Etched intricately on creative photographer Aia Solis Calvelo's left forearm are the lyrics of Lateralus, a song by American rock band Tool; each word tattooed one after the other, forming a perfect circle, a Fibonacci spiral of sorts—deep, dark, and beautiful.
Aia has a number of other tattoos, each with a story behind it—mostly of moments she never wants to forget, from the poignant to the profound to the mundane.
Lateralus, for instance, is a song that she and her husband George, also a photographer, both love. George has the same tattoo and they had themselves inked four days after their wedding in June last year. No, it isn't their wedding song but it resonates strongly in their continuing journey as artists.
The song, after all, may be interpreted as an ode to self-actualization, about one's evolution as an artist or the struggle to find deep connections with the universe.
Like with each and every tattoo she has, Aia likes capturing moments in life—holding it close to her heart, and wearing it like second skin.
And this is what Aia does best. She is an artist using photography as her medium and with her camera, she freezes time and immortalizes moments in her life and that of others: a young girl's 16th birthday, a bride walking down the aisle to marry the love of her life, a band's new album launch, a soon-to-be mother's seven-month pregnant belly.
If photojournalism is recording history in a hurry, Aia's craft is a visual poetry of contemporary life, expressed in her style which is a mix of art and documentary realism that puts the viewer, in a voyeuristic sense, in the midst of action or in the moment. It's the same with the way she takes portraits of people, which are raw, tender, and beautiful.
But it's also so much more than that. At times, her photographs are not necessarily about anything big or grand but about those little ordinary everyday things she does or sees—be it a stroll in the neighborhood with George, a road trip to the beach, a stranger, a flower, or a fly on the wall.
But she captures these moments, mundane or otherwise, in ways that are uniquely her own and it shows in her photos—surreal, dreamlike, mind-bending. She paints with light and uses it well. She is fascinated by shapes, layers, and texture.
Her work represents universal themes about humanity—family life, identity, home, and love, captured in ways that are dramatic yet realistic, artistic yet rich with narrative.
It wasn't like this though, her craft as well as her life.
Aia, 33, once dreamt of becoming a doctor but growing up, she was always in touch with her artistic side. She took up nursing to become a doctor and while in college, she would take photos of school events, from pageants to sports fests. After graduating in 2010, she became a certified nurse and worked for a few years in a hospital somewhere in the hills of Antipolo—with pastel scrubs and all. On the side, she would take photo assignments—a lot of weddings—and she moved within different communities of artists and photographers.
But the persistent tug of photography was too strong so Aia decided to drop her nurse's cap for good. She also let go of her dreams of becoming a doctor and chased new ones instead, realizing that she is happiest holding a camera and photographing the world around her.
"Eventually, I left the nursing profession and moved to photography," Aia says in an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe in the couple's tranquil home, somewhere in the bustling district of Mandaluyong.
In 2015, she found work at The Picture Company where she learned a lot about capturing milestones in life.
"I realized gaano ka-importante 'yung little milestones sa buhay. We have (baby) packages from one month to one year 'yung baby. You see the different stages of life," Aia says.
Eventually, she left and ventured on her own, working mostly as a freelancer. Her female gaze stands out in a male-dominated industry.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Aia learned from her experiences but she also looked to others for inspiration and influence.
Her husband George, who is a freelance photojournalist, is a huge influence on Aia's craft, and so are other photographers including couples Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb and Trent Parke and Narelle Autio.
At present, Aia runs Reverie Studios with George. The boutique wedding & lifestyle studio does other projects, too, aside from weddings including corporate profiles and portraits, product shoots, and even album launches.
Many have fallen in love with the unique capture that the studio offers—compositions that emphasize a revealing moment, cinematic and dramatic yet fascinatingly real, out-of-the-box, layered, sometimes blurry, and sometimes a hodgepodge of light and shadows.
Because isn't real life like that? Never perfect, sometimes dark, sometimes filled with blinding light, or a mixture of both. And funny, too.
As we journey on in life, we are often lost in these countless moments, sometimes alone in our reverie, sometimes with our beloved, sometimes just us and our dreams.
Aia profoundly captures these moments for you, freezing the time and etching it like a tattoo. The results are pieces of your life in black and white or in varied colors—blurry, beautiful, bold.
Often, these moments leave a mark on your being. To be able to look back on those times again and again is life's best gift.
After all, photography, like writing, is—to borrow a line from Anais Nin—to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.
And that, at the very least, is cathartic.