‘Through a Writer’s Lens’: Hollywood journalist recalls how his ‘pandemic baby’ was conceived

It’s a pandemic baby like no other.

Coming out at a hefty 6 pounds, 7.6 ounces, “Through a Writer’s Lens” is a beautiful 12-by-14-inch 260-page hardbound compilation of photographs taken by award-winning Hollywood photojournalist Ruben V. Nepales.

A true collector’s item, the coffee table book offers more than 1,000 photos of stars that Nepales himself took in almost two decades.

In 2012, Nepales became the first Filipino to be elected as chairman of the board of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the association of international journalists which votes on and presents the Golden Globe Awards. “Through a Writer’s Lens” is the photojournalist’s second book. | Photos by Janet Nepales

The photos themselves offer a different, more casual side of the stars. Through the years, Nepales has developed a knack for capturing the right moments of his subjects when they show their range of moods, from pensive to playful.

The book is a compendium of some of Hollywood’s best and brightest stars taken during their interviews with Nepales, an active officer of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA).

“I literally trembled with emotion that I had in my hands a concrete realization of many months of long days and nights of intense work and countless emails between Bessie and me,” Nepales told the Asian Journal.

“I was surprised by my own reaction. I hugged Janet tightly while I brushed away what appeared to be water droplets coming from my eyes. No, I was not crying,” Nepales jokingly said.

Bessie, of course, is the multi-hyphenate Bessie Badilla, erstwhile model-actress and the book’s publisher.

The concept of a book was born around 2016, over a dinner at the Conrad New York Downtown Hotel, when Bessie broached the idea to him.

“When Bessie first suggested and encouraged me to come up with a book of my photos, I was very surprised and flattered that she thought my photos were worthy of a coffee table book compilation,” Nepales recalled. “I was thrilled but in the back of my mind, I was going, how am I going to find the time to search among my thousands of photos of stars, given my hectic pre-pandemic schedule?”

Multiple dinners and meetings followed and every time, Bessie would remind him about their coffee table book project and he always replied, “Yes, let’s do it.”

But much as he wanted to make the book happen, Nepales just did not have the time. Until the coronavirus pandemic struck in March.

“So it took four years before I finally sat down to work on the book,” he shared.

What followed was a series of virtual meetings, phone calls, and text messages, along with a healthy dose of time travel he didn’t know he needed.

The pandemic slowdown gave them a chance to collate the materials, with great help coming from Ruben’s wife Janet, who helped in searching among many photo files they have amassed through the years.

Weeks into the pandemic lockdown turned to months and the team found themselves having plenty of time to concentrate on finishing the book, gathering thoughts and ideas that would also accompany the photographs.

Bessie Badilla, the book’s publisher says: “‘Through a Writer’s Lens’ will give readers an intimate date with each of the more than 200 talents and celebrities featured in the book. Readers will enjoy many never-before-seen candid shots of their favorite stars while reading these stars’ quotes that give you personal insights on their lives, struggles, pain, fame, triumphs and loves.”

Bessie, who also took on a couple of more challenges on top of her role as a publisher, realized a book had to be made to collect the snapshots Nepales has taken when she saw a Sarah Jessica Parker photo he took.

“His photos made me curious. They have the ability to make you want to ‘get to know’ more the celebrities that he features,” Badilla said. “When I saw Ruben’s photos for his column on the Philippine Daily Inquirer, they made me want to read his latest column right away.”

“It was Ruben’s photo of Sarah Jessica Parker that got me thinking he has a special talent! It was the best photograph of Ms. Parker I’ve ever seen,” Badilla added. “Ruben has the eye for capturing his subject’s best angle and he also has perfect timing.”

Her comment about his Sarah Jessica Parker photo made him realize that Bessie, having worked with top photographers as a model, has a really good eye for photos and a keen sense of visual aesthetics. This is why doing the art direction and layout almost became like a second skin to her.

“Credit for the sequence and combination of stars in spreads goes to Bessie who is also the book’s art director and layout artist. I gave several photos of each talent for Bessie to choose from. She decided on which photos to use, the order and pairing,” he said.

“I was impressed with her pairing ideas. I just gave a few suggestions here and there.

Bessie, who taught herself how to layout, etc. on her Mac, did a very professional job in her first crack at art direction and layout!” Nepales added.

Variety editor Tim Gray praised “Through a Writer’s Lens”: “Ruben Nepales is smart, has great taste, and observes things that most people overlook. These qualities make him a good photojournalist and they make this book so great.”

Each of the 200-plus top and beloved talents, from Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey, Sandra Oh, Jennifer Lopez, Kristen Stewart, Darren Criss to Robert Pattinson, included in the tome has an interesting, memorable quote culled from the photojournalist’s columns of these stars. Some of the quotes were also culled from Nepales’ monthly Hollywood feature on Smile Magazine, Cebu Pacific Air’s inflight magazine.

“Through a Writer’s Lens” is Nepales’ second book, following his 2012 book, “My Filipino Connection: The Philippines in Hollywood,” which won in the print journalism – book category of the Migration Advocacy and Media Awards presented by the Office of the President of the Philippines’ Commission on Filipinos Overseas.

Special, limited edition hardbound copies of “Through a Writer’s Lens” are available at $125 plus $10 for shipping and handling; in the Philippines, 6,000 plus 200 for shipping and handling. To order, send a message to: https://www.facebook.com/throughawriterslens/.

Momar G. Visaya
Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at momar.visaya@asianjournalinc.com.

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