I’ve known Shaira Luna for years. I was working at Hinge Inquirer when I met her. I think she was there because she was being featured for one of the titles. We got to talk and she mentioned that she wanted to take photos. We assigned her to do event coverage for us, usually for music events. I was extra careful because she was just a kid then (at least that’s how I saw her) and whether she admits it or not, she’s somewhat of a celebrity (she’s going to laugh at this statement haha). Seeing her potential, we started giving her shoot assignments for our features— taking profile photos of musicians. She enjoyed it a lot. Years went by and I’ve moved from one magazine to the next and we would still work on shoots and projects. I’m happy that even though she’s one of the most sought-after photographers in the country, she’s still the kind and cheerful Shaira that I first met. She’s very unique.
When I got an invite to the book launch of Playing Long After Us, Shaira’s book of photography and stories, I knew that I’d regret it if I didn’t go. It was in the mid-afternoon, which was super perfect, and it was held at the PICC…bongga!
The book is composed of five chapters with Shaira’s photographs married by stories from husband and wife tandem Marla Miniano-Umali and Anton Umali. The launch was a pretty intimate gathering of some familiar faces from the press and music industry.
There was a really Instagram worthy set-up of a vintage looking bedroom and sala courtesy of Justine Bumanlag and Shaira took photos of her guests there. HA! Instant photo shoot.
It was a short program with acoustic performances by Shanne Dandan and IV of Spades that made it an instantaneous private gig.
Here’s a short Q&A with Shaira about her book and how she would photograph one of her favorite people.
How do you come up with the narrative of your photos?
It depends. If I’m shooting for an editorial, there’s usually a story to tell based on the clothes. But the way I shoot it in my head is usually different from what the brief is. Sometimes the story is really just about the clothes but to make it easier for me to shoot and to make is easier for my models, I try to invent something else. I think it really helps everyone to get in the mood and it helps everyone to feel more comfortable. When it comes to my personal shoots, they’re usually based on the clothes that I have available, perhaps the location that I was able to find. Sometimes, I also base my stories on the model. If they look like someone from the past, I try to build a story around that but sometimes it’s just a plain room, sometimes I don’t even have a lot of clothes so it’s pakikiramdam. I think I can tell easily if someone is comfortable using his or her imagination, I can also tell if they’re shy. I tailor each shoot to the people I work with I never force anything. If something is not going to work, I have to immediately switch on another light bulb so that everything flows smoothly. But for Playing Long After Us, we decided that we would almost do the same thing that I do for my Facebook photos, a lot of my shoots are based on songs, lyrics, or song titles. Each chapter is actually a song title, so what I did was enumerate my favorite songs from each era—from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. I picked specific songs that came out during those years then Anton, Marla, and I narrowed down the list into the titles that we can make a story out of.
What made you decide to publish Playing Long After Us?
I think it was mid-last year that Anton mentioned that Summit Books was interested in doing a book with me. One of the publishers was also hinting that Summit Books wanted to publish a book. Publishing a book was never in my foreseeable future, it wasn’t a goal of mine. I love books; I grew up with books but I’m pretty much content with that and this is just an icing on the cake, having my own book. The deciding factor was that they assured me that it didn’t have to be about me or didn’t have to a biography. I didn’t even want my photo anywhere, although I do have a little BTS photo at the back. I really want it to be like the things I post on Facebook; the things I shoot every free day I have. It wasn’t that I was scared to publish a book, it’s just that I don’t see my pictures in exhibits or being sold. I’m content at posting them on Facebook and Instagram, I like to joke that it’s the same work except that it’s portable and that I can actually give it to people for Christmas hahaha.
If you’re going to take a photo of Florence Welch [Florence and the Machine], where will it happen and what would the mood be like? Iiyak ka ba? Hahahaha!
Well, alam na natin yung sagot hahaha. Whenever I see Florence and all her images, I’m daydreaming half the time. Every time I watch her music videos, I don’t feel like I’m sitting in front of the computer, I feel like I’m in a book; in another world. Again, I can trace this back to my childhood when I look at the stories that I used to write and read, a lot of them had fire-red hair and spoke about fairies, bravery, and magical things, I think that made me attract to Florence. If I were to shoot her, I would cry. I’d shoot her probably somewhere cold, I don’t envision her shooting anywhere else but in the United Kingdom with lots of roses and sparkles and it would be very hazy. And she’d have the most fabulous vintage dress on. Maybe I could shoot her in her house but I’m going to bet you a lot of money that I’m not going to be able to do anything if I see her in person. To watch her in concert would be enough for me. I’m thankful that she exists.