hi there! i'm michelle, southern california based photographer and curator of the coco gallery.

welcome to my blog where i share my life, my latest adventures, photo projects, random nuggets and the occasional stray thoughts.

for clients: to view my portfolio just click on this link - theCOCOgallery.com. to book sessions please send me a message through theCOCOgallery.com or contact me via michelle@thecocogallery.com | 949.734.0604

Thursday, December 4, 2014

still remembering mom

when my mom finally passed it wasn't a surprise, it was a welcome relief, one that took eight years to arrive. still, at the funeral, the grief took over and my sister and i were choking in our tears. neither of us could read the story we prepared to share with friends and family that day. curtis had to step in and read it for us. to remember mom on her birthday, i dug that farewell tribute up to share today.

everyone has a set of best loved stories and we wanted to share one of our favorites about mom with you. we’re sure that some of you are familiar with this one. 

often times our mom, who was ever the disciplinarian, would use her life stories as tools to teach us valuable lessons. this story is about mom, who was a willful child raised by her grandmother (aka lola inay). 

let me begin by saying that lola inay was a strict disciplinarian and woman to contend with. lola inay had long established a set of rules, and one of them was that the children in the house were not allowed to visit the neighbors without her express permission. permission was not always granted, especially when one’s chores were not done. mom, the youngest of the many children in the house, decided all on her own that she was special and did not need permission - and besides that, she was sure that she could sneak away for a couple of hours and no one would ever even notice. that day, she snuck over to the next door neighbor’s house where there was a little girl of the same age to play with. it wasn’t until a few hours later that she heard lola inay yelling for her from the other side of the shared wall. in a panic, she hurried towards the wall and peeked over. lo and behold, there was lola inay! she was too close for her to sneak back home and not get caught, but she could hear the insisting tone in lola inay’s voice that meant she was upset.  and when lola inay was upset, you had better believe that it was the end of the world. she HAD to try anyway. she started around and attempted to enter the house from behind, but then lola inay turned around and they made eye contact. oh god! it was a deer in the headlights moment… mom took one look at lola inay, quickly spun on her heels and started running the other way. lola inay was right behind her. mom ran towards town, through the market and eventually ended up circling the entire neighborhood in an attempt to lose lola inay.  Please remember that this is her grandmother – but the woman was known in town as a woman of steel and quite the legend. mom realized that she was losing ground and decided to head home. needless to say she was punished for her naughtiness. it was a terrible punishment, but one that mom shared with us. she only wanted us to know that we would not have to suffer similar consequences – provided that we choose not to disobey her house rules, which she had modified to fit her own style of parenting. {we smile}

that willful child grew up to be a headstrong woman of great character. she had an atrocious temper and a dynamite sense of humor. she was your best friend and your favorite shopping buddy. even in the last eight years when the pinnacle of life was not at its best, you could still see that spark that was mila, in her eyes.  we love her and we’ll greatly miss her. this is only one of many favorite mila stories and we shall always remember her since we never tire of swapping mila stories with friends and family.

mom was born on dec 4, 1945 and passed away on july 4, 2006. my sister's daughter yuki was born six years later on dec 4, 2012 and the celebration of life continues with the new generation of willful females in our family


Friday, November 28, 2014

going back into my shell

honestly, i'm not quite sure how i survived through my photography career. i think that my no-nonsense, slave driving ways were my salvation. that and ordering people around with a smile. i'm actually pretty shy and awkward in social situations. my coco gallery buddies are the only reason why i had to exercise the social side of me. they MADE me talk to people because we needed to market the business... and so i did. jason had to give me a scripted outline for client interactions and tommy would push me to meet strangers at business mixers and art events. it was sooooo painful. but i did it. i got better at it. each time was another push outside of the comfort zone and each time i would heave a sigh of relief when it was over.

now that i'm back in corporate IT i can feel my self slowly walking backwards into my comfortable space in the shadows. slowly. sneaking my way into a place where i don't have to interact with people in social situations anymore. slowly, the doors are creaking closed and i'm considering art for art's sake. business be damned and marketing along with it. i'm not that good anyway.

documenting my family is stress free, cherished and doesn't require marketing.

Friday, October 17, 2014

my biggest guilt

i was thirteen. it was midday. a weekend. i remember sitting on the steps inside the house. facing the window. my mom was combing my hair. she asked me if she was a good mom. i remember thinking how silly that question was.

"of course!" i answered.
then she had this sad look on her face. "promise me you won't ever put me in a home." that's what she said.

and i promised i never would. why the hell would i ever consider that? we don't do that in my culture.


14 years later i did. i had to.

i'm going to live with that guilt forever. i let my mom down.

somehow this story came up today. i can't remember how. but it came up. i need to put it out there. let it roam free. then maybe i can move on from it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

five years of blogging

i started writing my blogs as an extension of my journaling. it was a way to keep everyone informed of what was going on with curtis and myself while we took a life break in the philippines back in 2008. this blog eventually evolved into an extension of my photography business. a documentation in words and images of the people i met, photographed and loved. i had a remarkable following considering the little bit of effort i put into it and i was amazed.

after coco gallery was created i moved away from my own blog since maintaining 2 of them (coco had one too) was tedious. my work life and my personal life were too difficult to keep separate. i felt like i was being redundant.

now i'm turning a corner again and this blog is going back to being my personal journal. i'm fairly certain that my readership has diminished to almost nothing or just family. and that's ok. i know that blogs are kind of out dated now. people don't have the patience to read more than a few lines on a fb post. but i do it for me and for my kids. i actually print out my blogs into books. i was printing it once a year. i want to pass them on the girls. it's a legacy of my thoughts, i want them to understand who i am, who they are, who we (curtis and i) are. i don't want them to regret not having asked me about me as i do about my own mom. by the time they are of the age to be curious about who i really am, i'm pretty sure i'll be some cranky ol' lady who won't want to answer those questions ... or i'll be senile. so i want to give them the current version as it occurs. while it's still fresh and while the feelings are genuine and the events have more truth than colored memories.

so here's to five years of blogging. maybe some years were skipped (or barely touched). the point is... it's still here and still going.

Friday, August 22, 2014

just a mish mosh of thoughts

it's 9.30 pm on a friday night, the house is finally quiet and i have time to string some thoughts together. there's no rhyme, reason or connecting thread to them. it's just a series of thoughts, musings and bits of memories from today, from this week, from the past two months.
  • i'm stretched thin and it's my fault. i do it to myself. there is nobody to pressure me but me. there isn't even a compelling reason for me to drive myself to this point other than ... i guess i want to?
  • i miss my family and they miss me. all week kaya has been snuggling and rubbing her head against my arm like a little kitty cat, verbally expressing how much she misses me. dia gets up early in the morning before her normal routine to sit with me in the bathroom as i get ready. when it's time to go she refuses to give kisses which is highly unusual for her. i suspect she understands that the kiss is a parting gesture. curtis has actually said that he feels like he hasn't seen me all week. this patient man has been so patient with me. all this makes me tear up.
  • i spend a lot of time second guessing myself and doubting my abilities. i stress about it so much. when i finally step off that insanity and relax, i realize that i didn't need to. i really did know what i was doing. i was right. i wasn't crazy. i was right.
  • today i worked the day job from home. kaya was throwing up last night and running a fever. we decided it was best to keep her home today and i would be here with her. i'm so glad we did. she had the fever on and off all day with only a dose of tylenol to keep it at bay. i'm so grateful to have a job that allows it. i'm so grateful that technology has advanced to the point where that really isn't an issue anymore. i'm grateful to have co-workers that understand.
  • i'm not as rusty as i thought i was although i still think the pregnancies replaced some of my smarter brain cells with forgetful ones maybe even some dumb ones.
  • kaya was home with me but dia was at the sitter's. i guess i haven't realized just how much time they spend together. by 1 o'clock kaya was asking if it was time to pick up dia yet ... then she would repeat the question every 15 mins until we finally did. apparently, on the other side of the city, dia was doing the same.
  • milestones and accomplishments feed the soul and give me renewed energy. especially when i came so close to quitting.
  • there is a light at the end of this damnably long tunnel but it isn't till november and somehow 2 1/2 months feels sooooo far away.
  • i've worked from home for too long. i have to hone my communication skills again. 
  • working out of home has made me lose weight. not a bad thing. i still don't have time to work out. might not be a bad thing either.
a flashback to the first time curtis met kaya

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Driven by Need, Enlightened by Necessity

i was driving home friday and in looking at the time realized that i had a little under 30 mins before i had to be anywhere. i found myself considering tucking off to a bar somewhere and just having a cold beer. then it hit me. wow, curtis! N O W i really do get it.

people always give me a look of incredulity when i tell them that curtis gets to go out every friday night. yes, EVERY friday night. it actually used to be thursdays. doesn't matter, the point is he gets one night a week to go spend as he pleases (within reason) and he chooses to spend it bar hopping in search of pool tables. just like other bread winning men, curtis plays full time employee, full time dad/husband and full time brother among other roles. for a social butterfly, it gets awfully tough on the system to not have a section of time in there for himself. and by that, i mean, he needs space to go have fun unencumbered by responsibility to anyone. honestly, i get it. when he doesn't have space to decompress his ability to perform the required functions of breadwinner, spouse and family counselor starts to deteriorate. he has his own version of meltdown and it's not pretty. so i give him space. mind you, i don't always give willingly. there have been times when the space was begrudgingly accommodated and that's usually when i'm exhausted but i  know that when he comes back from his night out he's ready to step in (full force) again. i need him at peak performance as much as possible ready to take over when i fall into my own meltdowns.

these last three weeks have been a serious challenge to my system. i've been pulling off full time employee then running home to be full time family girl and squeezing in photography entrepreneur somewhere and everywhere. rinse and repeat. there's michelle time in there. i've found them in the little gaps between responsibilites ... shower time, toilet time, drive (by myself) time, fb mins, sleep. they aren't much but they are sacred to me so don't scoff. those 30 mins i suddenly found last friday was a heavenly chunk that i didn't even know what to do with. it made me giddy with possibility. i considered, target, costco and a beer. 

i've got a few more weeks of this required level of performance coming. there's a light at the end of the tunnel i know, but while i'm in it, the tunnel seems to be getting longer. i know i can do this. i might cry a couple of times along the way out of sheer exhaustion and throw myself a pity party (coz well... somebody has to). but i'll make it. curtis has been pulling this shift for over four years now. so yes. now i really really really get it. he totally deserves that one night off a week and when things wind down a little for me i might be scheduling my own one day a week to get balance again.

shot with a sony rx100 mkii . edited with LR VSCO presets

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

dear mom,

it's been a while i know. i've been busy. yeah, i always say that. but it's true.

so.. you have 3 grand kids now!! holy cow! who would've guessed? i remember when i thought i wanted to have a baby at 27 just like you did. that didn't quite pan out. it's definitely one of my greater regrets that you and mama weren't around for the first set of grand kids. had i followed through with that notion you would have at least met my first child but then .. it wouldn't have been this child. engh, things happen for a reason right?  i still wonder what you would want to be called coz i know it's not "lola" hahaha!

kaya just turned 4 mom! i can't believe how quickly that happened. one moment she was prancing around in a tutu and next thing i know she's telling me quite clearly that she hates pink, won't wear anything with flowers and unless it has pockets i can forget it. was i ever that head strong? little dia is almost 2 and she's gotten to be a bossy little thing. tita clem swears that all their tempers came from you. i'm definitely not the one to refute that. i can see it for sure! but they also have your dimples so maybe it's a balance?

ina has a baby now too. that just blew everyone away. we were so surprised and i was so worried. her pregnancy was so tough and she had me in knots. well, ina always makes me worry but i can't always tell her coz you know how she gets. i can't upset the balance. i'm not supposed to play mom coz you know.. nobody can really replace you. turns out there was nothing to worry about. she's an amazing mom! little yuki is a smart little cookie and whiter than milk! adorable and cheeky and just so full of smiles. nobody eats better than that kid and anyone of us would sign up to take her plate in a heartbeat! ina's such an awesome cook. i don't think you even ever got to experience that talent of hers. it would have made ina so proud to have you try her cooking.

fourteen mother's days ago i would never have thought that ina and i would be celebrating mother's day without you and much less that we would be mothers ourselves. it really would have been nice to sit down to a photograph of three generations with you, me and ina and our girls. more girls. we are such a strong family of girls. thank you mom. for the strength. tita candy and tita clem do a great job of picking up where you left off. managing us and keeping us strong. we miss you lots.

happy mother's day.

three generations of strong, happy women

Saturday, February 22, 2014

review time

i'm sure everyone has their own approach to editing. mine begins with taking some time away from the images i shot. i usually cull the set within a day or two of the shoot when the details and plans are still fresh in my mind. but the emotional high from the shoot colors my perspective and i select more than i should. it's a good practice for me to walk away from the images for at least a week. when i come back, i'm usually more objective. i'm also usually busier which means i don't have as much time (or patience) to devote to secondary images. this ensures that i really only select the best ones of the set and my efforts are intentional.

phillip and i had not discussed how or when i would be back to sit with him. only that we would go over the images when i was done and ready. so i went through my routine and process as i normally would. it took me a little over two weeks to get back there. i held off sharing pictures with the model, stylist and the world as much as i could. well.. i might have taken a shot of my screen with my phone and tweeted something about it but that was the extent of my share. i wanted to hear what phillip said about my work before i put it out into the world. i was a wee bit apprehensive on what he would say. as artists, i think this is probably normal. i walked him through my final set, showing him the before and afters of each image. we discussed the merits and strengths of each piece. i stated my intentions and we discussed them. he pointed out some things i missed but they were minimal modifications, perfection details more than anything. overall, i fared well. i'm not gonna lie, it was both a relief and an affirmation.

and so we move forward. i'm planning my next shoot deliberately.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The First Time with Phillip Ritchie

i am a photographer.  a good one. i don't always believe it. it seems to be the norm around creatives and i'm no different. i do weddings and i shoot women.  i love shooting women  i find it to be the most rewarding.  that said, i shoot the photographs to please my client (after myself) but in the end, the target audience is my client. 

when i met phillip ritchie he explained his process to me and it was such a deviation from my own process that i was intrigued. he had a vision and pieced everything together around that vision. he got the model, the mua, the set design, like pieces in a puzzle and shot the necessary number of images to get the vision. if he got it then he was done.  it's such a different approach from the photojournalist process of a wedding day or the flow posing and experimentation of boudoir photography.  and the only person he aims to please is himself. it seems so selfish and yet the results are amazing and the process is efficient.  

phillip has taken me on as student, he my mentor and last night was our first session. i had no idea what to expect. i don't think we really talked about it or defined it which put me to a disadvantage. the unknown is a scary thing and the imagination can go crazy. i was intimidated to say the least. the man is a master of his craft and i would be vulnerable in sharing my process or lack thereof. how much i was going to share on the first round was one of my concerns. do i come to the table with my usual arsenal of how i do things or do i break myself down completely to open up to his process entirely? i opted for the latter with one exception. i didn't put much thought into the model and mua situation. as i usually do with my clients i gave carte blanche to my model to take care of her clothes, styling, etc. my only request was that i wanted something glamorous and trusted that she would pull through as i knew she would. whoops. mistake number one and phillip was quick to point it out. "who are you doing this for and why are you doing it?" it was a reminder that if it's my portfolio build and my shoot (with no client to please) then i need to be the one directing everything from head to toe. TAKE THE TIME TO PLAN.

i learned three things from him last night:
  • shoot with intent - plan the image and work towards that plan
  • be meticulous - care about it enough to think about every aspect that would make the image good
  • be tenacious - work towards the best possible version of the image 
i made myself completely vulnerable, prepared to take on his process as he walked me through it. i tried holding off injecting my own usual methods because the point was to learn his. it was humbling, humiliating and effective. as we progressed it started to dawn on me that many of the things he does, i already do. our environments are little different, our subjects and purpose are different, but the method itself has the same foundation. like any student, i cannot take his method in its entirety and make it mine. i have to find the pieces that work for me and insert it into my style and make it my own. 

after breaking myself down for this i had to put myself back together and evaluate what just happened. the biggest lesson i learned as i tucked myself into bed and reflected on the night ... i am a good photographer. there's always room for improvement and last night i was given some lessons to help.

original post here

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

starting the year off with contentment

a trainer once told me that my biggest stumbling block to toning and overall physical fitness is that i'm not overweight.  what he meant was that i didn't have any major motivation or leaping changes that would push me to that goal.  what he was telling me was that my wishy-washy attitude was a product of my ability to easily hide what i didn't want others to see.  had i been motivated by a fitness contest or a more solid goal like running a marathon or something like that i would have been more successful.  he was right.

this thought, as random as it is this afternoon comes to me after watching a video about lizzie velasquez.  lizzie was once labeled the "world's ugliest woman" because of a rare condition that she suffers from that we don't even have enough understanding about.  this woman is now a motivational speaker and she says her condition has brought her strength, resolve and the ability to pursue her dreams.  part of me instantly jumped to my random thought ... she's an extreme case who used her extreme circumstances as leverage to motivate herself.  all my life complaints are so average.  i have stuff to complain about but then again, i really don't. but then again .. i'm kinda content.  there's goals here and there but nothing HUGE.  they are all attainable.  lately, my life has just been a happy little ramble.  just like this entry.  is it bad that i'm wishy washy right now?  i have a general path but nothing totally committed.  i'm taking opportunities as they occur and i'm just enjoying them.  i'm savoring moments and picking and choosing as i go.

i'm getting my feet back into the corporate world because i enjoyed my IT life and i enjoyed the money i made doing it.  i'm in the middle of reorganizing COCO gallery with a renewed focus on shooting women, glamour and families.  i'm stretching my wings on the artistic side of photography; shooting with a purpose (artistically).  i've joined a team of amazing photographers at lin and jirsa studios as a second photographer to round out my year of wedding photography.  it gives me an opportunity to learn from an amazingly talented and technical group of photographers.  it humbles me to no end to watch such talented people do their thing and for me to know that i still have so much to learn.  i work for SLR lounge doing video tutorials and product reviews, extending my reach and exposure in the photography world.  and i've been blessed to be associated with nice prints photography of the philippines who have been sending me to weddings internationally and exposing me to locations i would never had access to on my own.

all in all, things are WELL.  i'm content and there are no words to express how grateful i am to all the people that have provided me with opportunities.  and so we begin a new year.  this contentment has led me to where i am ... without even a resolution to start the year.  well ... maybe one.  savor every moment.  that's ok right?

this photo was taken for nice prints photography.  a outdoor winter wedding in england with a warm family full of love and kindness.  they've embraced me into their family and i look forward to seeing them again.