As I said in my last blog, sometimes the photographer doesn’t always get his favorite images chosen as a publication will see great differences in what is eventually chosen. It is clearly the nature of photography…the endless battles between an editor and the artist.
Below are a few of my favorite images from the job.
Every Friday in Waikiki, tourist gather around a stage to see a groups of hula dancers perform at sunset. The free, outdoor performance showcases various dancers and styles of hula and its quiet a spectacle. I once had to photograph the dance for a travel piece years ago. As I took my standard, straight forward shots, I began to notice how beautiful the hands of the dancer was as she swayed them skywards and gracefully moved across the stage. I captured some very beautiful moments and was extremely happy with those images. I always figured these images would lead me to creating another image in the future.
Forward to this past March when the photo editor from American Airlines Magazine asked me to shoot a travel piece on urban Honolulu and to work on capturing a cover piece for their First Class magazine, Celebrated Living.
The job consisted of the usual restaurants, museums, etc that make HNL famous. But the challenge of getting a cover piece solely based on my creativity drove me to really search for this one particular shot. And it came in the form of a hula dancer.
Kayli Ka’iulani Carr, the statuesque hula dancer who recently won the 2016 Miss Aloha Hula at the Merrie Monarch Festival, was one of the subjects I had to photograph for the feature. She proved hard to get a hold of as I had to go through her dance teacher and at one point I felt like I ran into a brick wall in communication with them. But finally we connected and made a date to photograph her at the beach.
Along with a sitting portrait, I hoped to have her dance and I’d capture her swaying moments in the last light of the evening hoping I would have cover material. But I ran into a few problems. Kayli had just twisted her ankle during a jog and she was wearing a medical boot. My usual, secluded beach location was out of the question due to the walk, and the early spring rains were surely knocking on the door but we settled on a more public spot and attempted to photograph in what turned out to be a beautiful sunset location.
After we shot the portrait, I attempted to have Kayli dance and sway on the beach which she easily did regardless of her injury and the large black, medical boot she wore. She performed her hula flawlessly and we captured the moment. I wasn’t sure the images would be what the magazine was looking for but deep inside, I knew I had shot the magic.
Jasper, a friend and budding videographer, was my assistant and I was lucky he understood light. I was going to use a strobe and small octabank light on Kayli as she danced but opted for a sliver/gold bounce that mimicked the sunset and it fell perfectly on out beautiful model. Jasper knew how to move the reflector and pushed that sunset light on her perfectly.
I was pretty happy with my edit and knew I nailed it but in the end, like most photo shoots, the image I thought was the winner was not and another was chosen in the series. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to compete for a cover and I hope this image will turn a few heads.
As Air Force One rumbles down the runway carrying away US President Barack Obama, the end has finally come to Barack Obama’s eight years of Honolulu holiday vacations. We’ll no longer gather for ungodly call times at Safeway. No longer will the house on Kailuana Place be the center of the holiday frat party. And we’ll no longer sit on that media bus waiting for the President and friends to finish up a round of golf.
And as that plane lifts off and the jet wash rattle us on the riser, we photographers and writers are now realizing how lucky our small community was to have a sitting President holiday in Honolulu for so many years. And for most of us, these times will never repeat themselves.
Photo comrade Hugh Gentry said “this is essentially closing a chapter in my life,” as Hugh spent many a holiday inside a cramped van with other crusty journalists chasing Barack Obama around the Island. He told me more than once about the stress it put on his family as they had to plan opening Christmas gifts around whether Obama wanted to go to gym early that morning or stay out late for dinner the night before. Many others who were part of the pool sacrificed large parts of their lives as well to report on Obama’s whereabouts.
Did Hugh or the others regret it? Doubtful, as neither he, or myself, turned down the holiday work as we knew these coveted jobs would be hard to come by in the future.
But what made any of this Obama stuff so special to us? What’s so glamorous about spending more than 18 hours a day plus inside that stuffy bus waiting for hours on end to photograph and report on the elusive President on holiday? Maybe it was the camaraderie among the equally bored journalists or the hodgepodge Asian furniture inside the media house. Free government Doritos and Cutie oranges likely also played a roll but it’s hard to say why we chose to be with Barack Obama rather than our own families. But it was the only time for many of us to be that close to the White House and a sitting President.
We made our early morning call times. We downed predawn coffees to make sure our images were focused and our text was factual. We reported, as meaningless as it may be, the truth. And whether that truth was about the flavors Obama ordered on his shave ice or how long his putt was at The Kapolei Golf Course, the press pool was there and recorded it.
Fellow writer Kalani Takase stated on his Facebook page, “Despite the long days and being kept in the dark about pretty much everything, I’ve got to say, riding in the presidential motorcade never gets old.” And we all felt the same elation as we watched the passing Koolau Mountains, their peaks heavy with rain clouds, from inside the motorcade bubble ferrying us to wherever destination the President was heading. There was something special about the motorcade but I guess when you consider how crappy traffic is on Oahu, rolling in the motorcade, as Kalani said, never got old.
We all had those long days struggling with the empty hours of boredom. We snored loudly in the bus, on the beach, or inside the clubhouse. We checked our phones endlessly and tried in vain to read books but failed. Yet in the end, we cherished our White House press credentials and relished our time wrangled by the gaggle of the secretive, yet underpaid sorority of White House press agents.
So as the plane’s taillights become a twinkle in our collective memories, I sadly hear Bob Hope and Shirley Ross singing…
“Thanks for the memories…”
Bye-bye to Barack and Michelle. Adios to the Secret Service and their dogs who sniffed through our gear. Au revoir to the media bus and those who snored through the waits. And sayonara to the cold banquet room at Mid Pac. And when December 2017 comes around, and we’re not waiting for you outside of Titcomb’s or Nobu, we’re not going to miss it and surely, we will not miss you…but in a nostalgic way, we all probably will.
As Obama is quickly wrapping up his last Hawaii vacation, my last White House press pool day was on Dec. 21st. The day came with a deep sadness as I knew this type of assignment would likely never happen for me again. Never would I sit endlessly waiting for the President to finish a golf game nor would I ever have the chance to shout out “What flavors did you have on your shave ice?!?!”
While this sadness overtook me, I have to be thankful as the Associated Press gave me a chance to use a pen over pixels as I worked as a reporter inside the press pool. While I wanted to be a writer early in my days, the camera topped the keyboard and f-stops replaced verbs. So it wasn’t a stretch to write a few sentences about where the President was heading and what color hat he wore that day.
While no real breaking news took place while on duty over the years, I still enjoyed zooming through the city within the motorcade. Those jaunts are likely the most memorial aspect of working with the President over the holidays. Everything else was a mixture of waiting, eating junk food, and more waiting all set to the theme of Candy Crush.
Hardly did any of us set eyes upon the President other than a glimpse at him through the windows of his armored limo or in the far distance as he crossed the greens at an exclusive golf course. After his motorcade would speed past us, I’d plead if anyone had seen what he was wearing as that seemed to be the only thing of importance to write about on those sunny winter days in Honolulu. And beyond that, any other sightings of the President were strictly controlled. Windows were blacked out by dark tarps taped to the windows or we were kept blocks away and not allowed off the bus. Those were the worst days.
Obama was very secretive and rarely gave the press pool any glimpses into his vacation life. Why the White House did so much to block the credentialed pool from view yet allowed anyone outside to have full access to him was mind boggling. Just tonight, local TV aired smart phone video of the President on a hike. Where was the WH press? Back in the bus.
Press pool photographers demanded access and producers pushed for air time but the White House never budged. For a President who was spawned through social media, he was hardly the model for transparency as he preferred to speak directly to the public via Facebook and released crafted images from his personal photographer. He sidestepped the media anyway he could, yet the romance went on.
On occasion, the White House allowed whats termed a “spray” where media was given a short window to capture whatever was going on. In the video above, I captured my colleagues photographing Obama as wrapped up his golf on the 18th green at the Kapolei Golf Course. The White House handler rushed us off our perch no more than 30 seconds later.
But aside from all the hassle, the press pool bus became a small winter haven for the few years I was allowed in. The press pool allowed me to work as a writer and gain international bylines. I am grateful for all those who trusted me to sit inside and report on the daily events of the President.
As I walked off the bus that night, I was hugged and was back slapped by many who had known me over several years for a few days in December. I shared many a coffee inside the tiny kitchen of the media house and talked endlessly about the strange Japanese bath at the other end. We fed the goldfish and we all saw G1 jump in the swimming pool at least once. We all ate the best hash browns at the MCBH McDonald’s and shared a common exhaustion as the motorcade sped out to another late night dinner. I’ll miss the rush and the companionship…but I won’t miss the painful boredom. I won’t miss that at all.
Friday marked the start and the end of US President Barack Obama’s annual Hawaii vacation. After eight years of his headlining holiday visits, Hawaii’s favorite son will no longer return to his million-dollar rental home on the east shores of Oahu, at least not as President of the United States. The ending of his two terms in office also brings an end to this unique time of Hawaii history, where the D.C. limelight merged with the Island’s aloha culture.
Obama vacations brought international attention to many of the islands attractions and restaurants. He famously body surfed at Sandy’s, dined in some of the City’s hottest restaurants, and walked along the best beaches Hawaii has to offer. But along with the President came the intense circus of security that surrounds one of the most powerful men in the world. While those who lived near President’s rental home might feel differently, his footprint was relatively small and many locals never realized a world leader was just a few blocks away. There were unfortunate incidents where his caravan caused gridlock or beach goers were kept away from certain areas, but most locals took his visits with ease as it wasn’t everyday Hawaii had a president sitting on her beaches.
The unique circumstances of Hawaii producing a U.S. President and having his family vacation here every year is likely never to happen again so I’m fortunate to have been a working photographer during this time. From stalking him on the beach to covering his multiple arrivals and departures, I played a role in reporting on his holiday whereabouts. On top of that, I was given the chance to work as a reporter within the secure bubble of the Secret Service and reported on the whereabouts of one of the most important men on the globe. Although it might seem trivial to witness Obama eating shave ice or making a long putt on the 18th green, his actions made headlines around the globe.
Compared to some colleagues who lost a good part of their lives sitting inside that cramped media bus for the entire holiday season, my role was relatively minor. Yet I was still was part of the media pack that kept tabs on the president and recorded this unique time in Hawaii history. My images will be part of a collection that will define Obama’s visual history and I stand proud with my local brothers Hugh, Jamm, Tanner, and Kent. None of us are full time staffers yet we all sacrificed our holidays for a decade minus a year to record history, as trivial as it may seem, to photograph and report on one of the most popular presidents in modern history. I grow jealous of my named colleagues who captured more; yet, I salute you, you bastards.
Although many will not miss Obama or his annual visits, his last days on Oahu as President will bring a bittersweet end to nine years can never be repeated. The Hawaii history books are closing, but I’m glad, along with my colleagues, that someone will be looking at our images for a long, damn, time.