight the next day. Liza, bless her, really came through for BJ: Instead of rushing to a rehearsal, she went to BJ’s studio for a rat-a-tat one-hour shoot, possibly her way of saying thank you to one of the very first people who believed in her. (Raymond tells us the poor girl looked like she would pass out at any minute, but turned on the energy the minute the camera started clickflashing.) And Julia? She devoted an entire day for BJ, never refusing any of his requests.
But more than stunning images of these pretty young things, “every chapter of the book is a lesson,” explains Raymond. In Push, you will read fascinating anecdotes about BJ’s colorful journey: the very first photo he fell in love with, a capsule letter he wrote for his 2013 self in 2008, wisdom from his personal heroes. “It’s not me telling you ‘This is what I have achieved so far,’” BJ clarifies. “It’s about helping you break into the industry.”
CUT FROM A DIFFERENT CLOTH
Seven years in, the thing that bothers BJ the most is when people assume “chinika ko yung way ko to the top.” People who really know him will tell you BJ worked his ass off to be where he is now. (For the record, though he has tons of friends, BJ can count his trusted allies on one hand: Eizel Nocon, Princess Barretto and Liz Uy.) Eizel, his ex manager/friend for more than 20 years now, says, “I remember when we were in college, he would stay at the school library for hours, just studying and poring over photography books.” Despite getting gigs during and after college, BJ never lost that desire to perfect his craft, which drove him to fly to New York to take intensive photography classes at three different schools: Parsons, International Center for Photography, and FIT. ( Wowa Josefina and Lolo Silvestre, if you’re reading this, BJ’s eternally grateful for your complete support for his passion and art.) “He gives so much effort and value to every single photo he takes,” adds Eizel. “I guess that’s the formula to his success — he’s not just innately talented, but also hard working.”
Anna Canlas, former Preview magazine editor and stylebible.ph editor in chief — and one of BJ’s favorite collaborators — reveals a side of BJ only a lucky handful are privy to: “(He’s) deeply thoughtful! He writes long letters of appreciation... and in turn I write him glowing profiles in the press. Lol.” BJ tells anyone who will listen that people in the fashion industry started taking him seriously because of the pivotal “Billie Jean” Preview fashion editorial he worked on with Anna and Cit Cit Sioson. (“It was also Cit Cit and mine’s styling debut in Preview. Huge deal for all of us,” says Anna.)
Raymond, who only knew of BJ at the time, saw that spread and was wowed. “That really announced who he was. I was like, ‘Wow. Iba siya.’”
Talent is a dime a dozen in this industry, reiterates Raymond, and he says it is never enough. “I know very few people like BJ,” Raymond ruminates. “Si BJ, never yan bumibitaw. He will be on vacation and he will still be thinking about work, how to do it better. Kahit lumabas siya ng todo, he will show up at a shoot the next day at 7 a.m.”
Raymond isn’t exaggerating. A year ago, BJ and this author partied hard in Cebu. It was our last night after a grueling four-day shoot, and our generous new friend Jaja Rama (a.k.a. the Queen of Cebu) was keeping the Patron shots flowing. At 4 a.m., back in our hotel room, I was ready to pass out. But BJ was still standing… with a pen and paper in hand. “Let’s think of the boys we will shoot for the September issue,” he announced. As I crawled off to bed, he literally dragged me to the veranda chair, made me drink water, and got down to business. We drafted a list in half an hour. What did I tell you? BJ Pascual is a pusher.