For Frank Hoefsmit, the visual's the thing

The visual's the thing
By Walter Ang
February-March 2010 issue
Garage Magazine

When sought-after fashion photographer Frank Hoefsmit moved from Mandaluyong to Bonifacio Global City, he felt it made sense to transfer his photo studio as well. His clients used to have to walk up three flights of stairs and were greeted by a dark studio. "My lighting method used to be addition of light, so I worked with a dark background using mostly black and some gray," say Hoefsmit. Not everyone felt comfortable in the space and would even occasionally request to not shoot in the studio.

These were considerations that Hoefsmit kept in mind when he shopped for his new studio called ".be visual." "I found a place that had an elevator and I made all the walls white. I now subtract light when I take photos since white reflects and bounces light," he says with a grin.

If Hoefsmit has had to subtract elements in his lighting technique, he's gained a brand new working space that he and his clients enjoy. He liked the interiors of jeans designer Ino Caluza's retail stores and sought out the brains behind the work: Jagnus Design, a group composed of Sonny Sunga, Arnold Austria and John Cruz. The trio formed their group in 2007 after working as designers and contractors for a local developer.

Hoefsmit had found a potential spot in an irregularly shaped building and decided to show it to the designers before he decided to push through with the place. "I showed them the area and asked them if there was anything they could do with it, if they could see something in it that most other people might not see," he says. Hoefsmit felt that it was important to know if the designers would be excited and inspired by the space. "Otherwise, what's the point?" notes the lanky Belgian.

Luckily for Hoefsmit, the group was game on. Sonny recounts the creative brief: "An open and bright minimalist space, with a lot of indirect but natural light, except in the shooting area. Should have give the visitors the sense of being in a high-end and creative space. Should exude peace, creativity, security and serenity. This right energy is required to create great shoots."

Hoefsmit had actually written down three pages' worth of notes. "I find that it's easiest to be as specific as you can be," he says. "You have to give your collaborators as much information as you can give for them to work with." He even made sure that the Jagnus Group attended one of his shoots so they would understand exactly what was needed for his work.

Then he let them loose. The first thing Jagnus Design worked on was the layout. The most important requirement was that the shooting area followed a specific size requirement. This limited the possibilities of its location and orientation within the space. They had to work around preexisting building structures such as the elevator/stair access, the wash room location and a curved wall on one side of the space.

"The space was planned out from the required shooting area," says Sunga. "The supporting rooms like the production area, gallery, make up, dressing area are all located in the periphery."

Hoefsmit and his collaborators were cognizant of the need to let form follow function. "All interior elements needed to serve a triple purpose: design, function and background, meaning that all areas will eventually be used in shoots as a form of backdrop, and therefore should have interesting textures, shapes or structures," says Sunga.

Large sliding doors allow the shooting area to be expanded or closed off as needed, as well as allowing for the entry of bulky sets. Pantry shelves are hidden behind large panels that seem like they're part of the walls. A counter set against the wall conceal bag hooks and power outlets for laptops and gadgets. The shooting area's cyclorama hides a storage area strategically positioned to hide the curved wall. A mezzanine level was specially constructed for additional space to house Hoefsmit's office, a quieter and calmer area up and away from all the hustle and bustle.

And yes, except for a few exposed beams, some furniture pieces and a large bathroom door icon that were done in black, white was used for everything else. "This is a common color of choice for most artists' studios as it represents a blank canvass," says Sunga. This didn't mean it had to be boring though.

To add texture to the walls, the group used corrugated metal on selected surfaces. "The articulated play of layered transparencies and shadows formed by the ribbed walls reinforces the color white's ephemeral quality. It's ever changing depending on the season, time of day or whatever artificial light is used," Sunga says. "The ribbed steel skin can be used as a backdrop but it actually also conceals the heat and sound insulation."

A trapezoidal window in an off-kilter position in the gallery, huge doors with curved edges, a whimsical mural in the bathroom and cylindrical chair pieces add character and a sense of movement to the environment. Sunga laughs heartily at this writer's teasing that the space is reminiscent of the interior of a space ship. But as he points out, it is really "the provocative gesture of juxtaposing planes, lines and broken grids that provides the studio its signature look. The layout, color, form, pattern, and materiality coalesce to energize the interior architecture, which in turn enhances the user's creativity."

Another reason why Hoefsmit got the group was purely practical. "I didn't want to pay rent for a place and have construction going on for months on end. I wanted to get a group that was used to doing retail spaces because when you do construction for a mall, you have to work really fast," he says. He got his wish. Designing and construction planning took a month and after another month and half, Hoefsmit opened his studio. He stretches out his arms and says, "I love it."