BLOG 001- Finding Your Purpose - The Origin Story

One of my very first photos. Manhattan Beach, 2010

For those who have followed my journey from the very start, this above photo might be familiar. For the rest of you, this is an origin story of a very difficult, but very rewarding and fulfilling path I set on 10 years ago.

2010 was a very important and pivotal year in my creative journey, I was working a part time job, going to community college and dancing on a hip hop dance company, all at the same time. I had saved up a little money from my part time job the previous year (2009) and bought myself a refurbished Olympus digital SLR with a kit lens from eBay. That camera was around my neck 24/7, even though I had no idea what I was doing with it really. 

In January 2010, I met a photographer on a photoshoot who would become my mentor, Ja Tecson. Coming from a commercial, lifestyle and editorial background, Ja had a unique perspective and process in how he create his images. Within these first few years, I became his assistant and was able to learn much about his approach and philosophy behind his photography. He helped shape my creative vision early in my career and gave me a base from which to build off of for my own approach. He and I have worked together on multiple projects through the years and have developed a great friendship in the process.

January 2010. CSLA Photoshoot. Photo by JA TECSON

In 2013, I was fortunate to collaborate with my good friend and dance teammate, Philip Cariaso Jr on a styled, travel inspired photo series titled “LOST IN MEN”. This was my first time working with a creative team that consisted of a creative director, a stylist and a slew of our talented friends who graciously modeled for us.

Lost In Men Project, 2013

Lost In Men Project, 2013

Lost In Men Project, 2013

Lost In Men Project, 2013

Two years after the “LOST IN MEN” project, I was approached by Philip’s younger sister, Angelia Cariaso for what would be my 2nd focused photo series, “JUH DO IT”.

Juh Do It Project, 2015

Juh Do It Project, 2015

Juh Do It Project, 2015

It was through both of these focused projects that I would further develop and refine my style.

2015 was also the year I took a step back from the dance community to go full time into the wedding photography industry. After spending the first half of the decade cutting my teeth and discovering my deep love for the craft, my passion turned into purpose. The hustle was real and I wanted nothing else (I had no choice. I had to make a living to sustain myself). I had developed a strong, working relationship with my 2nd mentor, Justin (Justin Element Productions), by this time and was ready for what the 2nd half of the decade would bring me.

Justin and myself, 2016

Being involved in the wedding industry taught me to be focused on the MOMENT and the FEELING that a photograph can bring. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone to interact with strangers in order to insert myself into these situations to properly document them. It introduced me to so many different people from many walks of life and would lay the foundation for the next chapter in my photographic journey.

Enter Cambodia.

Exploring Angkor Wat, May 2018

If there was one trip that changed my whole outlook on photography and my purpose for doing what I do, it was in this country. I didn’t know the language, the culture, or the people. That “uncertainty” led me to photograph everything I saw from an objective standpoint. The photos became precious tokens for me because for a split second in the fabric of space-time, my life aligned with this country. I came back to the States with a renewed sense of purpose to my work. I wanted my work to speak the truth.

My first exhibition, “Ends of the Earth”. October 2018

Shortly after my group exhibition, I got a full time job working for an e-commerce start-up. What a change of pace this was. After freelancing and gigging for the better half of my career, here I was working 9am-6pm in an office/studio. I saw it as a learning opportunity for not only improving and expanding my skills as a well rounded photographer, but also to pick up new skills in the areas of online marketing, social media and e-commerce. Applying all of the previous knowledge I had picked up, I was tasked with building out an entire photo department to fulfill the needs of the company and the market demand for clients all around the world. The hustle was real! While I was able to learn and expand my skills a ton during this year of working a 9-6 job, this wasn’t my intended path. Life had other plans, the Universe had pulled me away from this existence and thrusted me into the next leg of my journey.

The 9-6 hustle.

If you’ve read this far into the blog, you’re nearing the end of this Origin Story of how I got to this point in my career. I appreciate you reading and absorbing my photography in a different way other than what’s on the Instagram grid or story. You see, in today’s world where it seems as if everyone is dubbing themselves a “photographer” on social media, I realize I need to take my work and my audience in a different direction. Long form blog entries and audio podcasts talking about my work will be the next frontier in which I will be exploring for this new decade. Being a photographer is much more than just taking a photo that pops on the ‘Gram. What message are you communicating? What story are you telling? How do you want your audience to consume your work? What is your purpose in doing what you do?

The most recent portrait of myself, Winter 2019. Photo by JA TECSON

What did I learn in these 10 years? Photography is a life long practice in which its practitioners undergo a constant rite of passage. It requires tenacity, persistence, a willingness to sacrifice and above all, PASSION and PURPOSE.

Stay passionate.

Everything in Alignment

After the E.R

Faith and religion is something not alot of us talk about nowadays, it’s seen as a “touchy” subject to discuss in this day and age where everyone seems to find every little thing offensive in the world. What a different time it is now.

The whole concept of religion and faith was something I struggled with my entire life up until recently. No, It wasn’t because I had a bad upbringing as a child or anything, I really can’t complain (Thanks Mom and Dad!). Reflecting on it now as I’m typing this out, I think I was indirectly taught by my Dad to see the world in a more “realistic”, logical, left-brained kind of way when I was a kid. There always had to be a logic explanation for everything happening in and around me. I was a curious child and absorbed all kinds of information like a sponge. Maybe because my Dad was always watching shows like “NOVA” on PBS late at night discussing stuff like the space-time continuum and wormholes right before I dozed off to bed (I was between the ages of 7-10 during this lol) . Or maybe it was because my Dad taught me how to play Chess when I was 4 years old, teaching me all of the piece movements and how to think 4 or 5 moves ahead. Or how my Dad and I would have these full blown conversations on the ride home from school about his interpretations and understandings of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Yeah, HIS own interpretations…Some of the die hard, super religious would argue that it’s not in my Dad’s best interest to question God or to keep trying to figure the Bible out and “JUST BELIEVE, SINNER!”. My Dad wasn’t the type to fall for anything too easily, to this day, he is still a skeptic about most things. Whether it was about politics or religion, he always stayed in his own lane and believed what he believed. My Dad never liked to follow the typical path everybody else took. 

Neither did I.

“Don’t take the Bible or any other religious text/belief literally word for word. Draw your own explanations and experiences from it” he said.

Chris Coles aka “Dolph” laying down the reference lines along my blank arm. Photo: Calvin Ma

I believe everything happens for a reason. It happens when it’s supposed to happen. Whether you call that God’s will, divine intervention/providence, karma or the natural ebb and flow of the Universe, everyone has their own way of interpreting whatever *that* is. Everyone of us is intrinsically connected to one another, we are all connected to the Earth and thus connected to the Universe. We are nothing but stardust at the end of it. 

For years now, I’ve always wanted a tattoo on my left forearm of something related to my profession. I bounced different ideas around to my friends and researched into what I wanted. I wasn’t sure though. After a slightly scary incident with my Dad going to the ER, that day really put alot of things into perspective for me. Especially with where I’m at in my life right now, it was the “awakening” I was supposed to go through. Everything fell into place with so much more clarity. All of my life experiences, from my upbringing as a child to my dance career, and eventually the pursuit of an artistic career led me to this very point in my life, sitting in that chair. There was no turning back after this. Everything felt right for me to finally go through this. 

As soon as I saw the mock up of the sacred geometry patterns Dolphin drew up for me, I knew right away this HAD to be on my body permanently. This was gonna be *my* tattoo and no one else’s.

A spiritual turning point. Photo: Calvin Ma

What a spiritual thing this was for me. I didn’t get it at first…

If you’ve never gotten a tattoo, it is definitely something you have to prepare yourself for. The pain is immense and once the artist starts, you are fully committed to seeing this whole process through till the end. In a way, it was therapeutic, going through that amount of physical pain and sacrifice to have this particular tattoo embedded in my skin for life. Through this process, i reflected on my entire life up until this point and all I could think about was FAITH.

There really was no turning back. If there was ever a time to trust and have faith that everything will be in line with God’s divine plan for me, it was now. I had to surrender to align myself. This tattoo was going to be the visual representation of that surrender and alignment.

Exhausted but loving life. Look at my arm! Photo: Calvin Ma

Sacred geometry is too deep a subject to write out in a single blog post…

In a nutshell, the lines, circles, and patterns you see occur EVERYWHERE in the Universe. From how honeycombs are formed by bees, to how flower petals and seashells grow the way they do, how light and sound waves behave, to even how the world’s most iconic architectural masterpieces are created. Sacred geometry is not tied to any one religion, ethnicity, or culture. It is the universal blueprint of all of creation.

I can go on and on about how much these geometric patterns are connected to everyone and everything. Which is one of the reasons why I decided on getting sacred geometry tattooed on my body. I don’t quite understand it fully myself, nor will I ever. No matter where I end up in life, these tattoos will continue to teach me and show me something new each time. 

A short break to recollect myself before we reached the home stretch. Photo: Calvin Ma

I really have to give major props to my boy Calvin for accompanying me that afternoon to document this entire process for me. This was definitely a major turning point in my life and I’m glad I had someone who’s eyes I trust the most other than my own (HAHA). Thanks bro.

To my artist, Dolphin: Thanks for being the artist for my first tattoo. Your life experiences have inspired me to continually seek that alignment.

Tattoo done. Sacred forms, bestowed. Total time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Let me close with this: There is no pot-of-gold at the end of all this. All we’re gonna have on our death bed is our stories and life experiences to tell. Have FAITH and TRUST in whatever belief system you choose to follow. Align yourself with what makes you the happiest. Make sure your stories are good ones. 

Everything in Alignment.

Guisados lunch. Fresh tat.

Metatron’s Cube/Flower of Life

Next blog post: I left my digital workhorse 5D mark 3 at home and did a Hypebae inspired shoot entirely on my Yashica T5 with my good friend Quynh. This was really fun and this little camera continues to amaze me. =)

CineCosu - From one artist to another

This was probably one of my most anticipated collaborations to date…

Dominique Zamora a.k.a “CineCosu” has been breaking ground and making her mark in the cosplay community with the many collaborations she’s done with other awesome cosplayers and photographers. She also happens to be one of the most sought after wedding cinematographers in the industry and my co-worker/partner at Justin Element Productions. Can’t say enough great things about her, she’s a fellow artist I have a ton of respect for, isn’t afraid to try new things to flex her creativity, and just a really great friend to have.

Downtown Long Beach has always been my go-to shoot location when it comes to experimenting with new concepts, new processes, and new equipment. Because the city’s shores face south, the weather is always great year round and the natural light that flows through this part of the city always looks amazing. The city recently completed what they call “The Rainbow Bridge”, a pedestrian bridge with an arched LED canopy that connects the Promenade side of the Long Beach Convention Center to the Terrace Plaza. We started and ended our shoot here. Amazing piece of functional architecture for the city. I will definitely be back here again (maybe in the early morning?)

Thanks for the trust Dom! I am absolutely in love with these images. Check em!








She wanted her own shot of the place too

The real CineCosu.

Yashica T5 - Flash fired - amazing skin tones

Stay tuned for the next blog! I’ll be blogging about my experience getting my first tattoo…

No turning back! Photo by Calvin Ma

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