A Career with a Rocky Start: The Early Years of Xander Angeles

Xander Angeles

Xander Angeles is one of the most sought-after photographers in the Philippines, getting his big break in 2002 by shooting his first FHM cover. His story from then on is well known, but few people know about his early life.

Angeles was born in Manila and grew up on Blumentritt. He was raised by a single mother who spent 25 years in the Middle East to make ends meet. His mother was able to send him to the University of Santo Tomas for high school and university. At UST, he was looking to get away from the kanto boys, gangsters, and addicts he grew up around, so he went somewhere that one traditionally doesn’t find them: the mountains. Angeles joined the UST mountaineering club because it gave him a positive way to occupy his time. “The club helped me so much,” he told me in an interview. “We did mountain search and rescue, learned first aid and CPR. In the club they teach you how to push yourself. In the mountains it’s just you and a buddy. There’s no bad street influences in the mountains.”

With a Pentax P30N as his first camera, he assumed the role of the club’s archivist, taking pictures of events and climbs organized around the Philippines. At the time he had no ambitions to be a professional photographer.

While at UST, Angeles climbed all the major mountains in the Philippines, and continued climbing until a dangerous experience changed the course of his life. “The last mountain I climbed was Mt. Anangtud. The climb was supposed to last 5 days, but we were up there for 10 days with no food and water. It traumatized me and I never climbed again.”

When Angeles returned he started looking for work and his photographic work was discovered by Dojo Palines, former president of the Advertising Photographers of the Philippines, in an exhibit mounted by a mountaineering specialty store. Angeles apprenticed under Palines for a year, gaining the basic and technical skills needed to pursue his passion.

Angeles’ introduction to fashion photography began with long-time friend and top stylist, Millet Arzaga. Constant practice taking photos for glossy magazines and shooting fashion editorials in different locations led to more work, but his “big break” came when he was selected to shoot the 2002 FHM calendar, which generated much publicity and exposure. He went on to shoot the 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 FHM calendars as well, and the rest, as they say, is history. After spending a couple years in New York working and studying digital film making at the New York Film Academy, Angeles returned to the Philippines in full force. Today he is managing partner of Elite Model Management Philippines, put up Fashion Academy Manila in 2011 and owns Edge of Light Studio which he launched the same year. He is also publishing his second coffee table book, called I<3PH, which launches November 28.

When In Manila, check out Xander Angeles’ work. The Philippine Star reported that “One of the most sought-after in the advertising and fashion industries, Xander’s works are marked by edginess, sensuality and an irreverent play and display of light and color. Masterpieces by top international photographers like Knight, Dah-Len, Rankin, Mondino, and La Chapelle are points of inspiration reflected in his work. His passion in the field is deeply rooted in using the medium as an expression of art and as an avenue for collaborative work involving creative individuals in fashion.”

A Career with a Rocky Start: The Early Years of Xander Angeles