As The Ionitas

March 2016. Birthday month.
When the Jedi Brothers came to visit.
Introducing, Alex and Stefan.

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What I am trying to express in this post is my gratitude for love and life. The time these moments happened, I was in a place inexplicable. Life was scattered and intimidating. But as the universe would have it, these two souls were sent to rescue me from drowning. They served as my lifeguards, my life jackets and as I slowly sank into an abyss, they lit my way and held my soul closely to theirs.

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Alex (in green), I’ve known for quite a while. Stefan (in stripes), I met during that trip. The Ionita’s will hold a piece of my heart wherever life takes me. I think it’s the first time I’m truly reflecting and writing about this time in my life, and honestly, it’s already getting me teary-eyed. And I’ve barely started writing!

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Photo by Alex Ionita

Life felt so harsh before their arrival. Total drama in Manila = DRAMANILA. Certain issues with family came to life and questions swirled through my head like a whirlpool. It was a time where I sensed that no one in my immediate vicinity could understand what I was going through. When I tried to communicate it with them, they would literally stare and look at me like I was deluded. So I just kept to myself. It was a challenge just being, you know? Existence can be tiring at times. Just being who you are with company who accepts you for all your are was an alien feeling for me. I know it was something I’ve already experienced before, but I forgot the feeling of being free to be just me. Everyone around me that time, and I mean everyone, wanted me to be someone else. My family wanted me to make more money, so much pressure was put on me to lose weight, work was sullen and I was just a mess. I felt battered just being in the presence of these people. I even ran away. Because I just could not anymore.

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But thankfully, there were still those very few souls who, though questioned their belief in me, still supported me to become. Those few saw something in me that I failed to see in myself. A few months back, I thanked Alex for “dealing” me while I was a mess. He aptly stated, “You were not a mess, you just lost your compass.” I thought about it, and he was right in stating that. So I told him, “Thank you, for serving as my true north during those times.”

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Alex and I met while we were both studying at York University in Toronto. Time and space led us to lose touch for a while, but as destiny would have it, we were brought back together in each others’ lives. One of the many things I really appreciate him doing was when he remained in constant communication with me when my mama had a stroke and was in the hospital for seven weeks (that’s another potent story). He consistently kept me company even from far away. While I would look after mama in the ICU, alone, his messages of encouragements would come in and those would lift me up greatly.

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Alex was also going through some battles of his own, on his own. But even if he was busy fighting whatever forces, he remained there for me. Hopefully he realizes that if there is any war he needs help in fighting, I will be his ally. Always, always.

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At present, all I know is that he will be forever a darling in my heart and a companion of my soul. I clearly remember crying my soul to him one night at the beach. He remained still. He listened to what I had to say, but more than that, he remained. I relentlessly bared my soul to Alex and Stefan and they seemed to understand what it was saying. Even if I couldn’t quite figure it out myself yet.

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Cried. That’s what I did, when we first saw each other in person after almost a decade. I cried not out of sadness, but out of the fact that I was able to breathe again with them. How could I be sad when I knew great people like them flew all the way to the Philippines to spend time? If anything, I did not feel worthy of the love that was being showered to me. I kept on questioning myself. In hind sight, it’s actually hilarious.

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I remember getting out of the car, seeing his back turned from the window – he was seated in the courtyard and I thought to myself, “He’s actually here. He’s right there.” I walked towards him and my knees went weak when he hugged me. He caught me though. I felt strengthened in the sense that I did not have to hide who I am anymore. Because in a sense, my soul knew that his soul knows who I really am.

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In the mornings, I would wake him up so early (while he’s on vacation) to go watch the sunrise. We would go on the boat, talk about existence, purpose and life. I felt love’s presence all around. The light enveloped the surroundings so beautiful and with majesty. Before, my body clock was always that of a vampire. But things change, I’ve learned to appreciate the mornings more. Funnily enough, the Ionitas, before moving to Canada, were from Romania. So I guess, we were in like-blooded company. (Ha!) Pardon the digression to humor, for my eyes need a break from crying while writing this post. The question I’ll have later is if I’m even going to share this. It’s one of the most (if not THE most) personal piece I’ve written here. Actually feels liberating.

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As the sun rose to our delight, we would have moments of silence.

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We would just soak in the surroundings and the present happening. Beauty remained faithful and ever-present.

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Nature is unquestionably perfect, and so it was. We basked in the infinite wellness of the present moment by being in each other’s presence.

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Even if I just personally met Stefan during that trip, I felt that I’ve known him before. There was this one night, we were laying down on the sand and looking up to the universe when we started talking about the movie, The Truman Show. How life really seemed to be that way many, many times. Then a star seemed to move, Stefan caught it and said it was a satellite. I shouted (to NASA) “Please take a photo of and email it to me!” We all had a laugh and continued to marvel at the universe.

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The Ionita’s did more than just to come as they are, they brought out the “as I am” in me. Because they had no expectations of me being any other, I greatly sensed that they accepted me for who I was, who I am and who I want to become. There was no pressure to be anyone else other than myself. And that in itself is quite exhilarating.

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I felt special. Moments like these are beyond the concept of kilig.

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In essence, they breathed life back into my soul and love into my life. Something everyone so desperately craves for but few are brave enough to admit.

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We shared, laughed, dined, sunbathed in the middle of the ocean. There would be moments of peace and quiet, and I would just ponder on all the events that had to happen just to bring us together. I’m fairly certain there’s a mathematical formula to compute the chances of events like this transpiring, somewhere out there. But at the tail end of pondering upon these moments, I just let things be, and enjoyed their presence. Ok, I mean, IMAGINE. I grew up in the Philippines, they grew up in Romania, we met in Canada. Can you even?!

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The magnitude of the moments would make my heart tear with joy.

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The days were a vision of true clarity.

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The sun, our playmate, was cool enough to give us great visions of light.

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As the waves washed all troubles away, my soul was soothed and mind was refreshed.

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They are gentlemen of muse.

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Our time under the sun will forever be a cherished part of me.

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Though not in the photos, I’d like to share that during my birthday (we spent on the boat), dolphins showed up beside us, dancing through existence. It was a wonderful surprise from the forces unseen.

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As the days came to pass and the night revealed itself, we basked in a different light.

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Stars filled our vision of the sky.

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There was not a cloud in the sky. It was spotless and filled with majesty.

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I was enthralled.

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The photos pale weak in comparison to the actual beauty of the moment.

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As the moon gave way for the stars to shine brighter that night, my being was energized. With the Ionita’s, I experienced being part of shared beauty. Grabe. And in a sense, I felt beautiful too around them.

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We could see the Milky Way clearly that time. I’m telling you, not a cloud in the sky.

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The first night we spent together, we were at the beach and fireflies revealed themselves. While sitting by the shore, I thought I saw a shooting star so close to us, but it revealed itself to be light in a different form. A single firefly. Then as we walked back to the resort, we were led to a bush, a seemingly ordinary bush (you could see all its thorns in the light of day). All of a sudden, the plant lit up like a Christmas tree would! Then, we found ourselves in the middle of fireflies – just lighting up our world. It was such a treat! That occurrence on the first night we spent together solidified my belief that life is in deed, beautiful and that there is literally light in every living creature.

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As we played connect-the-dots with destiny, I marveled at the beautiful drawing life was creating and is continuing to do so.

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I am blessed to have had the opportunity to experience moments like these. SO BLESSED. That, I am aware of – and I am grateful to have the capacity to share moments like these.

End so I guess that answers my question whether to post and share this story or not.

Photography: Ritz Marie
Models: Alex and Stefan Ionita
Location: Mindoro, Puerto Galera, Philippines
Special thanks to Marco Vincent Dive Resort

As Mica

Uncertain where to begin with this story, because there is just so much history – let me start by telling you that she is my sister (by choice, literally my “soul sister”). We’ve known each other since we were awkward teenagers.

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But for like (let me count) twelve years, we missed seeing each other.

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I moved to study in Toronto, and she moved to pursue acting in Los Angeles.

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Funny story, during my 18th birthday (my “debut”), she spearheaded in creating one of the most memorable gifts I’ve received, like, ever. Her and other friends made a surprise video for me and the concept was that I was a celebrated photographer. And they were interviewing my other friends who spoke in the mindset of my future character.

Note to self: Find a copy of that video.

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Our lives went on different directions down the same path.

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How ever life went for us, we chose to challenge the distance.

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Thanks to the mighty internet, we kept in touch. Constantly updating each other with our lives. So, after more than ten years of not seeing each other, you know what we did? We took a nap. It was glorious. Before, we had this thing where we’d pretend sleep. For no reason, just to take a pause – maybe.

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Sis has this theory that we were both starstruck with each other.

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And I am inclined to agree with her, because though she paused her passion for acting – she’s still a star in my eyes, and always will be.

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Model: Michaela Froilan
Photographer: Ritz Marie

 

As Ivan

His name has a special nook in my heart, a great friend of mine is named Ivan. So the expectations for the person under this name is pretty great. Anyway, this Ivan arrived at around 10am and what I first noticed was the sincerity of his smile and then the light in his eyes.

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I asked to have a conversation with him before the shoot happened, but in the middle of the conversation, I felt we already became comfortable enough with each other for the session.

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His mother tongue is Russian and he is just in the process of being fluent in the English language. He shared with me that one of his dreams is to eloquently communicate in English, and that it was great for him to be in Manila because everyone knows the language and he could practice his skills.

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Our conversation started out pretty casually, until we both showed great depths. I felt a certain sense of comfort speaking to him. And I guess, him with me.

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When I asked about his mustache tattoo, I learned that he is also a hair dresser. He expressed that when he cuts hair, he does it with his soul – and I found that beautiful. It was that day too he learned the word “soul” (thanks to Google Translate). I was honored to be in the vicinity.

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It’s a rarity when someone tries to communicate their soul with you.

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As we got deeper into our conversation, the following photos were taken. Notice the potency of something in his eyes. The potency of his soul, he shared with me – and I am honored.

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The sitting was so relaxed yet highly intense.

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Then we both had to just relax.

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Before he left, he told me, “This shoot is memorable.” And on that I agree with him wholeheartedly.

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Model: Ivan (Elite Manila)
Photographer: Ritz Marie

As The Cips

Kean. Chynna. Stellar. I first called them “The Cips” after their wedding and it stuck. You will see, this blog post is different from the rest because here, there is history and an ongoing relationship with the subjects. Treat this as a walk down memory lane.

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In the order of my life, first, there was Lara (Chynna as others know her). We’ve been through a lot together. Through the different phases in our lives, we experienced each other’s realities and truths.

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We splashed scattered thoughts on the walls and captured them together. Lara’s work was actually was a huge inspiration when it came to starting my writings.

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Without judgement or ego, we conversed. Together, we could just be. Then after a while, came someone named Kean.

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I am in no position to divulge their whole love story to the public, but let me just say that I feel honored to bear witness to the growth of their love, and family. Seeing their love from my perspective made me stronger.

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Love survives tears of stormy rain and gives one reason to smile the weather away.

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Ever since we were in school, I relentlessly captured memories. As my one friend aptly described before, “Bibili lang ng siomai, may dala pa siyang camera.” So, I shared what I had of Lara with Kean. Our shared memories captured through a lens aka our high school album.

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Remember that joy is greater sincerely shared.

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Then came Pea (Stellar)!!! And I became a her godmother.

The day these photos were taken, I was so happy I had playmates! Naturally, I whipped out my camera and had an instant photoshoot.

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No make up, no intended styling. Just with the Cips, as they are.

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Goofing around, and just being the best kind of friends – with authenticity and sincerity.

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And most importantly, true to form regarding who they really are.

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Sometimes, I wonder about Peanut. What’s in store for this child who has such talented parents. I know not what is in store for her, but certainly something bewilderingly beautiful.

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AS: Cher

AS: is a spinoff of my “As…” Series. A = artist’s and S = sitting. Traditionally, models seated for artists in paintings and such during the olden times. In this case, it is when I capture someone who is not by-definition a “model” in the sense of the fashion world. I get so many comments like, “You only shoot models?” and “Of course your photos will turn out great, you have pretty subjects.” Let me tell you this, it’s all a matter of perspective. Yes, I only shoot models in the sense that whoever I photograph becomes a model (mine). And let me say this AGAIN, there is beauty in everyone and everything. It’s just a matter of perspective!

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Meet Cheryl Tiu, a woman whose passion lies in promoting cross cultural understanding through the exchange of food.

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Her accolades are numerous, but what I want to shed light on here is her beautiful soul.

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I first met Cheryl during a shoot for The Philippine Star, with so little time, we hit it off talking in the elevator. Then time passed and we both found ourselves in the city called New York. I went to Harlem with her for the first time (because, true to form, there was a restaurant there that piqued her interest). It was quite an adventure.

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Then we went to spend time at Chelsea, which I loved. We took some photos at the High Line, and one of the photos she took of me, I used as my profile photo for my first solo show, Lucid Dreaming, last April 2017. Full disclosure, I am hard to please when it comes to photos of me because I am my own biggest critic.

Anyway, living productive lives, it was only during this shoot we saw each other again. We caught up and it was wonderful.

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Our time together was business and pleasure combined. Got to shoot AND catch up. How wonderful!

So there, cheers to all the naysayers who only thinks I shoot fashion models. Haha! Lighten up, you’re beautiful in your own way. But remember, you attract what you are.

Model: Cheryl Tiu
Make up: Lindsay Co-alog
Hair: Mel
Photos: Ritz Marie

As Karolina

Welcome to my “As…” series. Where I capture beings as they are.

Meet Karolina, a Lithuanian model currently in Manila.

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While waiting for the rest of the team, I decided to do some shots with her without any make up and she obliged. Those are the best kinds of models, to be honest. Comfortable with themselves regardless of what they are wearing and able to brave the camera with bare faced strength.

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As I delightfully played with light, she danced for me.

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After a while, I let her lay down and rest.

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Before facing another battle, one must be still.

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And listen to the forces unseen. To voices that whisper and spirits that speak.

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They will make you remember that, this battle you have already won. Before being who you are, you were one of the whisperers from the unlocked skies. Re-member with yourselves and speak of the war that has passed with love for what it was.

Model: Karolina (Elite Manila)
Stylist: Chris Lee
Photographer: Ritz Marie

As Stig

When I first started out as a photographer, the only elements in the shoot would be the model and myself. As time went on, I was unable to mount these types of shoots anymore. Because models would’t want to be seen “as is” – they would always ask for a make-up artist and stylist and the works. Quite demanding, actually. For an unpaid test shoot. I got tired of it and I gave up and stopped asking models to shoot with me one on one. I’d schedule shoots with a lot of people on set – sometimes there can be too much sound going around.

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Then Stig came along. The original plan had all these other creatives involved. But as destiny would have it, they had to reschedule. I messaged him to trust me and resume with the shoot – he gladly obliged.

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I decided I would dedicate the day to get to know Stig and shoot him. And boy, did we vibe. Look closely at these photos and you will see a conversation of souls – free of ego, full of consciousness.

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I came as Ritz and him, as Stig. No one and nothing else mattered. The present was lived and captured. Both honest about who we are to each other, common ground was found. Found in the trials and victories of life are valuable lessons we uncannily noticed.

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Moments of particular fondness drew us closer.

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He shed himself in front of the camera and right before by eyes – it was a spectacle to watch him transform.

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Model: Stig (Elite Manila)
Photographer: Ritz Marie