A good mentor and an even better friend, Raymund Isaac will forever be remembered for his work, creativity, and passion for the craft.
Raymund Isaac was a big deal. No, Raymund Isaac was huge! Even before the term celebrity photographer was coined, Raymund Isaac was already that, and so much more. The ace lens man, as he was referred to by the industry, and Menmen by his loved ones, was the go-to photographer of across celebrities, high profile personalities, ad agencies and retail brands for decades.
Proof of this is his infamous wall where portraits of every known face in the country hang. This is proudly displayed in his Portfolio Studio on Bormaheco, Zapote Street and later on in Catmon Street both in Makati City. Regulars who sat for shoots included lead actors, models and the country’s crème de la crème. Whether you were a big deal or had superstar potential, chances are Raymund Isaac would have photographed you. His eyes were so unique, so extraordinary, that his photographs and opinion legitimized some of the biggest names today. I know so, because I was his assistant for five years.
In 2002, I had just quit a lifelong dream of entering medical school and was feeling very lost about what career to pursue. I did odd jobs and one of them was as an ushering stint for Atlantis Productions under director Bobby Garcia. He and Raymund were good friends. They collaborated on the photos of numerous Atlantis’ shows which included RENT!, Dreamgirls, Tick, Tick, Boom, to name a few.
After the staging of RENT! in Manila, word got around the production team that the Raymund Isaac was looking for an assistant for his studio and right away, I found myself knocking on the famous red door of Portfolio Studio. Raymund’s old studio was modest in size, had comfortable couches where models like Luke Jickain, Rich Herrera, and Ton Lao, were casually waiting their turn for a headshot. The space had a long table with a computer and folders. I later found out that it contained negatives, proofs, and transparencies of previous shoots. The interview was held by a round dining table and lasted 30 minutes. “You are lost right now, but I think you might be bitten by the creative bug very soon,” declared Raymund. Minutes later, food delivery from his favorite Kusinerong Pinoy arrived and he said, “Let’s eat!” I guessed that by this point I had landed the job.
I was not a photographer’s assistant because his trusted team of Waldo, Warren and Joey filled those positions. I was his assistant for everything else that he needed to run his company from. My post entailed that I book his schedule, his family’s schedule, write cost estimates, order supplies, deliver materials to clients, attend feasibility and pre-production meetings. I later took on the post as his graphic designer as well, together with GA Fallarme.
My first few weeks were a combination of nerves and excitement. I remember handling his schedule and seeing names like Lea Salonga, Ayen Laurel, Wilma Doesnt, Sarah Meier, Joey Mead, Claudine Barretto, Piolo Pascual, and Vilma Santos. The names just kept getting bigger and bigger as I flipped the pages. In the beginning, I doubted the schedule but as the months came by, all these names were knocking on the same red door.
It was such a treat to be surrounded not just by celebrities and models, but also makeup artists like Fanny Serrano, Patrick Rosas, Jinky Illusorio and Juan Sarte, editors like Liza Ilarde and Myrza Sison, and stylists such as Jenni Epperson. I witnessed how shoots were done professionally. Shoots that included magazine covers, album covers, notebook covers, posters, PR photos, print ads, billboards and yes, even passport photos of a few VIPs. “Punyeta, wag ka gagalaw!” Raymund often exclaimed in his trademark raspy voice when he saw something beautiful. Click! And in seconds, magic was immortalized. Raymund was a true creative because he would take a client brief, deliver it, and take the material to an entirely new level. It was a gift that turned to legacy. Remember Claudine Barretto for Folded & Hung? Yes, Raymund did that campaign and fashion imagery in the country has been changed forever.
Weeks turned into months and as he prophesized, I did get “bitten by the creative bug.” I wanted to learn more and I knew that Raymund Isaac was the perfect mentor. You see, he isn’t just a photographer, Raymund can also be a makeup artist, a hair stylist, a stylist, a model and every other job needed in production. That was kind of training he taught all of us. He knew everything and he did it so well.
Raymund had foresight. He knew that the sunset of film would come very soon, which is why he invested in digital cameras early on and shelved transparencies and his badass 4×5 camera immediately. He knew that being a master meant sharing secrets to students and his audience, which is why he created photography books like Dimsum and makeup books for Patrick Rosas. He knew that to become bigger, he had to move to a larger space, improve client servicing and add new members to the team. Those were the years when Kate Hassaram and Pam Romualdez-Herbosa joined Portfolio Studio.
Doing 12 shoots a week was no walk in the park, but for years, Raymund did it out of love for his craft. His schedule was so packed, clients would literally beg for a slot and if he was healthy and able, he would oblige and forgo precious sleep. Raymund was that dedicated.
In true European fashion, Raymund would also go on a month-long holiday in August. He loved traveling both locally and internationally. Raymund’s favorites included Crystal Sands in Station 2 of Boracay, his happy place, Paris and the rest of Europe. He loved taking his late mother, Mama E, his sister Anna Mitra, his brother Jojo and Beth Isaac as well as his late brother JR and his pamangkins on his trips. He often said, “Suki, let me go on vacation. It is where I get my inspiration.” Nothing Raymund said was ever wrong. Traveling does inspire.
Raymund was my mentor for five straight years, every single day. Even after leaving his tutelage, I still found myself hearing his voice every time I would make a big decision both in my professional and private life. He supported me in every aspect of my life, from establishing the now defunct LGBT magazine, ICON, with founding editor Richie Villarin, to shifting to a creative director position in publishing, his influence and lessons have stayed with me. For years, I would often tell him, “Raymund if I win an award or a recognition, I will always, always credit you. Forever.”
I’m happy that in his lifetime, he witnessed his name spoken out loud with such high regard. I am certain that in my lifetime I will continue to thank him for guiding me through my life journey. Because everything I know, I know because of Raymund Isaac.
All photos are from Raymund Isaac’s website <raymundisaac.com> and Instagram <@raymundisaac>