In the split second between each camera click, Lope finds himself facing questions. “The most difficult day in the life of a photographer, especially when you work in fashion, is when you are trying to balance message versus sheer aesthetic,” Lope says candidly. ”Am I taking this photograph because I want to be an angry political activist? A staunch environmentalist? Or am I a photographer because I want to simply appreciate raw unadulterated beauty?”

Photo by Mj Suayan

Lope calls it with such simplicity — the “why” to his fascination with photography.

 

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Growing up with celebrity magazines has helped Lope escape. Opening a photo book or any fashion magazine was no different than getting a flight ticket to some place unknown. “I remember buying second-hand magazines in Recto, because my family was very poor,” Lope says, recalling vividly the cover of Leonardo DiCaprio in Interview Magazine in the 90’s. It was a core moment, that helped him see the direction where he wanted to go clearly. “Some people frame pictures of their pet dogs, I stare at magazines,” he continues. But what started as his space to escape, became an important ingredient in his career. From being the young boy who’ve read secondhand magazines, Lope is now in a position to inspire those who have began the same way. “Who would’ve thought that the boy buying those moldy second-hand Interview magazines in Recto or Avenida, will have his photographs printed for Têtu 12 month collectors edition calendars sold in every street corners of Paris?”

As a painter and a photographer, Lope has also sold many paintings and has been commissioned by many international magazine covers from L’Officiel Hommes KoreaL’Officiel Hommes BrazilL’Officiel Dubai, L’Officiel Thailand to Esquire Philippines. The first oil paintings he has ever sold was when he was in his early 20’s — abstract painted them with his very own fingers. “Like the first paintings that were painted with spit and dirt, found in caves and shelters dating back to the Ice Age, roughly between 40,000 and 14,000 years ago,” Lope describes. He has also received many job contracts from Singapore to the vast deserts of Saudi Arabia. Not a lot of fashion photographers could say they share the same beginnings and even Lope was aware that the path he was on was extraordinary.

“If I never left painting, probably I would have never left Manila,” he muses about his work and his lifestyle that became more and more global as he studied Graphic Design and Photoshop, leaving oil painting behind. “One day when I was working for a printing press abroad I took pictures of my male friends, even office colleagues and lovers, exactly like how Jack Dawson painted Rose and all his French girls, I photographed them. I was in my early 20’s, like Jack, and published them as my own personal portfolio, I operated the printing machine myself, and I brought them everywhere I go, like Jack’s sketch book.” After that, he found himself photographing for REMIX music magazine based in New Zealand and it became his first print fashion editorial where he was paid $500 for that one gig.

 

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However, even then, Lope does not define himself by his biggest achievement or his largest paycheck. “I’ve been an immigrant many times over, a licensed sailor, an oil painter, photographer, researcher, blogger, poet, writer, DJ, even a Catholic choir boy, and an adventurer who’ve ridden horses all over the world, among many others,” Lope enumerates. “Quite amazingly, all these many transitions that fit in one lifetime, all of these many labels still can’t define who I really am.”

There are people that tell stories about themselves and then there are raconteurs that live great stories and get to tell them. Lope Navo is the latter. With stories of places, people, and himself — it is not only Lope’s camera that sees in great detail.

Photo by Mj Suayan

In his travels, he has amassed an unprecedented grand library of work in the most exciting cities. The self-published volume of his coffee table book, RAW, launched this January 2021, is a follow-up to his first book Stark published in 2009 when he was in his early 20’s. With his newest book, RAW, Lope returns his own kind of storytelling. It is a 200-page hardcover book, bigger, heavier, and more ambitious than Stark, containing an erotic compilation that might be more risqué or NSFW, but is a one-of-a-kind monograph especially for collectors of male photography. “Most fashion photo books out there are shot in one city and one continent, what makes this book special and difficult to recreate is that it is shot worldwide,” he says. At first glance, the easiest to notice from RAW would be the attractive men photographed on its pages — the actors, supermodels, firemen, dancers, fellow photographers, and other men from different careers — but beyond the NSFW, the book is also a decades’ worth of mind-numbing 40-hour connecting flights, and countless lost hard drives and luggage to accomplish.

DIOR by Lope Navo

Lope doesn’t gatekeep the route to success. But he is also vocal against its misuse. Citing the violence against underage women in the industry and printed photo books of sexploits, Lope does not turn a blind eye to the dark underbelly of the fashion photography industry.

“What I’ve learned from these many transitions traveling the world is ‘empathy’, which I can say with almost some absolute certainty that many popular ‘fashion photographers’ living today lack of,” he comments.

A photograph is a powerful tool and Lope wields it with awareness.

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“I strongly believe that every photograph we take are mere reflections of ourselves,” Lope says. He compares it with looking into a mirror and our fear of loss for the subject of our photographs. He draws a parallel with the polar bears that flooded Leonardo DiCaprio’s Instagram page — preserving the focus of our attention lest it be a hazy memory of months, years, decades past. And such invisible tug behind every click, as many photographs help us see it, is a snapshot of our experiences — events we live, events we hope to freeze, and eventually release.

 

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And as time ticks, clocks chime, we live not only in remembrance but in belief. In this honesty and knowing expectation of every moment’s flux, we clearly see — nay, capture — in sharp awareness, people for who they are, not just what they can do; beauty not for how we might lose it, but beauty and the wonderful purpose it serves.

Photo by Mj Suayan
Story by Danielle Arcon