It feels like we’re in a long, long dark night without the promise of dawn, and we dread who will be taken away from us in the dead of night. One after the other, they go—and always, with the certainty that we will not see them or be with them again, unless we believe in eternal life.
One of those who left us as a result of this pandemic was the Philippines’ leading photographer and lifestyle arbiter and our longtime friend, Raymund Isaac. Raymund passed away Sept. 4, 2021 in the US, and his Facebook page hasn’t run out of tributes, memories, and posts of endearment.
Last June, some time before he flew to the US, Raymund and I had a lengthy talk on the phone—our first in a long time. And since we had time in this on-and-off lockdown, we spent a good time reminiscing about our years—the late ‘80s on to the ‘90s and 2000s— in Metro Magazine and other glossies we put up for then ABS-CBN Publishing, the landmark Body Calendar, the celebrity covers, even the fashion shoots for the old broadsheet Manila Chronicle, and the Philippine fashion industry in general.
We reconnected after I was so amazed to see “Raymund Isaac” trending on Twitter that June, and I wanted TheDiarist.ph to do an interview with him on how a print photographer like him had been able to make a successful, even phenomenal, pivot to the digital age.
Raymund was trending that week of June in Twitter because of #Gameboys X Raymund Isaac, a movie poster-style photograph series uploaded every week during the Pride Month of June. The photo series was a run-up to the celebrated movie Gameboys in July. Raymund was trending even if he was not in this popular movie about a livestreamer and a gaming fan who fall in love during the pandemic.
I told him how proud I was not only of his innate ability to feel the pulse of the viewership/readership—across demographics, from baby boomers to GenZs—but also of his ability to pivot in this serious crisis.
“The pandemic is a reboot for all of us,” he said in the interview that was done after our long talk. “There is no such thing as a bad situation—only situations.” (Read: The mind of Raymund Isaac—and why he’s trending)
But I wasn’t surprised by his ability to pivot. Raymund had always backed his talent with grit. He was a survivor—fearless and always curious, his love of learning new stuff seeing no end.
Raymund had always backed his talent with grit. He was a survivor—fearless and always curious
And during that talk, we both laughed at how, after having shaped the glossies industry, we were now doing digital and working with digital natives. We talked about the past not only with nostalgia but also with great respect for it—how hard we worked then and how we would do cartwheels just to please the celebrities we wanted to bag for covers.
We owed Raymund a lot for some trendsetting innovations in Metro Magazine. It was he who sold us the idea of running an annual Body Calendar—skin photographs of prominent figures who were not at all expected to disrobe, but whom Raymund was able to convince to do so because they trusted his art and concept; his image was never cheap or gratuitous. Not only was it the buzz of the town, it also set a trend. The Body Calendar featured bold-type names with disparate backgrounds, from actors/actresses to bankers, newscasters, businessmen, professionals, and of course, the hunks and sexy women of the day. We assigned a talked-about name to every month of the year. The Body Calendar every January became a much-awaited (and sold-out) issue—people wanted to know who would be in it and in what poses.
But ah, we told each other in that June phone chat, that was good for that era; that was then, now is now. And, we reminded each other, we were not the type to dwell on the past, only to acknowledge it.
Then we again got a good chuckle trying to remember the celebrities we slaved over—slaved over, really—to put on the cover. I told him we couldn’t have bagged these hot names without him.
Raymund’s edge was he had people skills to implement his concepts. Not only was he articulate—how he could mine and explain insights—he also could make anyone comfortable before the camera, anyone at all. Celebrities trusted him, so that our magazine staff only had to drop his name to make the celebrity say yes to the cover shoot.
Seeing him work behind the camera was something else. His God-given ability was to make his subject—especially one with that huge celebrity ego—feel at ease and confident before the camera. It was amazing how he could small-talk you even as he clicked away your close-ups.
As he pivoted in this pandemic and became a trending name, he gave a definition of himself in TheDiarist.ph interview—“I am a storyteller,” he said. “I just love showing my images and ideas in all forms possible, and to all kinds of audiences. I was neither afraid of change nor failure, and I do welcome failure to keep me grounded.”
In that very telling interview, he described himself as “the oldest photographer in the industry.” Of course, he was not, by any measure. (I don’t think he was even in his senior years.)
Then he added, “I am constantly trying to prove myself, to stay relevant and useful in a landscape of people who think they know better due to the information explosion of the Digital Era.”
We talked about how he was doing podcasts and how he was not only ready but also was enjoying the digital platforms. We talked about how to reduce our “long forms” into digestible bits. We were looking forward to braving together—yet again—the new media out there; to be the “oldest young.”
As it turned out, new collaborations with Raymund weren’t meant to be.
The industry’s “oldest photographer” wasn’t meant to age.
But I was glad that in that long talk, I was able to say thank you. Thank you, Raymund, for our eternal youth.
Here are tributes of friends and colleagues on Facebook. It turns out that Raymund went beyond the celebrity/fashion circles to Philippine theater, advocacy groups and NGOs such as PAWS and religious groups and took photos for them. “Di lang siya pang-artista (He wasn’t only for show biz celebrities),” said Beri Marfori of Ligaya ng Panginoon, for whom Raymund took photos.