By Mafelou C. Leagogo-Agriam
(CREAM August 2016)
For the past 25 years, Maricar Calmorin Chua — better known hereabouts as Dolly — and her late husband James Chua, have thrust numerous men and women into the limelight. These people became VIPs, so to speak, thanks to the magic and power of the camera. Their actions, feelings and emotions were captured in photos and videos and are readily recaptured as often as desired when reviewed with nostalgia. Countless weddings, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and other important milestones were documented over the years courtesy of the family-owned J&R Family Digital Studio. Count in CREAM Magazine whose many cover personalities were once subjects of the J&R Studio cameras.
Today, Dolly oversees two photo studios in Gaisano Capital and Robinsons Place. The Gaisano-based photo shop is celebrating its silver anniversary this year with a bang will bear the Dolly Chua signature and style. This event, we gather, is forthcoming and an occasion to look forward to. Everyone close to her know how hands-on Dolly can be in planning or orchestrating an event with surprises up her sleeves that would knock anyone off one’s seat.
As a way to salute the guts and gumption, and talent extraordinaire, of such a vivacious woman, this time around we turn the tables on her. We get her out from behind the cameras, put her on our magazine cover like a celeb and grant her the privilege of directing her own pictorials. Look and behold how she choreographed her poses with flair and aplomb!
Dolly has always been fascinated with the world of glamour and excitement. Job-wise placed behind the cameras, she redirects this special keenness on making people look good. The personal care she proffers on her clients sets her apart from those in her professional league. In the photo studio for instance, she goes the extra mile to check on the appearances of her clients before they face the camera. If need be, she proposes a make-over and deftly does the work.
“Just by looking at you, I already know what and where to begin the make-over: on the make-up, the hair-do or the clothes,” she said.
There was once a time when she singlehandedly worked on over 100 clients by herself in a sweep. Her so-called “beautification program” also includes renting-out suits, gowns, and accessories for the studio pictorials.
Dolly with bestfriends Aileen dela Cruz and Diane Jimenez
This fondness for the beautiful started in her youth. She was surrounded by women who gave importance to good physical appearance. Her mother Carmen Magbanua Perez-Calmorin was a fastidious dresser, from her clothes, bags, down to her shoes. She was also a strict disciplinarian, being a public school teacher and mother to six rambunctious boys and a pretty only daughter.
“She was very particular on good manners and right conduct,” Dolly recalled. “She didn’t like to hear loud or noisy chewing of food on the table. Our forks and spoons had to be handled quietly, and the same utensils placed diagonally on one’s plate after a meal. Do you know she even had a to-do list of housechores for us even with helpers around? My mother was a good housekeeper, cleaned thoroughly and still found time to crochet.”
While her mom was a role model for style, neatness and etiquette, Dolly’s maternal grandmother was the great spoiler. Her Lola derived so much pleasure in buying clothes, shoes and matching socks for her apo, dressing her up like a doll and showing her off with a nanny in two. Naturally, when she came of age, it was inevitable she would be chosen fiesta queen of Mina town in Iloilo.
Dolly’s love affair with clothes, shoes and bags hardly slackened over the years. There were many who provided them for her. Thankful for the kindness she had shown to a lot of people and the deep friendship forged with them, these recipients of her generosity and affection wholeheartedly gave back through gifts of clothes, shoes, bags, and several other goods from here and abroad. In the same token, it came naturally for Dolly to share her blessings to others.
How did the field of photography enter her life? Commercial photography was a trade of the Calmorins. Dolly’s father Maximino Calmorin — a government employee at the DPWH — established the Calmorin Photography with 12 photographers at work. Her mother ran the photo shop on off-hours from her teaching job.
When Dolly married James, her husband put-up a construction business. His company built roads, bridges, school buildings, etc. in the towns of Anilao, Dumangas, Lemery, Balasan, San Dionisio and Dingle, among others. On the side, he dabbled in photography as a hobby. By a twist of fate, however, he decided to pursue commercial photography as a serious alternative business. Thus J&R Family Digital Studio came to be.
The married Dolly, meanwhile, indulged in what she loved the most — buying clothes, jewelry, home decors, etc. But this time around, not to pleasure herself but to sell them to friends and earn her own keeps. “I would go to Ongpin in Manila to purchase Singaporean gold, Binondo and Baclaran for the clothes, and Laguna to buy figurines.”
Iloilo City’s Women of Style 2016 awardees: Agnesette Ausan, Kathleen Ynion, Dr. Pacita Gonzalez, Dolly Chua and Ria Bolivar
The goods were then brought to her numerous suki in the banks, private and government offices, and to customers as far as the sugar mill in Calinog town. She became a pro not only in the buy- and-sell part but much more at dealing with all kinds of people from all walks of life. This art and skill became a valuable tool in flourishing her photography business.
Today the greater part of her daily grind today is devoted to her studio at Robinsons Place, monitoring the Gaisano shop when need be. Given three to four, or more, events like weddings to cover in a day, the photography services of J&R are vigorous. But the peril of the trade cannot be discounted given that some events are held in unfamiliar spots of Panay island. You simply don’t know what’s in store there.
One that sticks to memory was actually held up in a mountain area somewhere in Iloilo. Dolly’s BFF Diane Javelosa-Jimenez can attest to the unnerving experience passing through rough terrains, given that she tagged along as official driver with Dolly and the photographers as passengers.
At the town proper, this small group was met and escorted by the bride’s relative who — to the ladies’ great surprise — took them to the foot of a mountain quite a distance from the town center. Diane narrated, “And then he bid us goodbye and left us to our own devices with his parting words halong kamo pasaka sa bukid. We didn’t know if he meant for us to be extra careful driving through the rugged roads and unfamiliar terrain up the mountain, or to look out for hold-uppers or rebel insurgents along the way, OR BOTH! Hahaha.”
This scary experience taught Dolly a vital lesson on the importance of meticulous scrutiny of the circumstances surrounding a venue and its event to ensure the crew’s safety.
Dolly’s five kids — Jameson, Lyn Rose, Jansen, Caryl and Michael — are grown-ups, with three running their businesses and the last two earning their respective college degrees. Nevertheless, Dolly still watches over them with a sharp eagle’s eye.
It goes without saying hat she is doing a one-woman’s job looking out for them and herself. It’s typical of Dolly to always faces the inevitable with a grin, roll-up her sleeves to do what should be done, and move forward come rain or shine. Perhaps on few unhappy occasions, she might sometimes groan and mope like any of us, but she surely copes damn the torpedoes!
And when the days are unbearably rough and tough — because that’s life — BFF Diane pulls her away from the cause of irritations. Their favorite chill-out haunt in the city — oftentimes in the company of a few close friends of similar interests — is a place for wining, and a lot of dancing and jamming like there’s no tomorrow.
The cool and soft-spoken Diane and the spirited Dolly have been BFFs for the last three years. It’s a friendship that encompasses their respective families and extended families. The two women love to hunt for places hereabouts (or in Manila and abroad), where they can buy good stuffs without costing them an arm or limb.
In summertime when schedule warrants, off they vacation to Boracay with their respective kids in their wake. There Diane’s husband Abet Jimenez, who attends to the family-owned beach resort, welcomes them with warm food and lots and lots of laughter and camaraderie.
“Time management is the secret to a happy blend of work and play,” Dolly concludes. “It also helps in leveling-up one’s business if you have an undying passion for what you’re doing, a good business reputation and clients satisfied with your services. And best of all, a happy life is having true friends around for better or worse.”