Jun de Leon: This Bad Boy is hot!
10 THINGS - Bianca Gonzalez () - April 1, 2012 - 12:00am

He was once looked at as the “Bad Boy of Photography” with his salt and pepper hair, white shirt and jeans look, women, drugs and his flaring temper. He has been at the top of his game for 39 years and counting. He is a well-loved man who has only the highest respect from everyone he has worked with. Here are 10 things you should know about the master, Jun de Leon.

1.His passion for photography began in his college years as a photojournalist for the Philippine Daily Express. On his very first assignment, he had to do an investigative report on drug users and prostitutes, and he went as far as taking the drugs himself.

“I had to work and study at the same time to pay for my tuition,” Jun recalls. He was a fine arts student in UST and initially wanted to study architecture (“but I was so bad at math”), tried out painting (“but I was so lousy”), then settled on advertising, where he encountered photography. It was then that he started to balance going to school during the day and, armed with a second-hand Pentax from his mom, he covered the police beat at midnight. He would just take catnaps in the bunk beds at work, only to be woken up to shoot mostly dead people. “Can you imagine? I’m a slave to beauty, but then I had to photograph people getting killed or Carriedo being bombed. For me, violence is ugly.”

He says he took his first assignment as a challenge, saying that he felt his superiors at the Daily Express didn’t think he could do it. He was tasked to do an in-depth documentation on drug users and prostitutes in Olongapo and when he got back to Manila and submitted the photos, they told him, “Never do this again.” In his portfolio, there is one shot taken by one of the drug users where Jun is down, after having been given a dose by the users themselves. To be able to take photos of them, he decided to blend in. “Tinurukan nila ako. Bagsak ako, di ako addict eh. I had to get their trust.”

“Boracay, may bagyo, binato siya ng dalawang dancer, pasa pasa siya,” Jun says of this un-photoshopped photo.

In his almost decade-long stint with the publication, Jun received two Photojournalist of the Year Awards. “I owe a lot to that experience, whatever I’m doing now was sharpened by news photography. Instinct mo na yan dapat. Your camera becomes your extension.”

2. Before photography turned digital, he used to burn all his negatives at the end of every year. Yes, all. “I have no attachment to the past,” he claims.

“The problem with me is if you ask me about the past, I have no attachment to the past.” He says that if you ask any of the senior models, they will confirm that because it was such a hassle for him to compile all his negatives neatly, he would just burn them all. From shots taken in his Daily Express days to his first editorials, and even to portraits of Marcos. To this day, he shares that his work has never overwhelmed him and that he is not his biggest fan. It is the creation of the photo that he loves and gets a high from, not after achieving the image. “Mas excited ako to go forward,” he explains. 

3. On the move from news photography to fashion photography: “Obvious naman that I love women.”

He recalls that his move to fashion happened during the time that now-STAR Lifestyle editor Millet Mananquil

gave him the chance to shoot for Express Week, the Sunday magazine of the Daily Express. “I love women, I love their quirks, their temper, their smell, lahat,” Jun declares with a sly smile. So between taking photos of women versus killings, the choice became obvious.

Even when he had no coverage, he remembers his editors would tell him, “Jun, kailangan namin ng babae,” to be then put on the front page of the paper as a sort of break from all the hard news. “I discovered Alma Moreno on the street,” he reveals. “I saw her, I said, ‘I find you beautiful, can I take your photo?’ I shot her and she was put on the cover. The next thing you know, San Miguel endorser na siya.”

Sarah Geronimo. Photos from “Coke: 100 Years of Happiness’

4. The word “father” has meant a lot in Jun’s life. His father died when he was five; he admits to being an “absent” father himself at some point in his life; but he’s learned from his mistakes, and is making up for them, all of which inspired him to do the book Our Father.

Jun has eight children whose ages range from 35 to 10: Christine, Patricia, Oliver, Timothy, Katrina, Nikkolo, Isabella, and Irijah. He admits to being a much better father figure now than he was with his older kids. “When I got separated, I knew it was going to be painful but not that painful.” He admitted to immersing himself even more into photography, getting heavily into drugs, and having an angry phase. “I realized that after so much absence, I cannot be a father anymore, that I should be a friend.” Now, as a family, they go bowling, wake boarding, and do all these other activities like barkadas would. He drives his youngest son to school every morning. He even shares that when his daughters go through a breakup, they always go back to “the original boyfriend,” their dad. “It was only after Isa that I realized I can be a good father,” he opens up.

Though he describes growing up without a father as “very difficult,” Jun says he was ambitious and driven. The second of four kids, he recalled that his dad, a lawyer/policeman/ TOYM awardee, had a huge library with a big sign that read, “I crave for respect.” “How do you get respect? You give it first,” he simply says.

Edgar “Bobot” Mortiz

Fast forward to 2008, it was his daughter Katrina’s graduation, and when she asked him to go to her graduation, he insisted that he doesn’t go to events. “Dad, I just need to talk to you. Don’t wear your white T-shirt, but you can wear your rubber shoes,” he recalls her saying. So he went. They called the surnames under letter “D”; nothing. Letter “L”; still nothing. Until it reached letter “X” and Jun decided to have a cigarette outside. He remembers thinking to himself, “Baka di grumaduate kaya she has to talk to me.” Until the emcee of the graduation called onstage all the parents of the Top 20. “Eh crybaby ako eh!” Jun says of that proud moment with tears rushing down his face. “Habang sinasabitan ko siya ng medal, she said ‘Dad, bear with the silver, walang gold this year.’” It was then he realized that he had to finish his book, Our Father.

He was inspired to do a book on fathers wherein he would shoot every father that would enter his studio, along with sons or daughters. “I’d shoot for 10 minutes, the coffee time was two hours,” he recalls. From fathers with regular jobs, to businessmen, to celebrities, to lieutenants — he shot them all. “Thirty-two lang yung target ko, naging 52. And everyone had a story to tell,” he shares.

5. He proposed to his wife Abbygale Arenas in the most unromantic but most real manner: by showing his assets, liabilities, strengths and weaknesses.

It started from him taking her photo. “You have to understand that photographers are human beings too, and I love women, and gaganda ng mga kinukunan ko,” Jun shares. He had something of an image then of being a womanizer and a bad boy when they got together, and he remembers the whole fashion industry being against the relationship. (Their age gap is over 15 years.) He now jokes, “I thought we were friends!” They eventually got together, and two years into the relationship, his daughter Patricia told him, “Dad, if you can’t make this relationship work, you’re not capable of any relationship.” Egged on by the threat, he said, “Okay, let’s buy a ring.”

Charo Santos

He shares that he has learned from his mistakes in the past; that he had to put together what Abby wanted and what he could offer in order for it to work. And he proposed marriage to her with these words: “Here’s my savings, here’s what I own, here’s what I spend to support my family, here’s my earnings. I want to marry you. Don’t say yes, think about it. I want to be a choice, not an option.”

The deal was to not see or talk to each other for a week, but on the third day, she gave her answer. “Yes, I want to marry you. Ang guapo ko! Feeling Aga Muhlach!”

He made Abby choose between a nice wedding or a honeymoon every year. She chose the latter (of course.) Jun made a grand plan wherein he had a shoot in Dubai, got Abby as his model, but they flew two days earlier, and held their wedding at a Christian church with all of seven guests.

“I thought I had everything, and then I met Abby. It has been the best 15 years of my life,” he says with a big smile while holding up his hand to show his wedding band.

6. Jun de Leon in numbers:

120: Square meters of his current studio in Bonifacio Global City.

3: Number of times a week he works out, plus he spends one weekend a month in Cam Sur to go wake boarding. 

20-plus: Cigarettes he smokes a day. “But I never finish one whole, patay sindi ako.”

150: In millimeter s, his favorite lens to use. 

Gary David

13: Books published in total, the latest one being the Coke: 100 Years of Happiness coffee table book where a majority of the concepts were done on the spot by him and PR maven Keren Pascual. “We shot 104 people in eight days.”

7. He has remained relevant through almost four decades because he has invested time, effort and money into the best equipment and training. And he dreams of having a critic.

Every year, he goes to the Palm Springs Photo Festival to attend the one-week mentorship program with the masters (he has learned from the likes of Graciela Iturbide, Vincent Laforet and Andreas Bitesnich). “From the moment they wake up to the time they sleep, you just observe them,” he shares. On top of that, he also researches and invests in top-of-the-line equipment for his work. (He currently uses a Phase One medium format camera system.) “I never stop. Photography for me is horizon after horizon after horizon.”

On critics: “That is one thing we need in this country, legitimate critics.” He differentiates personal opinion from a professional critic who can really tell you why a photo is bad. “People say I’m good but I don’t believe it. Never believe your own press release,” he declares.

8. On the influx of DSLR users and the overuse of Photoshop: “If you are a photographer, do not rely on Photoshop. When you shoot it, make it true to your vision.”

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde

He says that there is nothing wrong with anyone who has a camera shooting pictures, but being a photographer is different. “I have no condescending attitude towards anyone who wants to be a photographer. You can shoot, get hooked up with magazines, that’s so easy now. It’s staying there that is another thing.” He even shares that funny saying, “Wala sa pana yan, nasa Indian.” He says that having started with analog photography, he and the other photographers of his time know how to light properly. He says that in this “torrent generation,” a lot tend to forget about the romantic component of photography. “It’s your pride as a photographer, you want to see it right without having to rely on Photoshop. My 10-year-old son can Photoshop, so how do you separate the men from the boys?”

9. He has never been late to a shoot, not even once, because for him it is a sign of respect. He has a notorious reputation for being hot-tempered and shouting on set, because he says he is not articulate.

He is one photographer who comes on set three hours before the actual shoot to set up, so that when the people get there, everything is ready. And one must never be late to his set, or else they will hear it from him. “You don’t rob people of their time, like I don’t want to be robbed of mine. I want to make it as easy as possible for my subject,” he says.

Many people have told him that his reputation precedes him, and he says that some people do not understand how he works. The night before the shoot, everything is set. The lighting design is planned, the final vision for the shoot is clear in his head, down to what he will wear to the shoot being laid out on his bed. “Precision,” Jun says.

“I’m a visual person, I think in pictures. I’m not articulate which is why I have that temper, because I cannot express what I see,” he reveals. In some hot-tempered bouts years ago, he would go as far as throwing clothes if they weren’t ironed, and even throwing his camera. “The hardest language to articulate is photography. Paano ko mae-explain lahat ng nakikita ko? I see it in my mind, its clear, naka-frame. My mind is exploding, I want the vision done, and I don’t have the words to explain it.”

A photo shoot the author Bianca Gonzalez did with Jun de Leon in 2006.

10. For him, he has photographed everyone he has wanted to photograph.

 “I’ve done all the presidents from Marcos to P-Noy. If you’ve gone from Gloria Romero to Kathryn (Bernardo) and Julia (Montes), Ninoy Aquino to Baby James, what can I expect? I’ll handle it tomorrow,” he says, yet again looking forward. When the late President Corazon Aquino was already sick, she graciously requested him to take what would be their last family portrait. “And before her death, she showed that picture we took and said, ‘This is how I want to look,’” he reveals.

A project he still dreams of doing? A book on the different shades of white. To be shot in Antarctica.

* * *

It is rare to see a man with so much passion for what he does that the line between his work and his life blurs. He has earned so much respect in the industry because he has so much respect for his craft and for other people, that it is unthinkable to not accord him the same level of respect. At 56 years of age, despite all that he has achieved, he has never praised himself; instead the praise is given to him by others. “I just keep on shooting. I wanna die shooting, and on my death bed, naka-duct tape and camera sa kamay ko. I will shoot my last frame,” he says. While we all dream that such a moment will be far from now, Jun’s almost-maniacal zest for life continues. “I love life! I live and learn, live and learn, live and learn.”

* * *

E-mail me at askiamsuperbianca@yahoo.com or follow me on twitter @iamsuperbianca.

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