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It all started with a poster

The influences and persuasions behind BJ Pascual

By Ana Valenzuela

A poster hung on a wall. But this was no ordinary poster. This was not from a movie or rock band. This was of a woman lying, her face fronting the camera, naked except for a white cuff and a serpent coiled around her body. This was no ordinary poster, no ordinary photo. The boa constrictor’s kiss neared the woman’s ear. The woman was a model-actress, shot by a renowned photographer. Her photo graced the pages of 1980s Vogue. This iconic photo printed on a poster hung at a boy’s aunt’s house. And that boy would later grow up to be one of the youngest, most popular, most in-demand photographers in the Philippines.

Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent is just one of the images that BJ Pascual shared at the Inspire Every Day event of Avida Land in collaboration with CNN Philippines Life at Ayala Museum. He shared carefully selected international photos, which he considers to be influential to him and to his sensibilities as a photographer. In fact, two other photos, Dovima with the Elephant and Verushka in the Great Fur Caravan, were from the same photographer as the photo from his aunt’s wall. These photos were from Richard Avedon.

 BJ Pascual /2016.mb.com.ph

BJ Pascual /2016.mb.com.ph

Pascual later admitted, in an intimate interview, that unconsciously to him, Avedon was a big, if not the biggest, influence on him. Once, an editor asked him what image made him realize that he was gay. He was stumped. He couldn’t figure out, of all the pictures that he has seen in his life, what that image could be.

What picture triggered his sexual awakening? This was important, especially to a photographer whose words are literally images. Until finally, like a flash going off a camera, he remembered, “It was from a Versace catalog. My mother was fond of Versace. Inside there was this guy who was nude save for a Versace blanket draped on his body. I tore that page off the catalog.”

A bit of sleuthing and a gargantuan help from Google and friends revealed, years later, that the picture was shot by Avedon as well. “I was young. I didn’t even know,” Pascual said, amazed at how much the fashion photographer had touched him so early in his life. “It was like my early, early influences in life were Avedon (photos). I didn’t even realize, until now, that I’m like seven years into my career.”

PUSHING BOUNDARIES Featured on the cover of Pascual’s first-ever book are his muses and local showbiz’ brightest Liza Soberano, Kathryn Bernardo, Nadine Lustre, and Julia Barretto /2016.mb.com.ph

PUSHING BOUNDARIES Featured on the cover of Pascual’s first-ever book are his muses and local showbiz’ brightest Liza Soberano, Kathryn Bernardo, Nadine Lustre, and Julia Barretto /2016.mb.com.ph

Apart from Avedon, there is another photographer who was a big influence on the young fashion photographer, Mark Nicdao.

“When I was in high school, I followed his career. Mark was Xander’s (Angeles) assistant before, but I connected more with Mark’s work at that time. So, it’s super weird lang na I get to work with him now, that I got to shoot a cover with him. Super idol ko siya when I was young,” he confessed.

Talented and passionate, Pascual shared that it was not only these influences that got him to where he is. There is also hard work, ethic, and the vision to pull it off. “My career is like a series of small steps. People say I’m an overnight success, I’m not. I can’t really pinpoint a moment in my career (when) I thought I made it na, because it was like a slow rise.”

“I guess if I were to choose, my first cover for Metro was one of my biggest shoots,” he said. “But I think people started taking me seriously when I shot for Preview. It was for a fashion editorial called “Billie Jean,” and that was my first editorial for the magazine. After that, nag sunod sunod na (things happened right after the other).”

The Preview editorial was shot in 2010, when Pascual was in his early 20s. The photographer shared that that was how he targeted his goals. He made them attainable and realistic, starting small with an editorial with a certain magazine, then targeting another magazine, then targeting a cover. Since then, he has done over a hundred magazine covers locally and internationally.

Starting out in the industry and working freelance meant that he had no regular monthly salary, and the affectionate skepticism that he got from his grandparents was the best motivation he could possibly have had.

Each time his grandparents would dote on his pictures there would be a “Bakit one fourth page lang? Bakit one half lang? Ay bakit one page lang?” Even when he got his first cover, there was a follow-up of why was his name wasn’t there. So, when he got his own book, Push: Muses, Mischief, & How to Make it in Manila, with his name emblazoned on it and his photo on the back cover, it left his proud grandparents speechless.

Editorials here and even abroad, covers for top magazines, ad campaigns, a book of his own—there is no question that the trajectory of Pascual’s career is where he intends it to be. With all the photos that he has shot and all the bookings that he has lined up, what could be for him his defining image?

Pascual begged off from answering the question saying that it is yet too early in his career to say. Probably it is, even with his social media influence, BJ’s works may need to create more impact. But with his ever growing success, it’s not farfetched that he might have already influenced some young dreamer the way he himself was influenced by Avedon, many years ago.