You chance upon it on your morning commute via EDSA, while browsing through cover after cover of local fashion magazines, and on your favorite celebrity Instagram post of her new endorsement. You don’t see photographer Mark Nicdao as he is but you see him through what he’s done—a faceless credit or just a quick mention of @markednicdao.
More than 12 years into his career, he still chooses to reside quietly behind his bylines. “I don’t believe my own hype,” Mark says. And this is someone whose very lens was fronted by Adam Levine and Catherine Deneuve, mind you.
But if you ask him, that is what he’d rather do—let his work speak for itself.
So when local clothing brand Plains & Prints turned the spotlight on Mark and fellow photographer Wig Tysmans and printed their photographs on their clothes, what did he make of it?
“I think it’s a clever and unique idea to immortalize my shots,” says Mark, still making everything about his work. His personal travel shots taken in India are now available in a limited-edition collection for the brand’s 20th anniversary.
By now we know ofhim but we don’t really know him, do we?
In an attempt to get to know him better, I went a little personal: What inspires a Mark Nicdao? What does he hate the most about his job, and does he want to do this forever?
Preen: How are you Mark? Creatively, what is your current mood right now?
Mark Nicdao: I’m really into movies. The last one that really inspired me was Scarlett Johansson’s Under the Skin. I think [the movie] is my current creative mood. I can’t explain why or how it’s going to come out in terms of creativity, but yeah.
I’m leaving for New York and do some shoots there. We’ll see in the coming days how it will translate into my work.
What saps your creativity? On the flip side, what inspires you the most?
Noise, anger, and conflicts within me or outside of me make me uninspired.
A great movie and a nice place—really nice, and different destinations—inspire me. It doesn’t need to be beautiful. You’ll just know it when you’re there.
You’ve done almost every shoot imaginable. How different are commercial shoots from editorial shoots? Do you favor one over the other?
Way, way, way different. With advertising, there are a lot of restrictions but I still love it because you learn. It’s actually like collaborating. They hire you to create a vision from them and it’s a challenge. Sometimes [the shoot] is not really my taste or anything. For me, it’s always a learning experience to collaborate even though it’s out of your comfort zone. And for me, that’s the most important thing: to learn.
With editorial, you have all the control. Well, I guess 70 percent. [The rest] comes from the team or the magazine. You get to express more of what you want when doing editorials. I can’t single out loving editorials because at the same time, I need advertising to actually do editorials. It should be a balance of art and commerce.
Who is your favorite person to photograph?
It’s gonna be unfair if I single out one person. I’ll just describe that person: Someone who is open, on time, and collaborative. They can say “no” to me, but as long as they are open to doing things. I think that’s a perfect person to shoot for me.
Say you’re on the set of a shoot and then you suddenly feel uninspired. What do you do?
I take a smoking break, drink coffee, or I call someone over the phone, whoever. [He’s] usually a friend who always makes me laugh. And then I’m back. I’m very simple.
What do you hate the most about being a photographer?
I’m a control freak. I need a lot of people to actually do things for me. Sometimes I feel like I’m being a brat or a tyrant. I always ask people to do things for me like carrying my equipment. At this age, I’m getting lazy. I have four assistants doing things for me. Yeah, it could be being lazy. I can’t help it.
What is the worst experience you’ve had?
There are so many, but I’ll just describe them: When you’re on location, everything is perfect then it’s gonna rain. That’s probably the worst.
There’s a celebrity you have to shoot. You thought they’re friendly and nice. But in the end, they’re just bratty.
When you’re shooting abroad, everything just goes to hell by not getting the location and people asking for permits.
Let’s backtrack here a little. What do you remember most about starting out as a photographer?
Carrying my own stuff and carrying stuff that aren’t even mine. I didn’t have my own camera [at that time], I didn’t even have my own lights—I love it. It’s quite humbling, actually. I always remember that to keep me [grounded]. I’m not saying that I’m on another level. I never think that way. But when people tell you that you’re this and that, sometimes it goes to your head. So I always think about how I started.
Tell us something about India and how this inspired a whole collection for Plains & Prints.
First, it was beautiful. It was very spiritual. I don’t know how to explain it ‘cause it’s very intangible to describe. Once you’re there, you feel raw—there’s something about the place that makes you feel like everything is at peace. Your negativity goes away. That was how it felt. For me, going to a place like that is something I won’t forget. That’s why I love India so much.
Do you see yourself as a photographer for the rest of your life?
After everything—all the success and recognition, how do you want to be remembered?
Very simple: as a good person. Not even a great photographer; just a good person.
Just to humor you a little, who are harder to photograph, celebrities or animals?
(laughs loudly) I think animals ‘cause they don’t like me. I love shooting animals, though. Celebs, I’ve been shooting them for 11 years so I think I can control them. Just a bit.
Click the slideshow above for more of the personal photos Mark Nicdao took of India!