Today we’d like to introduce you to CJ Ormita.
CJ, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In 2005, my family and I immigrated to Maryland from the Philippines. I was 11 at the time and don’t quite remember much from my Philippine childhood anymore. Whatever fragmented memory I have are all directly tied to family. But somehow I was able to retain my fluency in Tagalog, despite never speaking it at home once we immigrated. After years of assimilation into Western culture, I later realized that being able to speak my language was a way for me to feel above that cultural erasure a non-white person usually goes through to navigate Western society. The words I was able to speak and the conversations I was able to have become a thread that allowed me to sew back pieces of myself I broke off to feel “normal.” Art also acted as this thread.
Back in middle school, my dad bought a DSLR for himself: a Canon Rebel T1i. My dad always liked to document everything – something that I inherited from him. Dad, if you’re reading this, thank you. Eventually, I became the main user of that camera. When I got into photography, Tumblr (yes, Tumblr!) was becoming prevalent and it exposed me to various types of photography which began to shape my vision. The images that resonated the most were ones that felt like they had a story, that said more than their aesthetics, that suggested the mind of the person behind the camera was working before the button was pressed.
Photography led me to indulge myself in various art forms. I even asked my parents to transfer me to a different high school just so I could take a darkroom photography program. I’ll always be grateful for their unending support of my passions, no matter how difficult these were and continue to be. Eventually, I ended up drawing my photographs, painting them, collaging them, doing whatever to satisfy this new surge of creativity. After being accepted into the Rhode Island School of Design, I was unsure of what I actually wanted to do. Having used photography as the main vehicle of my artistic journey, I felt that I had to explore something else to continue. At RISD, I was exposed to filmmaking. I believe that what drew me the most to this medium was that it felt closest to photography. Film to me was photography imbued with time – an active unfolding of a story rather than a recalling or a conjuring of one.
Right now, I consider myself a visual artist more than a “photographer” or “filmmaker.” I freelance on projects whenever I can. I enjoy working with cameras as it feels the most “at home” to me. When I think about the type of work and stories I’m interested in, they’re usually related to family or relationship dynamics. I think it’s because of a strong desire to reclaim my culture for myself, and family is the most significant connection I have to my culture. Like Tagalog, photography and filmmaking became languages I use to bridge myself, what I value and what I hope to provide for the world.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I don’t think it’s ever a smooth road for any artist, especially if you’re a person of color and/or queer. As an artist, it is very easy to engage in battles of self-worth on a daily basis. I feel that I have to constantly remind myself that my journey is incomparable to anyone else, that no one is on the same timeline, that the way I see things and the work I do is valuable. Every single day. Conflate that with a queer identity, and you have double the amount of factors working against you. Film sets often have a heteronormative atmosphere, and I find that I frequently perform untrue to myself just to exist in the space. I think I have recently been drawn to photography more because I can create my own space with more ease and make art as comfortably and confidently as possible.
As an immigrant, there’s also the pressure of constantly evaluating where you are and what you are able to provide for your parents. I have heard many iterations of a phrase that all basically say: your parents didn’t work this hard for you to not be great. There is that struggle with being a child of immigrants where you look to prove to yourself and to your parents that their sacrifice was worth it.
It’s a struggle but a motivator as well. With the increasing number of stories told by immigrants and more media visibility of marginalized people, it has been validating to know that my life story is common, that others feel the same pain and hardship that I do. Attending the Los Angeles Asian Pacific American Film Festival has had a big influence on my filmmaking life in Los Angeles. Seeing so many films about Asian culture and seeing a plethora of Asian faces on screen was encouraging. It makes me believe that I can do it too.
At the beginning of 2019, I was connected to a collective of queer people of color called Space Makers where I met other QPOC creatives. It allowed me to expand my network in a safe and welcoming community. The importance of finding a community in this city is so vital. It is easy to feel alone in LA where everyone seems to be chasing a dream and can only think about themselves. There is comfort in knowing that when you’re chasing a dream, there are people next to you who will catch you when you fall and help you find your way again.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m a visual artist focusing on photography and filmmaking. I like to document what I see, shape a story around it, or create my own stories using visuals. I love working conceptually within all my creative pursuits.
I cover a wide range of photography work including event photography, products, behind-the-scenes on film sets, headshots, fashion photography, press photography, portraits, etc. I feel most creatively engaged when capturing portraits because I’ve always felt that photography was one of the ways I could engage my relationship with someone. I want to say that I specialize in portrait photography, and value the intimacy I am able to capture and convey. More recently, I have been working on getting into editorial photography as well as experimenting with design elements in post-production.
As a filmmaker I have written, directed and shot short films and music videos, acted as 2nd Assistant Camera and worked in Grip & Electric for independent films. I enjoy directing, doing cinematography work and being 2nd AC the most. My most treasured film work is a short film I wrote, directed and shot in the Philippines where two brothers find themselves struggling to regain their footing after the passing of their mother. I like to think of it as a love story for my little brother.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I recently did a shoot with Mark Redito, a musician whose work I admire and respect. His cultural approach to his music resonates with how I approach my own practice. Music has always been an art form I value and I plan to collaborate with more musicians on photoshoots or create video content. I’m the type of person who thrives off of other people’s creative energy and passion, so I’m always looking to work with other artists.
I also hope to foster more relationships with other QPOC artists specifically and create art that is mutually meaningful. I want to create a sense of belonging with my practice and hope to keep growing as a person who can uplift and positively impact the people around me.
- Website: https://cjco.me/
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/cj.co/
- Other: https://vimeo.com/cjco
Tristan Espinoza, Derek Miranda