he agreed call time was 9:00 AM. At 8:35 AM, she walked into our office sans entourage, wearing a long bohemian dress and a huge smile. That’s when we knew we were going to have a fun and productive day with Shaira Luna, We The Pvblic’s very first Pvblic Icon.

Shaira made her way into public consciousness through the milk brand Promil’s high-profile campaign in the mid-90s that featured her and two other gifted children. Remember the TVC kid reciting ‘The cardiovascular system is the system that circulates blood around the body’? That was her.

She didn’t become the scientist everyone expected her to be. Instead, she worked her way into becoming one of the country’s most celebrated fashion and advertising photographers.

Shaira went to college at 13. “I looked super different, but I was trying to dress like my classmates who were all older than me, so I think it was a really awkward stage,” she recalled.

Since her TV commercial that led to a stint in a TV show made her a household name, it wasn’t unexpected that her entering college at 13 made the headlines. She was aware of the high expectations the pvblic had of her.

But, fate had a different plan. “I was on the dean’s list maybe just twice. So, I think a lot of them were really disappointed that I wasn’t really living up to what they thought I could do in college.”

ON SHIFTING COURSES

Shaira’s parents knew her to be pretty independent but when she started shifting courses, they still tried to tell her off. “I knew in their heads they couldn’t do anything about it,” she shared.

“I’m a little stubborn like that. They would always tell me to get myself together… sayang yung talino mo, sayang ang pinag-aralan mo, sayang lahat! It wasn’t like I could answer anything ‘cause I didn’t know pa naman kung anong gagawin ko. I just made sure I was responsible for myself and I didn’t bother anyone in the process of me trying to figure out what I wanted to do.”

She eventually dropped out but didn’t tell her parents right away. “It was more like ‘Oops!… I’m not in school anymore, by the way,’” she said with a giggle. She was supposed to go back to school to finish her thesis, but she just never did.

“I think they were just hoping that I would not go hungry, because I really tried to separate myself from them for a while. I didn’t want all the different opinions and voices clouding my thoughts, and so for a few years, I wasn’t at home and I wasn’t talking to my family,”

she admitted. “It reached that point because everyone was telling me to be successful and do this and that. So, to start fresh, I distanced myself for a while, and I think it worked out and we’re all good now.”

Shaira is quick to clarify though that dropping out of college was not a deliberate rebellious act. “When you’re young and your head’s full of so many thoughts and maybe dreams, I don’t think you have time to exact revenge, because you’re thinking of your well-being and your mental state. It just happened, and I just let it happen,” she added.

AND DROPPING OUT

Asked what made her pursue the arts instead of staying knee-deep in science books, Shaira paused and looked back on a moment when she saw a photo of herself when she was two, where she was holding a paintbrush and painting something. She recalled that, as a kid, she was always looking at paintings and images in the encyclopedias, and then there’s the sciences.

I think I just didn’t realize there was more to life or to my ability than science. It’s because I didn’t know any better and the minute I was exposed to other things I could do, ayun na siya!

“I think when you really put your mind into trying something, lalabas at lalabas din yan, so it’s just really dipping your toe into different things until you find a good match,” she added.

It was in her latter college years when Shaira started her career in photography by shooting band gigs using a point-and-shoot camera. “My friend became a vocalist of a band, so that’s how I started going to gigs and then from there, I started seeing other bands. But, it wasn’t really a fangirl phase. I went out for the sake of sneaking out.”

One of the most memorable early photos she’s ever taken was the one of her friend who, she revealed, is the multi-talented musician Nyoy Volante. “He’s my neighbor, so when he started to have gigs with a band, I would make paalam to join his gigs and pretend I play the flute,” she said cheekily.

“The main reason why I took photos of him was I just liked his mic. It was a big silver vintage mic. I had a tiny camera and the resolution wasn’t good, but I remember that photo vividly because when I saw it, it felt like I created something, even though I didn’t. I just captured it.”

Shaira is quite vocal about her love for Florence Welch, vocalist of the English indie rock band Florence and the Machine. She listens to the Dave Matthews Band, and a lot of Motown. “In the morning when I wake up, it’s Spiral Staircase or Smokey Robinson, and if it’s an energetic shoot, I play Incognito. I also enjoy listening to IV of Spades. They’re so good!”

She explains that her personal taste in music is a bit old, but her shoot music depends on the people she works with. “If I know that they’re into pop, the shoot music would be Ariana Grande or Dua Lipa, something really upbeat.”

t first, she was scared to use a professional camera and she would melt in insecurity at the sight of actual photographers carrying their big equipment. She never imagined she’d be able to hold an SLR because she simply didn’t have the money and didn’t want to ask for a camera from anyone. She would just borrow her friend Nyoy Volante’s camera to shoot his band during their gigs.

In 2006, she bought her first DSLR. It was only in program mode as she didn’t know how to configure the settings just yet. She remembers being so afraid that she might damage the camera. As there was no YouTube back then, she just read the manual religiously, started shooting every day, finally learned to set it to aperture and tried different settings until she got the hang of it.

Her dedication would eventually pay off.

Half of Shaira’s photography life consisted of shooting in weird circumstances.

There were funny shoots, dangerous ones and some where she just raised her eyebrows in resignation.

One time, she had to shoot a group of corporate people who were forming their logo. She took the shot from atop a building, but for some reason, the angle was weird, so she had to take another one. “I had to get near the gutter, and that was one of those moments I asked, ‘What am I doing with my life? Maybe my mom’s right!’

“But, I was able to pull it off.”

Another memorable experience was when she stayed put in a bar until 3:00 AM waiting for a pvblic personality who she was told was going to show up and gamble, but he never did. At that point, she realized,

“A photographer has so many options, like you have so many options if this is your career.”

When people started getting wind of her photography, she was commissioned to shoot a portrait of a well-known CEO who doesn’t like having his photo taken. She was warned that she can only take three shots, but when the big personality arrived, she showed him that she wasn’t intimidated and talked to him the way she would talk to her lolo. They ended up shooting eight layouts, and she went on taking portraits of more bigwigs.

“You just don’t show them that you’re scared, and you have to make them feel that you know what you’re doing,” she advised.

Shaira went on to do numerous lifestyle and PR shoots for broadsheets. She also continued shooting events for magazines, covering gigs and concerts of musicians until one day, she was asked by a writer to shoot a portrait of the bassist of Barbie’s Cradle, which ended up getting published in a magazine. That was her breakthrough.

It didn’t take her long to branch out into fashion photography but not without hesitation. She didn’t know much about fashion, didn’t understand the shapes of clothes and didn’t know the trends. She learned to enjoy it after a few years when she wasn’t so scared anymore. Through it all, she didn’t think that photography would bring her financial security.

She disclosed that she didn’t really make a lot of money shooting magazine editorials. She was making more from shooting events, but she did enjoy the process of collaborating with the art directors, stylists, and hair and makeup teams, and creating the desired output out of the pegs that she was asked to interpret. She described the whole process as challenging and exciting as there’s a lot of thought that goes into it. “Until now, I still get scared when I have to do fashion editorials,” she added.

Right now, Shaira shoots six days in a week on average, which doesn’t quite differ from her early years of doing photography. She never had a vacant week as she accepted almost every kind of shoot – food, food packaging, travel stories, architecture, interiors, products, catalogues, etc. “I just don’t like being idle,” she said. When she’s not doing shoots, she’s either buying props or thinking of a set design or planning her next shoot.

Asked if she’s ever had a great moment of realization that she’s made it, she replied, “I only have realizations that I’ve made it when I see a good find in the ukay-ukay. I don’t think I’ll ever want to think that I’ve made it. I mean, I keep making but I don’t think I’ve made it.”

She doesn’t particularly like being referred to as one of the top photographers in the country because,

“If you’re on top, there’s nowhere else to go. I like moving side to side.”

Being a fashion photographer requires a keen eye for what goes together, what looks good and what doesn’t. Like most artists, Shaira used to wear all black when she started doing shoots. At one instance, she wore a pair of cargo pants to a shoot with a consul. The writer she was working with then advised her to pay more attention to what she wears, not just for herself but to show her clients that she has respect for them. That served as her wake-up call. She stopped sporting grungy clothes. “It took me a while to understand style,” she admitted.

Even now, she still finds it hard to describe her personal style. “I like dressing like a different person every day,” she said. Some days, she’d don bohemian and witchy outfits. On other days, she’d sport suspenders and boy trousers. She likes keeping her style fun, colorful, quirky, and ever evolving, but she stresses comfort as her all-time top consideration.

Shaira’s fashion advice to the millennials is to reuse and recycle, experiment by borrowing their parents’ clothes and reworking them, and buy clothes that are cheap but don’t compromise style. “That’s why I always go to ukay-ukay stores. You’re recycling in a way and it challenges your creativity to make secondhand clothing something that you can wear every day,” she added.

Shaira’s eyes lit up when she started talking about her favorite ukay-ukay store – the one beside Puregold Jr in Tagaytay. No one ever believes her when she says she finds stuff in that store for P5 to P10. “From doing photography, my eyes have been trained to spot good stuff really fast,” she said.

When she goes to Tagaytay, she dedicates half a day for just rummaging through the ukay-ukay racks. Her best find so far was a Chloe blouse she proudly copped for P5. “It looked like a rag from afar, but I knew it’s an original because I tracked it and found out that it’s very expensive,” she said. The most she spent in an ukay-ukay shopping spree was P3,000. That’s a lot of clothes.

Asked what she wants to ultimately achieve with her photography, she exclaimed, “I want to shoot Florence Welch so bad!” Then she went back to ruminating and said that she wants to continue shooting and creating art for a long time. It’s evolving very slowly, but she’s now ventured into styling, started learning makeup, and doing a lot of set design for her projects.

Shaira acknowledges the necessity of creating videos nowadays. It’s something that makes her anxious because for her, it’s a whole other skill to learn. “I have a lot of respect for people who do videos because it’s not easy at all,” she said.

In a lot of her shoots, Shaira would get complimented by people she works with that her photos look like movies or that they tell a story. And they’d ask her to just press the record button and start creating videos. She would always tell them that she can’t afford just yet to be stuck with a project for a long time. “I’m not yet at that point where I can make a long video or film, but who knows? Maybe I’ll do set design or costume design instead,” she added.

For people who want to break free from stereotypes and expectations the way she did, Shaira thinks it’s good for them to shut everything off occasionally and take a break from too much exposure. “It’s so easy to be pressured by stuff you see and the people around you. So, sometimes, if you’d just stay in a quiet place even for just an hour, you’ll realize that not everything’s such a big deal and there’s no rush to be super successful, so suddenly,” she said.

She concluded our chat over coffee with this nugget of wisdom that succinctly sums up her remarkable life story:

Editor in Chief
Gil Cadiz

Content
Kaka Corral

Photography
Dave Due Photography

Project Management
Sharmaine Lopez
Margaux Madamba

Web Design & Development
Dianne Butial
Dana De Castro
Micah Morta

Video Editing
Xev Balugay
Eugenie Basul
Arno Van Den Bossche

Makeup
Woomen.ph