Neal Oshima and Mark Nicdao Capture Portraits of a Modern Mindanaoan

Capturing A Modern Mindanao: Behind The Lens of Neal Oshima and Mark Nicdao

Rajo Laurel metallized taffeta dress in slate, Louis Vuitton Stellar earring worn as nose ring. Photographed by Mark Nicdao and Neal Oshima for the April 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines

Rajo Laurel Sculpted Sheer Dress, Tiffany & Co. comma earrings, Arnel Papa wooden cuff. Photographed by Mark Nicdao and Neal Oshima for the April 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines

The Vogue Philippines casting call in Davao showed the diversity of faces in Mindanao. Here, they stand before the lenses of photographers Neal Oshima and Mark Nicdao, creating vibrant, vital images of a modern Mindanaoan. 

This story is the first of a two-part beauty editorial, with the second to appear in Vogue Philippines’ May 2024 issue, Volume 2 of its foray into Mindanao.

Neal Oshima and Mark Nicdao can’t stop laughing. Sat in an intimate bar in Davao, there was more to their celebratory drinks than wrapping up their latest shoot. “Vogue was crazy enough to put us together,” Oshima said, much to the amusement of Nicdao. 

The two photographers are behind some of the essential Philippine fashion imagery of the last decades. They’d worked together before for Art Fair Philippines in recent years, but “Here and Now”—Vogue Philippines‘ story framing Mindanaoans’ beauty in a contemporary light—marks their first collaboration in editorial. 

A coming together of minds

The suggestion behind the collaboration between the two photographers would actually come from Oshima himself, who was admittedly hesitant to take on the project at first, considering the done-up quality of editorials. It was the type of thing he did for “30 to 40 years,” with his fashion images fronting magazine covers and top designers’ campaigns of the time. Nowadays, he is “really more interested in making people look like what they are rather than what someone idealizes them to be,” he tells Vogue Philippines in a later interview. He would later learn that the idea would align with the Vogue team’s goal, but not before recommending Nicdao for the job. 

The equally-as-celebrated celebrity and fashion photographer is someone Oshima had closely gotten to know through their Art Fair Philippines collaborations, hosting lighting workshops that allowed them to see each other at work. “I thought maybe [that this editorial] would be a cool thing to pull him into,” Oshima explains. “You know, I take a lot of pictures of people, but mostly they’re IPs (indigenous peoples), and I’m just trying to photograph what they look like. So I thought it might be good to put his viewpoint into this, not just mine.”

Finding focus

As Vogue began its first leg in Mindanao, it was important for the crew to “meet new faces from different backgrounds and hear about their unique stories,” fashion director Pam Quiñones, herself from Cotabato, told beauty writer Bianca Custodio. The aim of the series of images that Oshima and Nicdao would collaborate on was to create timeless portraits of Mindanaoan people, especially those of indigenous descent, and capture their natural beauty. Vogue‘s choice to highlight models from their casting call in Davao was intentional, in efforts to spotlight “individuals immersed in their own culture,” notes Custodio. 

In the story, casting call talents Criza Mae Gallardo, Alyannah Gutierrez, and Abdur Rahman Balono are framed by colors in full saturation, speaking to the vibrancy of Mindanaoan culture and people. With the models hailing from the Kalagan; Bagobo; and Kagan and Maguindanaoan tribes respectively, stylists Quiñones and David Milan evoke the regal qualities of Mindanaoan traditional dress. They were adorned in sculptural volumes and rich layers—thick taffetas and pleated tulle—plus plush, supersized gold jewelry, paying homage to their indigenous roots. 

On set, Oshima and Nicdao would work together in “an open-ended way,” notes Oshima. Process-wise, they worked around the styling and accessories, using backdrops, colors, and their open discussions on composition to “lead your eye exactly where it needs to be,” explains Nicdao. Plays on light and shadow created these “ambiguous figures” that could stand in place of any and every Mindanaoan, relying on the “strength of the model” to communicate the feeling. “They’re not just statues there,” he elaborates. “It’s like a portrait, a painting.” 

In the end, even Nicdao would agree with the thought behind Oshima’s practice, as well as Vogue’s initiative to highlight the models’ natural beauty, saying this attitude is what photography should be all about these days. “You know, how it was in the 90’s, late 2000s, perfection was always seen in a very narrow way [regarding] what a model should look like. That’s all gone now. It’s in the past,” he says. “There’s no more boundaries in terms of seeing beauty.” 

Diversity, expressed 

No image can fully capture the wide-ranging beauty a place and its people have to offer, but perhaps it can contribute to a larger dialogue of making people feel seen or represented, regarded in all their strength—one that feels both self-defining and collective. 

“I think the great thing about the Philippines is the diversity, and that’s what we’re picking up on,” Oshima says. “This incredible diversity has never been expressed in beauty terms, and I think it needs to be because that’s what makes people feel like they belong, and that they’re important, and they’re whole.” 

Vogue Philippines: April 2024 Issue

By JOYCE OREÑA. Photographs by NEAL OSHIMA & MARK NICDAO. Styling by DAVID MILAN. Fashion Direction by PAM QUIÑONES. Art Direction by JANN PASCUA. Words by CHELSEA SARABIA. Makeup: Colleen Ariel Sandoval. Hair: Ivan Lopez. Models: Abdur Rahman Balono, Alyannah Gutierrez, Criza Mae Gallardo. Casting and Production: Anz Hizon, Bianca Zaragoza, Bianca Custodio. Nails: Wynonah Duban. Photographer’s Assistants: Arsan Holifeña, Jack Marion Alindahao, Phil Nicdao. Stylist’s Assistants: Arthur Andrande, Assi Castañaga, Roland Boyles, Sittie Anwar. Makeup Assistant: June Paulene Buencamino. Hair Assistant: Reymark Montinola. Shot on location at DusitD2 Davao Hotel. Special thanks to AirAsia.

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