The Art of Adrian Gonzales
Interview by Blanc Magazine Online, p. 48

Give a brief walk through about yourself and your works so far.

My name is Adrian Gonzales, a recent graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman with a degree in BA Film. I am a fashion and portrait photographer and an aspiring filmmaker as well. I am in love with the arts and I like to take pictures.

I started with photography by initially taking random snapshots of friends. Photography, back then, served as a “stress reliever” from my former course’s (BS ECE) daily grind. It was something I felt convenient doing in between school works and preparing for exams – not to say I was a good student, but I could at least tell myself that I tried! Putting that aside however, I guess photography was the one thing I’d turn to when things get tough. Escapism? Maybe. But to be completely honest, I just loved taking pictures.

I never really had plans of pursuing it at first. Soon enough though, I found myself having become attached to the craft. It didn’t take long when I decided to finally shift courses and take film. It was the only course in school I knew that used the camera which is why I chose it. My course has influenced my aesthetic, so most of my works – especially the earlier ones – were highly inspired by film. The type of films I liked to watch, those that mostly dealt with the concept of unrequited love and long distance (eg. Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express and Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, etc.), helped me in the process of creating themes for my photo shoots. But being influenced by foreign material isn’t everything because as time passed, and as I’ve come to gain more experience in the field, I realize I could work with any kind of aesthetic provided I could bring parts of myself into the material and somehow be able to relate to it.

More than being about work, photography for me is a passion and lifestyle that require personal investment. I always believed in the notion that you couldn’t create anything if you don’t put and set yourself – your mind, heart, and soul – into it. Hard work, determination, and perseverance are important key elements; but it is “reason,” I believe, that is truly integral in the creation of something, of anything, but more so, of art. An artist would have to ask himself why he does what he does and for what, exactly? His “reason” would then be his drive, and all these will translate well into becoming the work’s message, regardless whether or not the artist blatantly intended for certain and specific advocacies to surface.

Simply put, it is “reason” that serve as drive and inspiration for one’s art and its expression.

When did you officially start to call yourself a photographer?

Like I said earlier, I’ve started taking photos even when I was still an engineering student. However, it was around the year of 2009 when I shifted to film school that I began to feel like I had the right to call myself one. Though even then, I still had my reservations as I felt like I needed more time and experience.

Still, I eventually gained confidence partly because of the course I was studying at the time which was somehow related to the field I wanted to pursue. It was then when I first experienced getting contacted by agency represented models requesting that they wanted to do shoots with me, etc. My first test shoot was with two PFW American models, both of which then after referred me to designers they know of. That shoot has landed me to do my very first campaign and “lookbook” photos for a designer, particularly with fashion house Duerr back in early 2009. Everything else followed since then.

I started to actively seek out for job opportunities by the start of year 2012, as it was also the same year when I’ve officially graduated college. Prior graduation, I was really focused on finishing school first. I wanted to get a degree before I pursued the field professionally. However, I guess I was lucky to have had a few offers even then when I was still a student for it gave me a good head start to projects I’m pursuing now.

What/who were your subjects when you first started out?

Prior to getting to work with professional models in 2009, I would have to say that my very first subjects were the friends I’ve met and have grown with when I was still an engineering student. They have inspired me a lot, most especially because they taught me various disciplines which I carry on with me until today, even if so many years have passed since then.

The lessons they have imparted on me continue to serve being part of a system of core values that I hold dear, and whenever I’m faced with trials or hard decisions related to the field, it is to these age-old lessons that I find myself running back to. Things I’ve learned from my friends include patience, dedication, passion, and perseverance (amongst many others), and that I think, …I just think that I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for them and the things they’ve taught me.

In a way, it has helped me remain grounded and realistic about the idea of chasing one’s dreams, but at the same time, they’ve inspired me to continue moving forward and to keep going. I’m always grateful that they have become a part of my life, even if for the short time I was an engineering student.

I think, if anything, their influence on me have carried on towards the photographs I create, even until today – from the aesthetic, the subject, and/or the way I would compose my images, etc. – these photographs weren’t made just because of studying the field of film and/or camera technicalities, nor was it just because of self effort as I really believe that its always been more than about that. These photos were made with heart. If anything, I do think that my craft – most evident through my earlier works – have chronicled my growth as an artist and as a photographer, but most importantly, as a person: who I am to people I care about and vice versa.

What is your educational and professional background and how do you feel it prepared you for a career in photography? Did you take classes or workshops?

I think my whole stay in the university has prepared me for it is there where I learned of the technical aspects of photography through film classes, not to mention I’ve also learned to create a style that’s influenced by film after having been exposed to films of all kinds. Since then, I’ve been keen to study lighting, cinematography, as well as semiotics or visual narratives that help further the context or story in a picture.

It is also in the university where I learned the more valuable stuff (eg. personal lessons on discipline and passion) as I explained in earlier answers.

Are you a self taught photographer or did you have a mentor that showed you the ropes?

More of self taught, I think. But, I do ask for advice from friends from time to time and if I had a chance to intern or assist to a professional photographer who’s also willing to teach me a few tricks, then I would apply as one.

How would you describe your style (in photography)?

Trendhunter.com has described one of my sets as a mixture of “childlike naiveté and sensual eroticism,” and I do think those descriptions sum up the aesthetic present in my works, more noticeable with works made back during the late 2011. Although more recently, I’ve tried to experiment with vibrant colors as influenced by fashion photographers Mert and Marcus. This is in contrast to a lot of my earlier works which has a matte feel.

I could describe my style as emotion filled, gritty and moody as influenced by filmmakers like Gus Van Sant and Wong Kar Wai – particularly with composition, lighting and color, as well as with subject matter and recurring themes. I also get inspiration from time to time from filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. The influence the field of film has brought upon me is inevitable, being that it’s the course of study I have taken, and I’ve utilized much of these influences in enhancing the aesthetic and visual element of my photographs.

I get my fashion inspiration from photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Steven Meisel. Their works are very avant garde and beautiful. I think anyone who’s seen their work would be just as inspired too.

What has been your most unforgettable shoot and why?

I have two unforgettable shoots. The first would be the shoot with Asian supermodel Brent Chua back in 2009. After having done some test shoots for PFW models and some designers, I unexpectedly got an invite from a stylist wanting me to do a shoot with Brent Chua. It was so exciting! To suddenly be invited to shoot a supermodel… it was just “wow!” I have no words for it! It’s even a greater feeling that Brent Chua turned out to be a real role model, aside from being the supermodel that he is. Brent is down to earth, and is great company. He was very creative when we had our shoot.

The other shoot I’d never forget is the one I randomly did with friends Kryon Grant and Enzo Apacible. It was really impromptu. Kryon drove us around Enzo’s village and we took photos that were inspired by highfashion – it was never meant to be anything serious. Two years after that photoshoot, something awesome happened – something like that of a dream! Vogue Italia announced on its website that it is accepting photos from aspiring photographers. That said, I submitted the ones I did with my friends not expecting anything, and the next thing I know, it is published on their webpages! Enzo’s shot was featured on Photovogue’s front page, while Kryon’s shot with his arms twisted upon his back was exhibited in Palazzo Morando, Milan. It was something we never even dreamed of, but it happened! Still stoked about it, actually.

What’s the picture you’re most proud of?

Basing upon artistic merits, I guess I’m most proud of the photos that got featured on Vogue Italia’s website and exhibit featuring Enzo and Kryon.

However, the kind of photos which I’m really proud of and would really mean a lot to me would be the snapshots I have taken of my friends. Specifically, snapshots I have taken chronicling our friendship that has spanned over six years. Looking at the pictures, I think it says a lot about how we all grew and changed, yet the friendship has remained intact for years. I like how I can personally see how we’ve all learned from each other just by looking at the pictures.

Do you have a favorite lens?  If so what is it?

None, really. I’m not really a techie person. What I care about are results, and if a common looking lens can achieve my vision, then I’d be satisfied. I’ve been using my camera’s kit lens since my first shoot. That’s not necessarily something I’m proud of since I should probably be investing on new lenses right now, but at the same time, I’m pretty choosy. That said, I haven’t made up my mind yet as to what type of lens to buy. I would buy all kinds of lenses if I had the budget, but I have just only started (in the field) so I try to be wise with my investments. I want to make sure that what I buy would something I would use as often as the lens I use now. I haven’t invested on any new lens yet since I’m not sure what exact model to buy yet. Instead, I am planning to save up for a new camera body, and my own studio.

Which one item of equipment would you say is the most important to you?

It’s not really equipment, but an element in photography that I consider to be very important: lighting. It’s what makes or breaks a picture, and it is flexible enough to be used to a variety of shoots: whether black and white photography or colored, whether for commercial purpose or highfashion.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I get inspired by “the moment.” If there’s something I see, or feel, or touch and I think I could make a concept out of it, then I go ahead and do it. Secondary influences include the artists I look up to, but my primary reference would always be my own experiences. I try to translate what it is that I feel, or envision in my mind. It is my art after all, so I might as well impart original material in it. My art is my own expression.

How do you decide on locations & subjects?

It really depends on the concept. I do with what works best for a certain theme. Sometimes, I’m forced to be resourceful if there is a lack of funds, or if outsourcing is difficult.

What is the difference between working on a female and a male subject?

For me, to be honest, there isn’t much difference. I’d book either male or female for as long as it works best with the given theme or concept. I usually get androgynous looking males, and while I like pretty female models, I usually would have them styled in a way that’s boyish looking too. So for me, there isn’t much difference in terms of looks. I believe that it is the aesthetic of the photograph that defines it, and not the gender of the model used.

Your works, I believe, are classified as artistic fashion photography – would you do something very “commercial”?

Yes, I’m very much open to doing commercial work for as long as it is in line with the core values and ethical beliefs I subscribe to. While the nature of commercial photography is reliant on consumerism, I do believe that one can incorporate artistic vision in it, even though it may be a challenge.

Talk us through the shoot with Danica, how was it?

It was a concept that has evolved so many times before finally becoming to what it is now. If anything, I’d describe my shoot with Danica as an adventure. It was exciting because it’s not every day, I think, that an aspiring photographer gets to work with a Ford Supermodel winner. But, I think, what made it really memorable was how everything was just easy going – from the conceptual process to the shoot proper itself – it was all free flowing just like how “art” is. We let “art” and our ideas take us to where the collaboration’s meant to become. That being said, I love how a naive, aimless concept can progress and evolve into something that shows much of the artist’s personality who made it, and all this without even trying.

I initially wanted something dark, so we had pictures of Sasha Pivovarova as an initial peg. However my stylist, Ria Casco, reminded me that our model’s features aren’t Caucasian, and so we had to make sure that while our inspiration is westernized, our work had to feel natural and match local aesthetics.

Sometime during conceptualization, I was approached by Threadless.com artist Vaughn Pinpin asking me if I knew of any photographer who wanted to collaborate with him. I immediately volunteered and asked what he had in mind. Vaughn then told me that he was inspired by James Jean’s line art for Prada. That being his peg, we eventually came up with a localized version of it, combining my photography featuring Danica Magpantay with Vaughn’s unique and fantasy-like illustrations. The result is a homage to ancient Filipino folklore. It took us about a month to prepare and finish everything. By the time I have received Vaughn’s version of my photographs with his line art on it, I was amazed as it looked like work one would see in a hardbound art book. Vaughn draws beautifully! Vaughn, Danica, and everyone else whom I’ve worked with for this project are all amazing.

Is there someone you’d love to work with or shoot soon?

I’d love to shoot anyone, really. Even non-models and ordinary people. I’m not really choosy when it comes to selecting a subject for my photographs. As a photographer, I believe it’s my job to bring out the best in each and every person I take pictures of.

Will you always be a fashion photographer, or are there other things you want to do?

I’d like to try practicing film, too. Perhaps in the future. But I guess I’d like to do it in the right, proper time – both when I have a producer who can loyally adhere to my vision, and also, when I actually have that story I’d like to tell already. As it is, I don’t feel inspired to make a film yet. I’ve been expressing myself through photos so far, and have yet to feel the need to create a film. I guess it will come in the right time, too. 

What do you spend all your time doing now? (What are you currently working on, any major projects you’ love to share? What’s next for you?)

I’m mostly editing sets right now, as well as having shoots from time to time. I have some projects but I’d rather share them when it is finished and done – you never know how unexpected things go about in the industry, so I’d rather be safe and keep things a surprise until it comes out! It’s something for people who follow my work to look forward to, too!

More than being just a photographer, you are an artist – any advice you’d love to share to young revolutionary artist of this generation?

I think if there’s an advice I could share to anyone who’s to enter the field, it is that they should enter it for the right reasons. Keep one’s core values intact and act and abide by them. Do not be persuaded or be influenced by people whom you feel you have to compromise for in order to please. Truth is, the industry is pretty small and people come in and go as they would want, and it’s not really that hard to gain connections if you do things with integrity. The technique is to simply do what you love doing, and people who genuinely love your work will come and appreciate it. Do art because it is your passion and the love of your life. In the end, achievement and success come to those who do not actively seek for it. It comes at the right time when one most deserves it.

Read Blanc Magazine Online Art Issue HERE.

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