Dominique James, Photographer

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Ram, a New York model’s portfolio

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Ram • Portfolio

The main title page of Ram's New York fashion portfolio available for viewing online.

I enjoy working with professional fashion models. I love the idea of creating all sorts of interesting looks. It’s hard work for sure, but at the same time it’s undeniably pure play. Working with a expert team of innovative and professional hair and makeup artists, fashion stylists and some of the fashion designers themselves, the whole process has been a thrill. It is all about bringing imaginative fantasies to visually believable and oddly compelling realities.

I particularly had a blast shooting Ram, one of Ford New York’s prominent Asian male models. In this portfolio, we recently created all sorts of looks, from casual to formal, with the multifaceted Big Apple as the grand backdrop. Take a look at Ram’s complete 50-photo NYC fashion portfolio set. Click here.


A professional shoot for models and talents

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Model Caroline Heinle photographed by Dominique James. Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved. For authorized use only.BY DOMINIQUE JAMES

Have you ever been approached by a police officer to be told that you cannot do a photo shoot on a location you have selected because it’s a public park and that you needed a permit? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me recently. I didn’t think it would, but it did. Have I known that we needed a permit, I would have gotten one. That’s just how it’s supposed to be done. But because I thought there was no need for it, considering the very small size of the shooting production, of which we were only a handful, our little group was literally thrown out of the park—unceremoniously, almost. I was caught by surprise. I was baffled because we weren’t obstructing anything and we weren’t bothering anyone. We were in fact very careful and very conscious not to be too conspicuous. And, the fact is, we didn’t have any thing that resembled a major production setup—not one of those things that has hundreds of people all around, with parked cars, trucks, trailers and generators. There were only five of us during the shoot. But apparently, because the photo session we were conducting looked “professional” enough, we were firmly told that we needed to get a permit to be allowed to shoot. Without the permit, we cannot continue with the pictorial. Thinking back on what we were doing, I still couldn’t imagine that it would have merited a permit.

Being directly responsible for the shoot, no matter how small, I had to think, find a way, and act fast. For one thing, I didn’t want the people I was working with to get into trouble. Heck, I don’t want to get into trouble myself! I had to figure out a way to make sure that we get to do what we wanted to do without getting into trouble. The last thing my little group wanted was to stop shooting, but the last thing that the police officer wanted us to do was to stop shooting. Clearly, we were in a bind, but I wasn’t just about to give up, pack up and call it quits. That would have been unprofessional, and I didn’t want to end a shoot this way. I had to find a way.

The name of my model (and client) for this shoot is Caroline. Caroline wanted to come up with a professional portfolio. It wasn’t a photo shoot for a huge media or production company. We embarked on a simple project to produce a simple portfolio that Caroline can bring along and show around.

Caroline was about to make her big move. She made some plans, had things figured out, and was slowly ticking off one item at a time in her personal to-do list in order to move things along. She has her sights on a goal. She was very organized, methodical, and determined. And, she was also very beautiful. A mutual friend, who felt that we can work something out, introduced us to each other. Caroline and I hit it off well. We got to talk and exchange emails several time for about two weeks before we finally decided to schedule a meet for the pictorial.

Along the way, the many details of the shoot were ironed out. Though what we wanted to do for this pictorial was something simple and straightforward, it was quite surprising that we somehow found ourselves ruminating through a mountain of details. Usually, a typical pictorial involves figuring out what kind of images to produce, who to work with for the hair-and-makeup and wardrobe styling, where to shoot, and how many layouts to do. From experience, these details can be worked out quickly and easily. But what surprised me all the more is that I actually didn’t mind all the in-depth planning and discussions we were having. To my mind, the more we plan things out prior to the pictorial, the better it would be. For one thing, this will give us a chance to really be ready and to concentrate fully on what we wanted to do during the shoot, and we’d be able to minimize unpleasant surprises or snags. Of course, we were well aware that we couldn’t possibly be ever 100% ready for anything, but we tried nonetheless.

Because both Caroline and I wanted to make sure that we cover everything so that we can have a productive and creative session, we communicated constantly, sharing ideas and concepts. Personally, I was thankful that Caroline knew exactly what kind of images she wanted. This helped a lot because, along the way, we were able to refine what we wanted to achieve. And, it probably helped too that we somehow got caught in the excitement of what we were about to do. So, we simply let it grow. It sometimes help to start with a blank slate where both the photographer and the subject can thresh out details through a series of pre-production meetings, but in the case of Caroline, it was better to focus right away on what she wanted since she had to leave New York for Hollywood in the next few days. Besides, on her own, Caroline already had much time to consider the concept of the shoot. She just needed a photographer who can help her make it all happen.

On the day of the shoot, everything started smoothly—selecting the clothes, doing the hair-and-makeup, preparing all equipment. We breezed through the first two outfits with impeccable timing, moving along at a comfortable, steady pace. It helped that the weather was great. We were getting really good shots. But as we moved on to the third layout, that’s when a police officer unexpectedly came up to us to tell us that we have to stop shooting, pack our things and move away. Many unexpected things can happen in a shoot. I know this because I’ve been through countless pictorial sessions. But getting thrown out wasn’t one of the things I thought would ever happen. Life, as they say, is full of surprises.

At that moment, I didn’t quite know what to do except to comply. The first thing on my mind was the safety of those whom I was working with, but at the same time, I didn’t want to abruptly end the shoot and walk away empty-handed. I was determined to finish what we’ve started. That’s when an idea hit me.

As everyone was packing their stuff while the police officer was sternly looking at us, I figured that we’ll just move to a different nearby location, away from the constantly patrolled public park where we were started shooting. Having walked around the area a few times, I know that there was one particular spot where we can continue doing the shoot. I didn’t know if we were going to be stopped too, should an officer come along, but I had to give it a shot (so to speak).

With feigned confidence, and without really explaining what I had in mind, I asked everyone to gather their things. The only thing I told everyone was that we were moving to a different location. For one thing, I didn’t want them to lose their hope, with things ending badly.

I did my best to keep up the mood as I led our little group out of the park and into one of the streets across a multi-lane highway where I thought we can continue from where we left off. I can sense that a couple of the members of my team was becoming disappointed and confused, but I happily (and bravely) chatted on. As we arrived at the new location, an open street, I announced right there and then that it was on that exact spot where we will continue our work. Everyone was surprised but I simply told them that we have a job to do and we should get back to work to finish it. And so, right there and then, and without a fuss, everyone started to get right back to work as if nothing happened.

As we were all set for the third layout, a patrol car with two officers unexpectedly crawled its way slowly into the street where we were. My little group, fresh from the embarrassing and disappointing sting of being thrown out just a few minutes ago, was suddenly quiet, trying to keep a very low profile. You know the feeling when you wanted to just disappear? That was exactly what we were all feeling. Having been in New York for quite a while, I’ve seen what can happen when an officer stops to take notice, and instantly call for backup. In a matter of minutes, the area will be teeming with police cars, firetrucks, and an ambulance, with lights going on all at the same time. There’d be so many people gathering and yellow ribbons would have to be put up just to mark the perimeter off. It would be an instant crime scene!

But then, another unexpected thing happened! The patrol car didn’t stop. While the police officers glanced at us for a much longer time than usual, they simply drove past us without stopping. Can you just imagine our collective sigh of relief? That’s when we sensed, finally, in the new location, no one’s going to bother us for the rest of the shoot

And that was when the magic really started happening!

On this new location, a seemingly unassuming street, we were able to work our way to the end of the shoot. As a matter of fact, we were able to add a couple more layouts that during the planning stage we thought we wouldn’t be able to pull off. And the really nice thing is, probably because of the adrenalin rush for all the “excitement” that happened, we were able to finish on time. It turned out to be a really productive and creative shoot. Because of the new location, many other creative possibilities which were unavailable to us in the previous location simply opened up. We were able to do layouts that, while far different from what we originally thought, proved to be much better. The new location, with the many textures that portrayed different moods, depth and character, proved to be a blessing in disguise. We managed to create some really amazing images that was very much in line with our original concept. And, because we got inspired to try out other things in the new location, we were able to achieve something more.

Back to my studio a few hours later, as I was looking at the shots, I felt (oddly enough) glad that we were thrown out. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to create the many images we ended up making. A major part of it of course has something to do with the bunch of people I was working with—they had been the most unflappable professionals who continued to do what needed to be done despite the odds. What can I say? Nothing really shocks New Yorkers anymore.

As for Caroline, she got her pictures—another thing ticked off from her to-do list. And just as planned, she moved on to Hollywood to embark on an exciting new career in show business.

[Note: For inquiries and for information on professional photography assignments for editorial and/or advertising purposes, as well as for post-production digital image editing and enhancement, please send email to Dominique James at or call 912-246-1131. For information on models and talents portfolio shoots, please click here. Thank you.]

A photo session with Mrs. Josie Natori in New York

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Mrs. Josie Natori photographed by Dominique James. Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved. For authorized use only.BY DOMINIQUE JAMES

I’ve always admired Mrs. Josie Natori from a distance, even when I was still based in Manila. Prior to this pictorial, I’ve never met her, not in any of the numerous fashion events and functions where both of us may have most likely attended. I’ve known her only from magazine profiles and through anecdotes of some of my closest designer friends, who, naturally, spoke glowingly of her. From a distance, I’ve come to regard her with fascination. I see her as one of the very few women who possess an impeccable sense of style, grace, and elegance, which I view to be iconic. The way I see it, she is the perfect representation of the best from Asia and America. She is an amalgam, an international citizen.

As a photographer, I’ve also thought that it would be quite a thrill to get the chance to photograph her someday—to capture at least a facet, if not the total essence, of an Asian woman who’s timeless style has been much admired all over the world. In my more than 20 years of photographing fabulous women, including Mrs. Natori in my photography portfolio would be an honor and an achievement.

Imagine my surprise and excitement when I received an editorial assignment to photograph her. Within two months since I arrived in New York, and barely settled, I received a message from my editor from Manila, Joyce Fernandez, who arranged the photo session. They needed exclusive photographs that will accompany a piece to be published in two month’s time. Since the story is about Mrs. Natori’s love for classical piano, my main duty was to reflect that in the photographs.

Together with my Hungarian assistant photographer, Miklos Solyom, I met with Mr. James R.H. Booth, senior vice president of licensing, marketing and public relations of the Natori, for a brief pre-production meeting at their Madison Avenue headquarters. Details were threshed out and a date was set for a simple pictorial at her posh private quarters located at the upper east side of Manhattan.

It was a morning shoot, and it was a timed pictorial. Knowing how full her daily schedule is, and realizing that photo sessions can go on and on, I was told to keep to the clock. The phrase “in a New York minute” kept running through my head, as I packed, checked and double-checked my gears for the shoot.

I arrived at Mrs. Natori’s apartment a hour-and-a-half before the shooting was to begin. Together with my assistant photographer, Miklos, we immediately set up our equipment for the 3-outfit layout in the main living areas of her exquisitely appointed residence. Meanwhile, in the other room, Mrs. Natori’s hair and makeup artists, Nicole Potter and Dyana Nematallah, were already at work with her. From years and years of professional shooting experience, I can tell that things were moving along very well. It helped that Sierra Fromberg, senior public relations and marketing coordinating for the Natori, was there to oversee the production of the shoot.

For the first image, Mrs. Natori, in a white dress with pleated skirt, sat lightly on the back of a small sofa, between the two grand pianos in the foreground. The natural morning light streamed from a tall window that lit Mrs. Natori, while keeping the foreground and other areas dark. Despite the massive foreground, I kept sharp focus on the photo’s main subject.

In the second photo, wearing a black dress with a woven thick belt surprisingly accented by a pair of chopsticks, Mrs. Natori stood by a blank white-beige wall. With generous light streaming from one side, it was a bright picture with her elegant frame in the middle. She was showing a dimpled smile, and the picture has a down-to-earth, conversational-style to it.

Finally, for the third picture, Mrs. Natori wore an amazing black silk kimono-inspired ensemble. I love the first two clothes she wore, but this third outfit has a “cinematic” quality to it that I know would look very photogenic. For this layout, she was leaning forward, towards the black reflecting table, and in the background were solid grey panels. Instantly, I knew this was going to be my favorite layout. The monochromatic color scheme of blacks, greys and whites was just awesome. And then, in a flash of inspiration, and because I wanted to do more, Mrs. Natori agreed to an alternate layout, with the same outfit, where she sat on one side of the sill of a huge window. With morning light streaming in, she was enveloped in an ethereal glow. For this shot, I framed the entire window.

Concentrating on the shooting process, I forgot all about time. When I looked at my watch, I was surprised that we finished early. I was anxious that we might not have enough time to do everything, but I am glad that we completed the shoot way ahead of time. When shooting, I tend to work fast. When I know that I got the image I wanted, I know that that’s the time to stop. And, it always help that I was surrounded and working with professionals. It makes the work faster, easier, and lighter. And, in some cases, even fun.

Photographing Mrs. Natori turned out to be quite an experience for me. Throughout the pictorial, she was very accommodating and gracious. As one of the most-photographed women, and having been photographed through the years by many of the world’s foremost photographers, I am glad to have been given the opportunity to have a private pictorial session with her. I consider this to one of my most memorable photo assignments to date in New York.

[Note: For inquiries and for information on professional photography assignments for editorial and/or advertising purposes, as well as post-production digital image editing and enhancement, please send email to Dominique James at or call 912-246-1131. Thank you.]

Barge Ramos: The portrait of a Filipino fashion designer as an artist

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This is a portrait I photographed of legendary Filipino fashion designer, Barge Ramos.BY DOMINIQUE JAMES

There are many fascinatingly ultra-modern, forward-thinking, and world-class Filipino fashion designers. Without a doubt, Barge Ramos is one of them. His career as a fashion designer has spanned decades. He is one of the most consistent, most respected, and most well-loved. While most designers wax and wane with the times, Barge Ramos has remained steadfast through the ebb and flow of trends in the fashion design world. His fashion sensibilities naturally flow with the times, and his work evolves through the years, but his work is firmly anchored on the navigator’s eternal North Star.

It can be said that many good designers have lost their ways and have strayed from their self-indentity, endlessly and senselessly cycling through so many experimental stylistic persuasions. This is not the case with Barge Ramos. He has focused, and mastered, and is now much recognized and admired, for the art and craft of designing the single-most defining piece of clothing for the Filipinos, the Baro ng Tagalog.

The work that Barge Ramos has done through the years, designing upon and heaping his massive creative talent on the single staple of Philippines’ formal fashion wear for men, is nothing short of amazing. It is an unequaled accomplishment. Very few Filipino designers can claim to have achieved such an incredible feat.

I have had several opportunities to work with Barge Ramos and photograph the marvelously inventive Barong Tagalog on which he applied his designs through the years. I’ve also had the opportunity of taking his portraits. The picture of Barge Ramos here is one of the shots selected from the pictorial intended as an artist’s portrait for his recently published book, PINOY Dressing, Weaving Culture into Fashion. This amazing book, richly illustrated by Loretto, a legendary fashion sketch artist and an extremely talented fashion designer as well, is designed is by award-winning and critically acclaimed book designer, Ige Ramos.

In this exclusive Q&A interview I conducted with fashion designer, Barge Ramos, he talks about the singular object of his creative prowess, its evolution, his contribution and its future.

DOMINIQUE JAMES: From your perspective, and in your opinion, how is the Barong Tagalog tied to the culture and self-identity of the Filipino people? Why is the Barong Tagalog important, and even essential, to the nature and identity of the Filipino people? What does it symbolize?

BARGE RAMOS: The Barong Tagalog is umbilically tied to the soul and culture of the Filipino. From a lowly peasant worker’s shirt to the fully embroidered dress shirt in handwoven pineapple fabric, the Baro ng Tagalog has come a long way. It also was a symbol of oppression, under the Spanish years of colonization, when the Filipino ilustrados had to wear their inner shirt untucked, under the Western-style waistcoat. Ramon Magsaysay was the first Filipino President who wore the Barong Tagalog for his inauguration as President. In later years President Ferdinand Marcos made a decree, stating that the Barong Tagalog is the official national menswear for Filipinos.

Dominique James: With the changing and shifting fashion sense of the Filipinos, do you think the Barong Tagalog is still relevant today or is it turning to be just an “artifact” from a bygone era?

Barge Ramos: The intriguing aspect of the Barong Tagalog is that it is ever evolving. Of course there have been inappropriate innovations on it. Even the European designer Pierre Cardin changed its look and silhouette in the Sixties, when he put up shop in Manila (Philippines). Cardin constructed the Barong like a coat, tapered to the body and slightly flaring at the hem, with sleeves also cut and sewn like coat sleeves. He also did away with the traditional front pechera embroidery, making the barong, instead, sleek and structured. It was fresh and modern. However, it looked good only on men with slim, tall bodies, a rare minority among Filipino males.

Dominique James: As one of the figures of design authority today on the Barong Tagalog, how do you view your interpretation and designs compared to those created by the designers from past? How much of the Barong Tagalog that you design today is your idealized creation or version (a Barge Ramos stamp) compared to how we generally know it in terms of its pre-existing characteristic and recognizable elements such as basic structure, basic pattern, basic design, and basic construction? What would you consider as some of the innovations in design and construction that you would consider as your contribution to the styling of the Barong Tagalog?

Barge Ramos: What I do in my designs is to treat the Barong Tagalog like a canvass. I am inspired to translate the riotous colours of the Philippine jeepney, by way of batik handpainting on jusi fabric. Jusi is a by-product of silk. Or I photo-silkscreen on dyed jusi materials, a certain ethnic print pattern like the t’nalak of the Tibolis. I have even dipped real leaves on textile paint and printed on jusi, to come up with my leaf design.

Dominique James: What would you consider as the best or finest fabrics and materials for designing and tailoring a Barong Tagalog? What are your favorite materials and fabrics to work with?

Barge Ramos: Currently I am using a lot of pineapple pinya handwoven as well as the inabel cotton weaves from Ilocos. The pineapple fabric is delicate and diaphanous, perfect for more formal or dressy barongs, while the inabel lends itself to a more casual, streetwear type of barong.

Dominique James: What would you consider the hallmarks of a well-designed and well-made Barong Tagalog? What are the tell-tale signs that a Barong Tagalog is not well-made or well-designed?

Barge Ramos: A well-made Barong Tagalog should have a well-cut collar that fits comfortably around the neck. It should neither be too loose, not too tapered around the body. And of course it should exude an feeling of elegance.

Dominique James: From a design perspective, what have been the challenges you’ve encountered when updating the design of the Barong Tagalog that makes it still relevant for the modern times?

Barge Ramos: I’d like to think that the barongs I design are an alternative to the conventional, traditional and quite possibly boring ones that most Filipino men are seen in. In our Filipino culture, most Filipino men would want to look like the next one, not wanting to be different or to stand out of line. But times change, as well as lifestyles. Media, technology, even current events in the world are now changing how we think, how we live. There is still, of course a delicate balance between innovation and disaster. This is where the designer’s sense of style comes in.

Dominique James: The Barong Tagalog can be considered as a unisex outfit and can be worn by both the men and women. Is there a distinct difference between the two? If women can wear an appropriately designed Barong Tagalog, how does it differ from the traditional women’s baro at saya? What are the occassions when it is more appropriate for women to wear the Barong Tagalog over the baro at saya, or vice versa?

Barge Ramos: A lot of designers have made barongs for women. Since barong fabrics are light and translucent, with delicate hand-embroidery, barongs lend themselves easily to become shirt tunics for women. It’s simply a matter of silhouette, shape and construction, and of course the details. But when the invitation to an event says Filipiniana, the more appropriate dress code for women is the terno or the baro’t saya. But then again, I wouldn’t put it past some smart women to come in sleek silk pants and a colored barong tunic!

Dominique James: Is there a place for the Barong Tagalog and/or its derivative in the casual, dress-down fashion sense of Filipinos today? Can the formal Barong Tagalog be correctly, appropriately, and even successfully be adapted as casual, day-to-day clothing?

Barge Ramos: The Barong Tagalog has, in fact, seeped down to everyday wear for Filipinos, in the form of linen shirts, with either short or long sleeves. There was a time when hanky-cotton fabric was used for daytime barongs, and this was literally and figuratively a cool way to wear a barong in a tropical country.

Dominique James: Can a Barong Tagalog be designed and created by using other fabrics or materials and still be essentially considered a Barong Tagalog?

Barge Ramos: Fashion today is dictated to a huge extent by technology. Newer and newer fabrics, designed to meet the needs of contemporary lifestyles, are being created. We see this happening in fashion shows and pictorials in glossy magazines all over. It would be very interesting to see what new fabrics could be utilized for the Barong Tagalog.

Dominique James: In terms of how it is made and how it is being worn as a formal wear, do you think that the Barong Tagalog is still being treated with as much respect and reverence today as it used to be? Why or why not?

Barge Ramos: Why not, if a stretch cotton fabric, matched with stretch embroidery, can be made into a modern barong for the modern Filipino? Ideas are as limitless as one’s imagination.

Dominique James: In general, how has the Barong Tagalog, as a national dress, evolved? And how do you see it evolving in the hands of the young designers whose work will be patronized and worn by the future generation?

Barge Ramos: My book PINOY DRESSING, Weaving Culture into Fashion delves into traditional ways of dressing in the different regions of the Philippines, and how these can be translated into contemporary wear for the new generation of Filipinos. It would greatly make me happy to see how the younger breed of designers take up the challenge and re-create the Barong Tagalog. As if they were designing it for the very first time.

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