by Anthony Capirayan, SSP
I whipped out my phone and showed her a photo of a woman which would serve as our peg for the shoot.
“Okay!” she giggled and walked back to the spot where I asked her to pose.
I snapped a photo. Then another one. Before I knew it, she was posing in her own way, so I just let her do her thing as I rapidly fired away. After all, she has been a professional fashion photographer for ten years now. And she made it this far neither because she carefully planned it, nor because she tried to imitate someone’s work; she has become a well-sought lenswoman because she deviated from the “perfect career” she was groomed to have.
The “Gifted Child”
At a very young age, Shaira Luna can soak up all information like a sponge. She can get herself lost in the wonders of astronomy, anatomy, biology, world history, and multiplication tables at the age of two. A room full of encyclopedias was her playground. When her head was not buried in books, she would go experimenting, painting, and learning to play a musical instrument. With an IQ of 164, she breezed through her elementary years on top of her game.
It was in 1995 when she appeared in a milk commercial, which dubbed her as the “Junior Anatomist.” Her face then was all over various spreadsheets, magazines, and TV programs bearing the monikers “Gifted Child” and “Promil Kid.” She was the girl every kid dreamed to be— a genius. (And I even begged my mother to buy me that “wonder milk” to give my average mind an extra boost, but to no avail!)
She stepped onto high school when she was nine. But because she was chosen to be the Department of Education’s official youth spokesperson, she was flying all over the country to give inspirational speeches to students on . . . guess what? Choosing the best career in life! At thirteen, she was already in college taking up human biology and was juggling her time for studies and work as she was also producing a segment in a TV show.
A Fork in the Road
Just as when everyone thought she would become the next finest doctor in the country or a Filipina scientist who would discover a vaccine, she decided to quit her premed course after two years. “I would look at my medical books, and there was nothing . . . like connection,” said Shaira. She realized she was not having fun anymore; she felt she was missing a lot in life.
“I would go to class, but my mind would go blank, daydreaming,” she confessed. She spent most of her college life alone, cutting classes, and playing arcade in the mall. She shifted courses four times after Human Biology. She even flunked in some of her subjects (She took algebra thrice!). For many, she was not really the whiz kid they grew up to watch and admire. For some others, they thought she had gone a little crazy. And for her family, she was a waste of extraordinary talent; she let an opportunity (that promised a sizable income) fly out of the window.
Stumbling into Photography
“I had a point-and-shoot camera sometime in college, but I never really had an inkling,” she shared. Shaira would take pictures of her bandmates whenever they had a gig and posted them on the now-defunct Friendster.
In her sixth year in college, she stopped going to school, used her tuition to buy her first DSLR camera, ran away from home, and focused more on her craft. “I even sold my flute when I was starting out, and I would save my money to the last centavo,” she reminisced. She would shoot almost everything, and people started to notice her photos. Many would ask her to do their posters and album covers, and later was requested to shoot various events—birthdays, baptisms, fiestas, and whatnot. She discovered that photography was more fun than she thought it would be.
Daily Grind and Find
At present, Shaira, 29, is represented by Jed Root Manila, one of the world’s creative talent management agencies. Her photographs have graced the covers of prestigious glossies in the country. She also gets to travel abroad for some shoots. She possesses a ready-to-roll attitude that she shoots every day with the same amount of passion. People she works with wonder how she does it. “Because I really, genuinely enjoy shooting!” she shrieked with delight.
She recalled that when she was young everything was taught to her. She was boxed in “this-is-the-proper-way-to-go-about-it” discipline. With photography, in which she was never taught, she enjoys the learning and exploration that come with it. She also feels like a psychologist who brings out her clients’ personality in her photographs.
“Every day I discover or try something new. Or even if the shoot is something that I’ve done before, I would ask myself how could I make it more interesting or different,” she said. “That’s why I never get tired or burnt out. Not yet, at least! And I don’t think it’s gonna arrive soon.”
Rest for Shaira would mean doing research for her future shoots or immersing herself into something fun to watch as she studies how the light falls on the characters’ faces. She also loves thrift-shopping in an ukay-ukay, cooking, or doing the grocery.
“When I feel like I need to take a breath, I’d vacuum. I really like vacuuming!” She said it like it is best thing next to the glamorous photography business. Believe it or not, hanging out, partying, and flying off somewhere for a vacation are not her kind of unwinding. Shooting, and yes, vacuuming do the job. And besides, she loves shooting so much for it to be considered work.
The Imperfect Way
Shaira does not wait for big milestones to make her happy and fulfilled. For her every shoot is a great reward in itself. She does not aim for perfection in her work. She’s free-spirited and doesn’t like things rigid. “Just don’t beat yourself up over things,” she advised.
She also feels sad about how some people would screen her interviews and put her in the pedestal of perfection by leaving out the parts of her life where she stopped schooling, flunked, and ran away. She said, “How you are perfect is how you get around stuff like that. But don’t be perfect. That’s not fun.”
She also believes that one’s journey through life has no exact pattern. “You can idolize someone, but eventually you have to make your own way.”
A Life Full of Cracks
As I walked her to the gate to wait for her Uber, she spotted a vintage Mitsubishi Lancer parked in front of our building. She then rolled up her sleeve and showed me a car tattoo on her arm. “It’s my Dad’s; he was once a drag racer,” she explained. I asked her if she also drives fast. “No, I don’t. I’m not very good with directions. I get lost easily,” she said matter-of-factly.
Shaira did not mind showing to me her scarred soul. My encounter with her left me in contemplation; she taught me that it’s okay to mess up, to falter, to get lost, to be imperfect. And oftentimes, it is through these “cracks” that the light of life, of happiness, of love, of beauty, comes in.