King of the Glamor Shot

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Rogue Magazine, Manila, Philippines, June 2016

There is a little known slice of history in Philippine society, a slice the elderly lifestyle scribes have yet to wax nostalgic about. It’s that time when a certain Fil-Am photographer flew in from California and made himself the darling of the pedigreed set, not to mention the movie and fashion industry. He was lean and lightly muscled, with a headful of black hair and that natty but luxurious mustache that seemed to be a prerequisite for all manly men in the 1980s. He looked like the Frank Zappa of the disco freaks, with his satin shirts opened down to the navel. He spoke with an American twang and knew just what to say and do to make a girl feel beautiful.

His name was John Silao. Call him the Jun de Leon or the Mark Nicdao of his time. A short period of time, if you think about it, for his 15 minutes ran only from 1980 to 1985, the period when he seduced the women of Manila with his eye and his camera, shooting them for their personal portraits, or their debuts on the covers of the city’s bevy of lifestyle rags.

We now know, of course, that you could get killed or incarcerated for publishing anti-government sentiments in those days, but apparently it’s possible to meet the same fate taking photos of beautiful women if you don’t play it right—especially if one of the women in question was involved with high-ranking politicians. “I was hired by an agency that was doing some calendar work for Japan,” Silao tells me. “I had this one model who was German-Filipina. Really beautiful, but I knew that she was also the girlfriend of this very powerful politician. After the photo shoot, when we had the pictures developed and everything else, three days after, his security comes over and said they wanted all the slides and negatives that I took of her. If I said no, I could be dead. That’s all I can say about that. They got all my files in Excelsior.”

As is perhaps a testament to the man’s image as a much sought-after lensman, Silao moved around three photo studios: one at the Marbella II in Malate, another at the Legaspi Towers in Makati, and yes, a third studio at the Excelsior building in the business district. A sitting with him could fetch an easy five grand. If it was a movie star being shot and the agency was paying for it, it could ring up to P10,000. Members of the elite would fork over around P20,000—people like millionaire playboy Rene Knecht, Tingting Cojuangco, Cocoy Laurel, Chona Kasten—for a chance to have their portraits taken.

… continued here.

(but you’ll have to buy the actual hard copy of Rogue to get the whole piece. cheers :))

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