Photographer BJ Pascual Takes His Work Personally - And So Should You
BJ Pascual is a commercial and editorial photographer who has made an indelible mark in the Philippines. Pascual has a bright personality and can command a room, not only because he has become a celebrity in his own right, but also because he knows exactly what he is doing, and is great at it too. He describes his highly sought-after editorial signature as “heavily influenced by classic portraiture combined with fashion, art, film, queer and pop culture references—with a dose of camp”.
Pascual takes his work personally and gets as involved as possible, sharing a bit of himself with every project. Throughout his career, he says that he has become more deliberate with his choices at shoots, underscoring how particular he is about fashion, hair and makeup. “Before I’d let the editor/creative director/ stylist decide everything. Now I really try to take control of the situation by making sure the concept is tight, and aligning with the whole team before the shoot. This way, when I go into a shoot, and it doesn’t work out, there’s no one to blame but myself.”
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His intense love for art and fashion began when he was a child. “I’ve always been into creative things, although it wasn’t really encouraged since I come from a family of lawyers, doctors, businesspeople. Yet I would have notebooks filled with Sailor Moon drawings, [not then aware that] the costumes were based on actual haute couture pieces from Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Mugler, Lacroix, etc,” he shares.
From that starting point, Pascual moved onto photography in high school and never looked back. His childhood fascination grew into the love of his life. To young talents looking to pursue the same path, he says: “don’t lose sight of who you are as a creative”.
Tell me about important moments in your career that have shaped you as a photographer?
Omg there are too many moments that shaped me as a photographer that I can’t possibly pick out just a few. Every job, every day is a new learning experience—I feel like my work is constantly evolving and there's so much more to learn. But you know what, probably one of the biggest turning points in my life as a photographer would have to be last year’s lockdown. I’ve been working non-stop for 12 years or so before the pandemic hit and I never really had time to stop and think about my work. For years I felt like a robot, I just kept doing what needed to be done. My mindset was to take every opportunity, do a great job in whatever the opportunity, that’s it. I was just grateful to be working. A few months into the lockdown, there was also this older photographer who said things about me on live radio, which is also streamed live on the radio station's page so I got to review what he said over and over again. He was discrediting my work because of my social media presence and because I shoot celebrities. So around this time I was forced to really evaluate the kind of work I did that resonated with me and where I wanted my work to go, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me having a social media presence. The work will speak for itself.
What is your most memorable shoot ever? Could you share why that shooting experience stands out for you?
Too many! But I would say one of my most memorable is definitely shooting supermodel Coco Rocha. When I was a young gay teenager, at the height of my obsession with fashion, she was one of the top 5 models working at the time. She has worked with the biggest photographers and appeared on the cover of all the major fashion magazines in the world and all the “blue chip” fashion campaigns imaginable. I remember having a folder full of her covers, editorials, and campaigns that I saved from online forums. I never even imagined I would have a chance to shoot her. So I really could not believe that years later, there she was, right in front of me and I was photographing her. My hands were literally shaking while shooting her!
If it doesn’t work out, there’s no one to blame but myself.— BJ Pascual
Do you have a favourite photograph you have ever taken? Could you share why that photograph means a lot to you?
This is like choosing a favourite child! But perhaps one of my all-time favourites is from a series of nudes I did in my late grand uncle Teyet's apartment, which I took years after he had already died. He was an art collector and the only other gay person I knew of in the family, but we never became close, and I deeply regret not making an effort to communicate with him when he was still alive. So in a way, the series was a tribute to him and his life.
What do you think about the photography scene in the Philippines? How has it changed and where do you think it will be in the future?
I came in during a time when, in order to make it as a photographer here in the Philippines, you have to be able to do EVERYTHING. All different styles and lighting techniques, and you must do everything well, which resulted in me getting so confused and, although that practice really helped me develop my skills especially in commercial photography, it also resulted in me getting lost and confused, and taking while to figure out my voice as a photographer. But now I love that younger photographers have a clearer point-of-view right from the get-go and it’s refreshing to see a lot of fresh talent emerging and being known for their own distinct takes on photography. From what I've been seeing, I have high hopes for the next generation of Filipino photographers!