VIRGINIA WARNE, was an 18 yr. old ingenue and winner of the “Covergirl” contest. Her prize included a portrait sitting with Bob. She also had a bit role in the movie “Tani”, but her biggest role was becoming Mrs. Bob Razon.
Knowing my interest to learn more about the Razons, my aunt Elsie Castro de la Cruz casually mentioned that my grandfather used to go to the renowned Adriatico studio of Bob Razon back in the 50s and 60s because “they were magkamaganak (relatives) of some sort”. Armed with that scant lead, I wrote a letter to Mr. Bob Razon, asking him about my late grandfather’s visits. To my surprise, he responded with a telephone call and conversed with me in fluent Kapampangan. Since he could no longer remember my grandfather’s visits, I decided to drop a few Razon names from my genealogical list, and when I came to “Tereso Razon”, his voice perked up and said—“That’s my father’s brother!”. I felt a sense of elation as we established the connection at long last!
Last 24 November 2002, I finally met the Bob Razon, hailed as the “Dean of Philippine Portraiture” for many decades. Our familial ties became even more apparent as we talked together in his studio-cum residence along Adriatico St. in Malate. As it turned out, Valentin (d. 1928) is Bob’s grandfather. Valentin and 1st wife Faustina Galiardo begot Tereso (b. 13 Oct. 1883), Apolonio (b. 10 Feb. 1886) and Andres Razon—Bob’s father. (2nd wife Fausta Dizon produced another son, Emilio (b. 7 Dec. 1898, a stepbrother Bob does not even know!) Since Valentin’s elder sister Florentina is my great-grandmother, that makes me a nephew of Tatang Bob!
Pablo Razon (nicknamed "Pab", mispronounced as "Bob" by Americans) is one of 8 children of Andres Razon (of Mabalacat) and Antonia David (of Floridablanca). His siblings include Elisa, Aurora, Clodualdo, Pablo, Felipe (whose grandson Daniel Razon is a GMA 7 TV personality), Francisco, Leocadio and Pedro. Andres was a Staff Sergeant, and so he led a peripatetic life, and it was in Iloilo that Bob was born on 25 January 1913. They would shuttle back to Floridablanca and Guagua, Pampanga and move again to Balanga, Bataan in the next few years. As a young boy, Bob was fascinated with a flicker locket that would reveal the image of a woman when tilted at an angle—his first brush with the magic of image-making. Already keen with a paint brush, he was asked by his American boss in Escolta to take pictures for a change—and he surprised him with snapshots that looked so professionally done.
By the “pistaym” era, commercial photography was enjoying a boom. Venus, Rialto, Triangulo, Sun Studio and C. Valdez & Co. were some of the eminent studios in operation at Escolta and along Avenida at that time, taking glamor shots of Carnival Queens, debutantes, politicos and professionals. The war years temporarily halted the business, but when it was time to rebuild, Bob Razon picked up from where others had left off and put up a studio along Rizal Avenue near the Manila Grand Opera House. Here, he had a captive clientele—the stars of the Opera, headed by Katy de la Cruz came to Bob’s for their photos.
At first, Bob was just happy shooting pictures of vaudeville stars and “hanggang-pier girls” who gave their portrait souvenirs to their American GI boyfriends. Later, his association with Society Editor Cita Trinidad put him in touch with high society personalities, including the rich and powerful at the posh Manila Hotel. There at the Fiesta Pavilion, he set up a makeshift studio where he plied his business. Word soon got around of the classy portraits he was making and Bob started to make a name for himself in salon photography. Two women who sat for their official portraits would play significant roles in his life: Imelda Romualdez, the Rose of Tacloban and Virginia Warne, and 18 year-old ingenue and winner of “Covergirl”, a contest to promote Rita Hayworth’s movie of the same title. Virginia later would become Mrs. Bob Razon, and their marriage would produce children Robert or "Bo", an accomplished international musician, Richard, Pearl, Minette and Raymond. (Mrs. Razon spends half of the year in the U.S. while Bob has forsook his green card to spend his life in the country he loves best).
The golden age of Bob’s salon photography spanned the years 1950s-1960s. He has shot presidents—from Quirino, Roxas, Magsaysay, Garcia, Marcos, Ramos to Aquino. His nuptial assignments included the weddings of Ninoy Aquino-Cory Cojuangco, Jose Concepcion-Marivic Araneta, , brides Vicky Quirino, Rosemarie Jimenez Arenas, Gretchen Oppen, among others. National queens Gemma Cruz, Christina Matias, Cynthia Ugalde, Edita Vital and Bessie Ocampo had their royal sittings at Bob’s. Leading fashion houses like Ramon Valera, Slim’s and Tres Chic sent their models to his salon for pictorials. And showbiz glossies would always have Bob’s portraits on their covers, whether it be the handsome profiles of Rogelio de la Rosa and Leopoldo Salcedo, the demure beauty of Delia Razon (who used Bob’s last name, upon the suggestion of director Gregorio Fernandez), Tessie Quintana, Rosa del Rosario or the luminous presence of Rita Gomez and Rosa Rosal. Likewise, Bob has captured the beauty of society girls like Minnie Osmeña , Susan Magalona , Chito Madrigal, Ditas Lopez, Luz Puyat Martel, Lucy Pamintuan and Celia Diaz Laurel.
To further his craft, Bob went to Hollywood to study make-up at Westmore Beauty Salon, an institution that served Universal Studios. When his interest expanded to movies, he hied off to Rome to observe cinematic techniques. Since 1958, he has been a member of the esteemed Professional Photographers’ Association of America. As a leading name in portraiture, Bob has very few equals. While other photographers seek to present the truth, Bob’s aim is to beautify it, and this is his differentiating edge, evident even in his early works—“where the glow of history combines with the warm patina of nostalgia to create an enduring fantasy in soft focus”.
Today, at age 89 going 90, Bob continues to reign supreme at his Bob’s Studios, still full of vital energy for his work--orchestrating his staff, supervising photo shoots and managing the business all by himself. “I think I am happiest when I’m working,” he says ”You say that I have become part of history, but I only feel that way when I look at the portraits that I have taken. Otherwise, I’m always looking for the next beautiful face, the next pose, the next portrait challenge.”
Just recently, he launched his coffee table book, Bob Razon: A Life Devoted to Salon Style, a rich visual documentation of his very best works and of his life and times. This definitive book has successfully captured the very essence of his life passion—“making memories since 1946”. I am thrilled to have found Tatang Bob, and I left his studio warm with the thought that I have finally rediscovered the long-lost Razon ties that bind him with our family, a connection that has now become clearer, and definitely stronger than ever.
(14 December 2002)