Let me tell you how my first encounter with Mark Nicdao went. He was half-dangling from a cliff, his lower torso clamped between two metal rods held by his trustworthy assistant; the only things preventing him from a possibly fatal fall that could very well be the end of his stellar career.
He was practically hanging on for dear life, and yet he turns his head, and grins, with a cigarette in his mouth and his camera in hand, at everyone who watched him dangle over the picturesque location of the cover shoot. He snapped shots of the subject, shifted his position to take a couple more as he almost fell off the darned cliff, causing everyone on-set to gasp “Mark!” and have a mini heart-attack.
“Stunt man” people would jokingly call him. A nickname that we assume he gladly accepts—and after all, why not? This is just one of the many things that Mark Nicdao is known as.
To the rest of us, he is known as “master of shutters,” “photographer du jour”–an artistic genius, simply put. Rightfully so, Mark produces the most breathtaking photographs. Perhaps partly because his frequent subjects are this country’s most beautiful, embodied by the likes of KC Concepcion, Anne Curtis, Solenn Heussaff and Georgina Wilson—a few among many. But more importantly, it is because his photographs possess an irresistible amalgamation of elegance, raw sensuality and vividness.
At 32 years old and nine years into his career, Mark has won the respect, if not the adoration, of the industry. If you had asked him about what he wanted his future to be like nine years ago, the word “photographer” probably wouldn’t have even surfaced.
Coming from a background of Fine Arts, the almost-alumni of UP Diliman wanted to pursue a career as a filmmaker. But as fate would have it, his stint as a production assistant under photographer Francis Abraham while taking a semester off from school, eventually led him into photography. After much prodding from Francis, a reluctant Mark decided to give it a shot. He then interned for photographer Tom Epperson, started to capture the attention of other industry greats such as Luis Espiritu and Xander Angeles, and then, inevitably, acquired clients. In no time at all, celebrities were requesting to be shot by Mark.
“Everything went so fast!” he said.
He then started doing shoots for local fashion magazines Mega and Metro, in one of which he met Lucy Torres-Gomez, the catalyst of his long-time and on-going relationship with local retail brand Bench (with whom he is still a photographer of their ad campaigns).
“That was in 2003. I thought she was just being nice. But Bench called me up, [and said] ‘Mark, Lucy requested you to do this campaign,’” he shared.
Shortly after, he shot his first magazine cover for Uno, a local men’s magazine, which featured Bianca Araneta. And we could already guess how it all went from there—an endless slew of magazine covers, advertorials, and campaign ads—Mark Nicdao quickly transformed from reluctant photographer to a phenomenal virtuoso.
One would think that a man like Mark—a successful photographer who shoots celebrities, hopping from one party to another in the company of the town’s most glamorous—lives a charmed life 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You would think that work is play for him. And yet, he sits across me during our interview, sips from his bottle of beer and takes a puff of his cigarette (“I smoke a lot,” he confesses), all so nonchalantly and tells me how his days are really like.
“Everyday’s completely different, like now—look how random it is! I would know my schedule only the day before I shoot. Right now, I don’t know what my schedule tomorrow is,” he said.
Normally, his shoots start at 11am, allowing him his ‘morning time’ which he said he loves. “I can wake up at 10am, I can still take a bath, have coffee, eat breakfast—because I love doing that before going to work.”
After a shoot, he goes home, edits his photographs, checks his emails and watches movies—a pastime that cultivated his love for visuals as a child.
“Even when I was younger, I loved watching movies. I would watch any film, kahit hindi ko maintindihan (even if I couldn’t understand them), I would watch French, I would watch Italian films. I just like looking at visuals.”
Film and fine art truly are where his passion lies and his talent flourishes. He draws inspiration from photographers like Richard Avedon, Peter Lindbergh, and painters like Caravaggio and Henri Fantin-Latour.
“When I work, subconsciously I go back to the visuals that I saw, the movies that I saw, and then it’s kind of just meshes. It comes out of my mouth and it comes out of the photograph!” said Mark.
Mark is inarguably well-loved in the industry. But just like anyone else, he admitted that there is constant pressure to be able to deliver and to prove himself. He added, “You can never avoid some people who don’t like you.” But he knows that it is only natural, that this is really how the industry works. He produces stunning images, nonetheless, and this professionalism has obviously taken him far.
With all that he has achieved in nine years, it may seem as if there is nothing else left to be done. But on the contrary, Mark only emerges more inspired and with a stronger passion to do more with his craft. “When they see my photographs, I want content, I want people to be more aware of their surroundings and not just be fascinated with beautiful photographs—I want them to think,” said Mark.
At present, he is in the process of producing another book containing his unpublished works. It’s something we all should look forward to—a follow-up to Vantage, his first book and a compilation of his works over the years, published by ABS-CBN in 2011. Mark also never quite let go of his dream to be a filmmaker, declaring that someday, given the time and chance, he would love to make a film that would star his muses.
“I want it to be my favorite girls. I want KC, Anne, Bea, Angelica…I want it to be a mock-umentary, like they’re playing themselves but it’s not them. Like a cartoon-y, exaggerated version of them. I want it to be a comedy, but dark. I want somebody dead. I want the rawest script, like how you talk everyday. I want it to be a nice film,” Mark candidly said.
He also dreams to shoot for international magazines and work with the likes of Kate Moss, Riccardo Tisci, Tim Burton, and Damien Hirst.
Somewhere in between the interview questions, the beer, the laughter and his natural badass charm, unintentional or not, he just manages to sway you. He leaves you convinced and in awe with his pure talent, and suddenly, you’re a believer (if you aren’t already). He is this—a photographer who sees and captures beauty and makes it into a wonderful artwork that’s all his own—a wunderkind behind the lens. And yet, Mark concluded the conversation in a much bigger picture (pun intended).
“I want to be remembered as a good person more than a great photographer, more than a photographer that does creative things.” Oh, but doesn’t he know? He is already that.