How To Navigate And Succeed In The Creative Industry With Photographer Artu Nepomuceno

Vogue Philippines taps several creatives to give tips, share advice, and inspire others who are interested in following a similar career path.

Photographer Artu Nepomuceno has shot over 50 magazine covers in the span of a decade-long career–including the cover for Vogue Philippines’ February 2024 issue.

I entered the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde as a culinary arts student; I didn’t think photography was anything more than a hobby. Long story short, I found myself incredibly lacking in my course and knew as early as then that success was not around the corner if I continued my path. Winning a small photography contest against a bunch of AB-Photo and MMA students led me to believe I had a better chance in the arts building, and so I got my application form to switch to Digital Film; again, I had no faith that there was a career in photography. 

I won’t forget the dinner with my parents and Wowo (that was what we called my grandfather at home) when I told them I wanted to switch courses. I looked to my grandfather and said, “I want to become a filmmaker like you.” He looked at me, dead serious, and said, “Take photography.” As a short tempered teenager, I asked him why, and from there he said the one line that changed my perspective forever: “In order to create a movie of a thousand images, you must be able to create a story in a single image first.” Since then, I have been constantly hunting for stories in single images.

I grew up with my grandfather, Luis Nepomuceno, who was an award winning Filipino filmmaker. He directed iconic films such as Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak and Igorota. His father, Jose Nepomuceno, has been honored as the country’s Father of Philippine Cinema. As a kid, my grandfather taught me how to understand light through daily exercises; from observing how light bounced off different buildings, to seeing the effects of fog, the clouds, or smoke. He used to ask me to find the light source of certain reflections; or even explain to him why there were rays of light on SLEX at certain times of the day. When we didn’t discuss light, we discussed his adventures in the world of cinema. We talked about the tricks he used to do in his movies, or how he would tell a story with very few words. By highschool, Wowo gifted me with my first point and shoot—an introduction to photography. Right before college, I had a pretty strong understanding of the technicalities of the craft.

After finishing my studies in 2012, I found myself shooting gigs, concerts, birthdays, corporate events and what not. After doing that for a little more than a year (and unhappy with the work I was putting out), I decided to take a break and find my footing. My wife Meg, who back then was a friend working in the magazine industry, saw potential in my work and helped me mount a series of test shoots, which then became my portfolio to submit to the different magazines in the country. From there I started scoring small gigs, which then led me to bigger features in different publications, which led me to my first set of covers, which led me to advertorials, and so forth. In no time I had a portfolio with an impressive set of personalities, who then also started getting me to shoot their own businesses. The magazine industry became the greatest calling card I could ever ask for, bringing me to brands and people I could only dream of shooting. I am humbled to have a wonderful list of people I have the opportunity to work with today, and the story is still unfolding.

The Value Of Mentorship

I couldn’t afford interning under a photographer after college, so I jumped straight to work and tried to figure things out on my own. Along the way, I came across some incredible people who I looked to as teachers: Ryan Vergara, Louie Aguinaldo, Gee Plamenco, Brian Bravo, Jason Quibilan were some that kept me in check as I progressed. I drowned myself in online material, subscribing to photography newsletters, watching behind-the-scenes of photographers, looking through magazines and collecting photography books. I was obsessed with western photography—Peter Lindbergh, Avedon, Robert Capa, Annie Leibovitz, and so forth. I wanted to be like them, but in the Philippines. Later on I found myself learning even more through collaborations with Pam Quiñones, Ria Prieto, Bea Ledesma, and so many other forces in the industry.

As late as can be, I recently found a mentor in Sharif Hamza. I had the wonderful opportunity of assisting him when he photographed the maiden cover of Vogue Philippines, and since then have learned a lifetime of knowledge from him and his work ethic.

Empowering The Next Generation

Do the work, keep your head down, and be kind. Photography is a beautiful medium, a craft that breeds wonderful storytelling. But at the end of the day, your choice of using photography as a means to survive means you must do the work. When the good and the great come along the way, ground yourself as the fall is hard if you fly too close to the sun. When the bad comes along, find peace knowing that trauma can’t defeat you. More importantly, respect those before you and absorb the stories they’re willing to tell. Be kind and courteous to everyone—you never know when your presence can hurt someone, or how your kindness can change someone’s life.

Non-philosophical advice: don’t catch GAS (gear acquisition syndrome). Borrow/rent equipment before buying it yourself—be smart about your money. Invest in education more than anything—invest in assisting and in finding a mentor. Build strong portfolios, present it to your friends and family, and after improving it, send it to agencies, magazines, and clients you want to work with. Work with people who need to build their portfolios too, and grow together. Attend workshops, ask questions. Don’t look too far away; the local industry has so much to offer.

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