Fashion photography is a powerful art form. Since its conception in 1856, it has influenced (and in some cases, dictated) man’s understanding of physical beauty.
Physical beauty, however, isn’t always set in stone. What is considered beautiful can differ from one culture to another, and radically transforms within a culture over time. Likewise, people’s attitude has changed: from scrambling to fit society’s beauty ideals, people have begun to challenge them in favor of a universal beauty that conforms to no standard. This begs the question: what is universal beauty? This is what US-based fashion photographers and artistic collaborators Ariel Howard and Filbert Kung aim to capture.
Howard and Kung come from different places – Howard grew up in San Diego, California, while Kung is from the Philippines – but were brought together by the world of photography. Kung began his career in his homeland shooting campaigns for BENCH/, JAG, Globe, and Coca-Cola before moving to the US, where he has shot for magazines such as Vogue and other Condé Nast titles, and has shot for Miss Universe and Miss USA. This year, he was honored at The Outstanding Filipino American Awards in the Arts and Culture category.
Howard, on the other hand, worked as a model for fashion giants like Armani and Ferragamo while honing his own skills behind the camera. He initially planned to work with Kung as a model, but the two decided to collaborate on some projects together after bonding over their shared love for photography.
While the two are both attracted to the “same style of photos,” they each have their own aesthetic. For starters, Howard shoots primarily in black and white with a very classic flair. And while Kung is no stranger to that style (he’s slated to have a B/W exhibit in New York’s Museum of Moving Images), he is known for using colors to create vibrant images. “My passion for black-and-white photography and Filbert’s great work in color photography will be a great combo and will help us immensely in our future projects,” Howard says confidently.
Together, they worked on Iris Mittenaire’s final official photo shoot as Miss Universe 2016, as well as a photo shoot for Rocky Gathercole’s new collection. The strength of their collaboration is especially notable in the latter, a masterful showcase of stark contrasts and stunning silhouettes that’s shot in both color and black and white. The photos of Gathercole’s checkerboard dress are particularly stunning, with the shape of the dress and the flow of the fabric captured as if to communicate a state of being frozen in motion.
They recently concluded some photo shoots in Manila, where they worked with a number of prominent local beauty queens and models, including Paolo Roldan. They are hopeful that their work in the Philippines will introduce and promote the Filipino brand of beauty to the global fashion stage, and plan to use more Filipino models in their shoots abroad.
According to Kung, the two are planning a joint photo exhibit that will display universal beauty. At the core of this kind of beauty is authenticity. “Authenticity is something you model yourself. Everything is inspired by something else and we are constantly conspiring with this,” Kung explains. The essence of this kind of beauty and authenticity may be difficult to define, but Kung and Howard’s joint efforts will surely be able to translate them into tangible images.