(Raymund Isaac passed away September 4, 2021 in the US hospital while, according to Facebook posts of his loved ones, being treated for COVID. Friends and colleagues have been posting their tributes to this great artist they admire, a colleague they respect, a human being who touched the lives of many. Here is the interview he gave TheDiarist.ph shortly before he left for the US trip and which was published June 28, 2021.—Editor’s note)
RAYMUND Isaac has long been known as the country’s premiere celebrity photographer, thanks in large part to a daring, bold style and an eye for what people want to see.
He blazed that trail in the 2000s with the renowned and bestselling annual Body Calendar of sexy celebrity photographs—male and female, whose lure was that they were celebrities (from a newscaster to a banker) people least expected to disrobe, yet they agreed to go nude for Raymund and ABS-CBN Publishing’s Metro Magazine. Raymund also did celebrity covers that captured the likes of Sharon Cuneta as readers had never been seen before. He had a unique way of making stars and celebrities feel at home before the camera.
Ever the trouper, Raymund managed to pivot during the pandemic to inevitably move into the digital realm. He was approached by good friends Perci Intalan and Jun Lana, executive producers of Gameboys, a Filipino boys’ love (BL) web series directed by Ivan Andrew Payawal and written by Ash M. Malanum, that has become an international hit. Kokoy De Santos and Elijah Canlas star as a live-streamer and a gaming fan who fall in love during the 2020 COVID-19 quarantine.
Raymund has since come up with #GAMEBOYS X RAYMUND ISAAC, movie poster-style photographs uploaded every week this Pride Month before the movie version of Gameboys airs in July.
And what surprised even Raymund himself—Raymund Isaac has been trending in social media. (No, he’s not in the movie at all.)
Trust Raymund to know exactly what people want—even the millennials and the GenZ, even as he calls himself “the oldest photographer in the industry”—and to find new avenues for his unstoppable creativity.
“This pandemic is a reboot for all of us,” he says. “There is no such thing as a bad situation—only situations.”
We asked Raymund some questions about the project, his career, and how he’s managed to stay motivated, to go on creating—and moving.—Editor
What taboos or barriers—societal and personal—did you have to hurdle before and while working with Gameboys?
This is very interesting.
There are so many barriers and so-called taboos in the Philippines, which we actually refuse to acknowledge. On the surface, we pretend to discourage them.
Let’s start with the basic issue of ageism. I am now the oldest photographer in the industry. (He is not.—Editor) I don’t know if that is a credit to my professional life, because I have endured and survived numerous changes in the landscape and have adapted to them, or if it’s detrimental to my career because people always look for fresh ideas, fresh blood, leaving those like me in the business feeling useless despite the wisdom and experience we have accumulated along the way.
‘I am constantly trying to prove myself…in a landscape of people who think they know better’
Truth be said, 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. That is the danger—little information is misinterpreted as knowledge and expertise.
The funny barrier I always need to break is the idea that I am expensive. It seems in this country, being seasoned and experienced equates to being expensive. They should see the rates of the ones younger than I.
Where are you now? Can you describe your place—career-wise and person-wise?
I have always been in a position where I can never be satisfied with my work. It may sound bad, but it’s that feeling that I can do more. People always say I’ve arrived, or refer to me as “the legendary” so and so, but that really doesn’t mean a thing in a society that does not nurture people who have worked hard on their craft. You are literary pushed aside for the fad or the next “it” person.
So, I always move on my own, make my own statements and trends. I don’t want to follow what’s “in”; I try to create my own music and march to the beat of my own drum, then see if people take notice. If it doesn’t, then I just move on.
I have always been a storyteller and a creator. So, no matter how the world evolves, there is always a need to tell stories and create images. This has always been my passion, my way of life, my motivation to move forward all the time.
Other colleagues and people in general feel lost and derailed in this pandemic. Did you ever have that feeling? How did you deal with it?
I always love a challenge. It’s the adrenaline rush that keeps me moving and motivated. This pandemic is nothing new, compared to the challenges I have faced. I was so prepared for this, way back towards the end of 2019. I was already wearing masks, I was scared that the Philippines did not notice this. But I knew it would reach our shores.
So, when the pandemic struck, I was prepared to pivot or kembot my way around the situation. Remember, my craft is based on the passion of storytelling and creating, so it was just a matter of rethinking and changing the mindset, on how your story will be told.
You have ruled photography the past two decades or so. Was it a challenge to go into other media like video, digital, podcast, film? What’s the mainstay rule in your mind that enabled you to go multi-media? We’ve known you to have great sensitivity to the times.
Again, I am a storyteller. 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. Sometimes I would like to fail secretly, just to have that challenge to rise again and gloat after I succeed.
His first advice? ‘Get rid of the f—king ego’
You agree talent is not enough—a word to aspiring photographers and artists of this and upcoming generations. So what else, apart from talent?
Get rid of the f–king EGO. That is the first, most important lesson I have learned through the years! Ego makes you think you are the best, which you are not. We all know that somewhere, somehow, eventually, someone will be better than you.
Ego also makes you think you can’t make a mistake. We all know how that goes.
Ego makes you complacent, makes you rest on your laurels and think you are king of the world—until the next hungry guy comes to play and eats you alive.
Second, study, prepare, and adapt. There is no reality where we will know everything. But these three will keep us alive in our careers, and in our daily lives.
Remember, we can study, we can condition and prepare our whole life, but most of what we do is really about dealing with challenges and obstacles that come with no prior warning. But if you know this by heart, anything thrown at you won’t be a surprise. Adapt, survive, and evolve always.
Can you describe the pop culture and arts environment you’re working in in this pandemic? What makes you survive, even thrive in it?
This pandemic is a reboot for all of us. There is no such thing as a bad situation—only situations.
Pop culture and arts in the Philippines are predictable. We just love to imitate other countries or other people. No matter how original we like to think we are, we always depend on what works for others, rather than what we want to say or express.
So, if you have been in this business as long as I have, or you are very analytic in general, you will see the pattern in trends. It’s actually not that hard.
I may be bashed now, or I may upset so many people, but the truth is, this is the era of the dumbing of the planet. So, if you want to survive and thrive, listen first, observe more, then like a good tactician, plan your moves. The lazy get nothing; the one who works harder and is more intelligent eventually wins.
What message did you aim to bring out when you agreed to this collaboration with Gameboys the movie? How does it feel to have your name associated with an international success like Gameboys? What’s the visual concept?
I love that you mentioned the Gameboys collaboration project.
Perci Intalan, the producer of Gameboys, is a long-time friend. When I saw the first season of Gameboys, I became a fan. I told Perci that if he needed anything, I was at his service. I got that call a year later, and he wanted to work on something for the promotion of the movie.
Here was the challenge: I was so out of my league when it came to what 20-somethings like in general. This digital age has made trends and fads come and go too fast, sometimes it’s hard to keep up.
But Perci had a direction; he said he wasn’t comfortable making his actors feel like models. He wanted them to be actors, and not pretend to be something else. With that direction, we both agreed to use classic love stories to deliver the message that love is love, no matter what.
I dove into research and studied the cycle of eras that the audience is into. As of now, they are hooked on the ’90s. BTS showed that in their Dynamite video, Filipinos love the Batang ’90s memes and posts on the internet. Even Friends had a reunion show on cable, which basically became the voice of the era and the youth of their time. Hence, I suggested classic Rom-Com or movie posters from the ’90s.
‘Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be trending on Twitter…It was intoxicating’
Please tell us briefly how Raymund Isaac got to be in “#Gameboys x Raymund Isaac.” How did you feel when it trended on Twitter?
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be trending on Twitter.
Imagine, after the first post of “#Gameboys X Raymund Isaac,” we landed in the ninth spot on that day. We eventually rose to sixth after two hours. It was intoxicating.
I told Perci to credit the boys first and make me secondary, but he insisted on the collaboration angle. I was so thankful he did. He knows his audience.
After I submitted my first study, the Pretty Woman peg, Perci was excited, which gave me more motivation to create other posters of classic stories to come out every Friday of Pride Month, which is June, until July, when the movie premieres.
From our magazine publishing Metro days—a lot of iconic images you did—to today, how do you manage to have that agenda-setting or pioneering spirit? How do you capture the times?
I just don’t think too much. I listen to my gut most of the time. But most of all, I live like a sponge every day. I read, I watch cable, I surf the net, I keep up in whatever way I can; I even try to be a 20-year-old if I can. Once all this information enters your head, you begin to see dots. You reconnect the dots in your head, and they eventually show you patterns and even images of how people will think, decide, and be at certain times. It’s like being a CSI or Mentalist, but from an artistic point of view.
Gameboys does not force you to like them or their story; it teaches us how to empathize
Briefly, can you describe the two lead characters of Gameboys? How are they behind the scenes? What traits of theirs do you admire most? How about the people behind IdeaFirst Co.?
Elijah Canlas and Kokoy De Santos are two very good and promising young actors. Even if we all know they’re straight, once you watch them portray gay roles, you will believe and love them and empathize with them. They worked hard for this project. Credit also has to be given to IdeaFirst Co.; imagine a series shot during the lockdown of 2020, and becoming a hit not only in the Philippines but globally. That is something Herculean. From Perci to the director, to the makeup and props guy—they all did what we thought was impossible, and succeeded.
You think we have found a niche in the global contemporary culture and market with Gameboys? Why do you think the BL series has found a global audience?
The success of Gameboys has so many levels. Watching the series makes you understand that love has no boundaries of race, creed, religion, or gender. The story does not force you to like them or their story; it teaches us how to empathize. It does not advocate anything in a hardcore sense. The story stays simple yet relatable. I, for one, can relate to all the characters in the story, because I have been those characters at different times in my life. It does not preach; it makes you feel. Who doesn’t want to be loved and in love? Aren’t human beings cursed to wonder if there is that perfect match for each of us, that soulmate we all dream of?