“what should have been chocolate brownies”
This is the full, unabridged version of the article. Thanks, Jie, for sharing it with me! – CP
That Everyday Magic
(Note: this is going to be on a more personal level since the subject happens to be this writer’s classmate since Kindergarten)
KatShots Photography is a product of Chiqui Pineda. Familiar name, you say. This person was born in Davao City, made her way to Manila as a college student and became a professional singer, joined a noontime TV show, launched the immortal song “How Did You Know?” still being sung in videoke bars, and performed brilliantly in the lauded musical Rama at Sita. It is the same person who chose to slip away from the limelight to settle quietly in Toronto, Canada with her family. Being the artist that she is, she opted to explore another passion close to the heart.
“I begged my Dad for his Pentax Asahi, his own toy from the 60s and began snapping at the siblings, cousins, the entire Pineda (Dad’s) and Ongkingco (Mom’s) families. I was the family’s official photographer since 12 or 13! I experimented with expensive film pa nun!” she gushes in her normal high spirit.
In the same way she tackled her singing career, photography for Chiqui was self-taught. She has attended various workshops in Toronto and back in Manila, shadowed and observed photographer friends in action, read tons of materials, and browsed through websites.
“I learned Photoshop and Lightroom tricks from YouTube. I have a few photo communities, on Flickr and Facebook (Pinoy Kodakeros being my favorite!) and we exchange information in a very friendly banter. This is how I continue to learn. My love for photography is not diminished by my being a busy mom to three but I admit it’s not an easy juggling act. Most of all, I follow my heart. The best recognition I continue to receive are the tears of joy I witness in my clients eyes as they look through finished products whether they are enlargements for their walls or hardbound coffee table books, my best seller. I’m a storyteller at heart and this comes out as naturally in my creations. My photobooks are like my babies because I put so much of myself in each one of them. My heart breaks a little each time I have to part and turn them over to the client.”
Photography brings Chiqui maddening happiness and fun, and it seeps not only throughout her being, but spills out into her images of joyful compositions, of subjects in a state of candid glee. Children, for instance, are her foremost favorite since she has honed her skills photographing her three beautiful kids since they were babies.
“I like that my subjects can run and tumble and skip around and bump into each other and laugh and cry because of it! Then, a close second would be photographing the parents of these rowdy rascals. Mom and Dad would sooner or later say ‘Since we’re having the kids photographed already, let’s just jump in along for the ride, shall we? Have grandma and grandpa join, too.’ We invest so much in the grand wedding, the big debut, the momentous graduation when the ordinary day-to-day sacred scenarios count as much, too! I firmly believe it’s actually in these moments that we find the most connection, the most meaning and yes, the precious ordinary magic. I specialize in A Day In A Life Series. This is my bestseller, as a photographer/entrepreneur, mainly because I am a storyteller at heart,” she continues with as much fervor as when she is belting out ballads (which you can find in embedded in her blog, by the way).
Chiqui believes that a photographer’s mood is everything in a shoot. She cannot be instantly chummy with her clients, so she spends several minutes shooting away before the real, unconscious poses comes out.
“Mood and feel: It’s all transference, baby. Some will say, ‘Ah, don’t worry. Fix and just edit later.’ I disagree. Emotion, that’s uneditable. The model/clients can be in her tip-top teen glory, all coiffed and gorgeous and still come out blasé, unmoving. Such shiny, perfectly polished photos but dead, kasi na-over ang airbrushing pero wala namang kaluluwa sa mata (no soul in the eyes)! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my Photoshop, Lightroom and all these tools of our trade. All I’m saying is there’s got to be substance, that basic truth in the photo and then layer on the extra love after. That unnamable feeling in the subject’s eye, in her body language–even if it’s fake sa umpisa. I’m a big believer in ‘Fake it till you make it!’ as far as a photo session is concerned. Even professional actors need a proper warming up. Which is why I shoot at least 200 images before I can really say ‘This is it, here we go-sago!’ I don’t know most of my clients. There’s that awkward moment of stiff and feeling all silly. After 15-20 minutes, it’s real na. You’re actually having fun. If I, the photographer, am having fun, my subjects will, too. Bato nalang and hindi matuwa. Yung mga nag-titigas tigasan until the end, hay naku, lugi!”
With acting and musical workshops from her former career, she has been most successful in easing out shyness from her subjects and getting the most introverted to have fun with her.
She confides, “I value spontaneity the most. Of course, there is the initial set up of the scene and I prefer it to be the most comfortable, most familiar of settings for my precious models. Especially with children, I ask the parents to bring familiar objects with them – stuffed animals, favorite blankets, that special Tomas the Train toy – these help put them at ease. Light, loads of natural light! Having a nice, even sunlight is the best of all. I prefer my images in fresh color, the more intense, the better.”
Being granted precious trust and faith by clients is a privilege for Chiqui. Working primarily with families deals with sensitivity, patience and a large amount of tolerance. She concentrates not so much on big events that is mostly stressful to handle, but prefers to tackle the magic of everyday moments normally taken for granted.
“It continues to bring me lots of fun. Even before I became familiar with the teachings of Joseph Campbell, I was already practicing “Follow your bliss!” Singing is bliss! Photography is bliss! Art and creativity is bliss! Once the initial tension has melted away and we are just old friends chatting, then that’s when the real magic begins. Prolonged, everlasting magic because after the photo session, there’s the hard copy, the image that can last a lifetime and beyond! Our job, our beloved passion creates immortality. If we can’t live forever, at the very least, we can make an attempt at immortalizing the story of one person, one family, one event or moment in time that we want to pass on to the children and generations after. We take for granted this power to immortalize as we get caught up in our day to day grind. Everyday is sacred, ordinary magic, and it’s my calling to remind people about it.”
Chiqui’s biggest accomplishment as a photographer is creating unforgettable pieces infused with love and spontaneity, which she refers to as Everyday Magic. Her hope is that her images will carry over through the years and invoke the same feeling when you first looked at them 20-30 years down the road.
“My brand of photography connects with the heart and not just the eye or mind, in the same way that my main goal in my musical performances is to create that feeling deep within. To be able to feel and not just see a photo, basic elements must be present –1) the genuine rapport between photographer and subject and 2) the mutual intention of photographer and subject: to be as real, as unguarded, vulnerable as can be. I use the word intention because there are times when it will feel awkward from beginning to end. The warm vibe just doesn’t settle on our skins. It happens. That’s okay. The pureness of intention will carry us through.”
These are words of quiet, zen wisdom from Mary Cathreen “Chiqui/Kat” Pineda-Azimi who, at a tender age of 7, used to start the daily flag ceremony with a soulful rendition of “Bayang Magiliw” in Stella Maris Academy of Davao that prompted everyone to sing along. She has taken the magic with her since.
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My attempt at a self-portrait that got photo-bombed by these two. So very worth it! xox, cp