Millennial Man: Andrei Suleik is more than just JaDine’s photographer
“Masaya ako. I’m happy,” Andrei Suleik said when asked about how life is for him at the moment. And why wouldn’t he be? The 25-year old photographer is essentially living the millennial dream: getting recognized for doing something he loves, and earning a decent living from it besides.
Not to mention, his work allows him to get up close and personal to some of today’s hottest celebrities, not least of which are Nadine Lustre and James Reid, arguably local showbiz’s most polarizing couple.
With several billboards in his portfolio, an editorial for Philippine Star Supreme, a newly-launched website, and countless celebrity portraits, it’s hard to imagine that only 3 years ago, Andrei was learning to work a DSLR via YouTube, and didn’t even have his own camera.
One can say that Andrei “fell into” photography on the way to pursuing another dream.
Originally from Cotabato, Andrei moved to Davao to study mass communication and later on decided to move to Manila in 2011.
“That was the most mature thing I did in my life,” Andrei said in Tagalog, explaining that he welcomed the change in scenery after being stuck in a rut.
Flirting with film
It was in Manila that Andrei had the chance to intern for 2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten director Petersen Vargas, with the intention of wanting to learn more about the film industry.
“I wasn’t studying photography then, because in my head, I wanted to do film. I wanted to be a director,” he said. One day, Petersen asked Andrei to do a behind-the-scenes video for a Garage magazine shoot.
But even as he tried to pursue his filmmaking dreams, the photography industry beckoned. After the BTS video shoot, Garage asked him to take photos for a supplementary feature. At the same time, Andrei also got photography gigs from Purveyr Magazine.
Ever the yes-man, Andrei took every opportunity, though he had to borrow his friend's camera because he couldn’t yet afford his own. Being assigned all these photography gigs, his interest in the field began to grow.
Instead of taking a photography course, Andrei did as most millennials do and turned to the internet, googling photography tutorials and watching YouTube videos to learn.
“Even when I didn’t have a camera, I would go on YouTube to learn about settings because I wanted to be ready when the camera came,” he shared.
Eventually, his mom gave him his first camera, the same Canon 6D that he uses to shoot the billboards and editorials he gets assigned to do today.
“When the camera was given to me, I said this camera needs to go places, because a hundred thousand was invested in it. It couldn’t just be a hobby,” he said.
It’s safe to say that the camera did go places. In the 3 years since he started, Andrei’s name has come to be associated with dramatic portraits that seem to capture his subjects at their most candid – while still making them look like fashion icons.
His go-to hashtag, “#AndreiShotThe” hasn’t rested since he started – and is now attached to portraits of everyone from his non-showbiz friends, to showbiz royalty – who also happen to be his friends.
And that’s perhaps another thing that has made Andrei so successful: his knack for building relationships.
“Relationships are important to me,” Andrei said, saying that he values the relationship he has with clients, collaborators and friends – which is just about right.
A true extrovert, he is the type of person that skips the “acquaintance” stage, someone who puts people at ease, someone you can have just one conversation with and immediately be able to call a friend.
A good relationship is how it starts for Andrei and many of his clients and collaborators – even with James and Nadine, who are arguably his most popular subjects. While JaDine fans recognize Andrei as “JaDine’s photographer,” he is in fact their friend – who just happens to take great photos.
Andrei shared that he met the couple through Poor Taste, aka Paolo Tiongson, who produced James’ album, Palm Dreams. The 3 of them quickly became friends, and started hanging out together.
One day, JaDine sent him a message, asking him to come with them to an event and take behind-the-scenes photos. Since then, Andrei has become their go-to photographer, every time they want to shoot something apart from their work projects.
Talking about what it’s like to work with them, Andrei shared: “They’re fun to work with, because they don’t make you do everything. Everything is collaborative…the two of them give input in everything we do. Also, we’re friends, so before I became their photographer, they already knew me. I also know them. I know what they want, they know what I want.”
As someone who works closely with one of the industry’s most intriguing – and also most controversial – Andrei can attest that the two stars are more than just the celebrity personas that people want them to be.
“People want to mold the two of them to their own version of what they want JaDine to be,” Andrei said.
“But you can’t call them rebels, because dude, they’re just doing what they want to do that people don’t want to see them doing because they’re celebrities. They aren’t God. And they aren’t doing anything wrong. They’re just doing their own thing, like normal people.”
Having James and Nadine supporting his work undoubtedly opened a lot of doors for Andrei, and he is nothing but thankful for the opportunities that continue to come.
Having a lot of connections and potential clients is especially important to Andrei. As a freelancer, contacts are his bread and butter – and he still remembers a time, when he didn’t have much.
“It did enter my mind, to look for another job, because at one point, I didn’t have shoots,” Andrei said.
“May mga taggutom ako na times, pero sabi ko, kaya ako taggutom kasi may hindi ako ginawa (there were times when I would go hungry, but I would tell myself, I’m hungry because there are things I didn’t do),” he added.
That’s not to say that having the right connections is all it takes to have the kind of career that Andrei is enjoying today.
“What I learned and what I noticed is, even if you have all the connections, if you don’t prove yourself, people won’t take a risk on you, because of course, that’s their money, and that’s their brand,” Andrei said.
“Hindi ka pwedeng stagnant lang. Kailangan maghain ka pa rin sa kanila ng something new para kunin ka nila (you can’t be stagnant. You need to serve them something new so they will get you),” he added.
The advice he has to give to budding photographers is something that should be instinctual – but is all too often undervalued: “Keep shooting.”
“Shoot all kinds of things. Eventually, you’ll learn your identity, you’ll figure out what kind of photographer you are,” he said.
“I just learned on the internet, by reading, by watching, by having new experiences while shooting,” he shared. “Eventually, you’ll learn too. You’ll find what you want to do.” – Rappler.com