2018 Kilauea Eruption inside Leilani Estates

2018 Kilauea Eruption inside Leilani Estates

As the lava begins to harden, it is time to write about my experiences covering the May 2018 Kilauea eruption inside the Leilani Estates subdivision. I was one of a handful of reporters and photographers that arrived within hours of the eruption and covered the historic event as best we could.  The next few blog posts will be about my experiences traveling into the region and documenting the tragic yet beautiful destruction.

May 3rd, 2018

“Where the hell is my raincoat?!” I screamed out loud to the irritated amusement of my wife who watched me run around in a fluster inside our small, Kakaako condo.  I was frantically packing cameras and clothes as I needed to catch the last flights to the Big Island.  New reports were trickling in that lava was pouring out of the ground in a rural subdivision on the Big Island.  Earthquake activity in the last several months signaled than an volcanic eruption was imminent.  That afternoon, a 5.0 quake ripped the ground open inside the Leilani Estates neighborhood  and was spitting out lava that threatening homes and lives.

The Associated Press called me asking how long it would take for me to get there.

“Give me an hour.”

My wife looked a bit dismayed that I was rushing off but she knew I loved my profession.  As I stuffed the found raincoat into my bag, she grabbed me before I left saying saying “don’t do anything stupid.”  I smirked at her, kissed her, scratched the dog’s ears and off I went.

As it was so last minute, I wasn’t able to get a flight to Hilo but had to fly to Kona and drive about three hours over Mauna Kea to Hilo then down south to Puna.  Not the best of solutions but it would have to do.

The three hour drive seemed endless as my mind raced at the notion that lava was covering a region I was familiar.  Puna cast a spell on me the first time I went into that region nearly a decade ago.  The isolated, black sand beaches, tall swaying palm trees, and endless beauty captivated me to no end.  And the land felt alive as one of the world’s most active volcanoes is just around the corner.

But why on earth would anyone want to live near an active volcano that has been erupting for the last 30 years?  Mostly, its affordability.  Over the years, land can be purchase dirt cheap and it offers a cheap life in paradise.  “You can’t do that anywhere on Maui or Oahu,” one Kalapana resident said to me.  For a few thousand dollars, he purchased several acres  atop the now cooled 1990 Kalapana lava field and built his homes several years ago.  “I got million dollar ocean views, no neighbors, and I paid next to nothing.”

Shady developers and bad, rather complicit, government oversight allowed active lava fields to be subdivided and sold as real estate speculation in the 1960s.  With no proper infrastructure, many of the lots attracted speculators who never lived on the land along with “off-the-grid” types wishing to live away from normal society.  Hippies, outcasts, and those wanting an alternative lifestyle became the majority of the residents over the years in the subdivisions Kalapana, Royal Gardens, and Leilani Estates just to mention a few. They lived off solar panels and rain catchment systems and many grew fields of “medicinal” plants for consumption and distribution.

The first two neighborhoods already succumbed  to Pele’s existential threat and, while the current eruption in Leilani Estates is no surprise to many, they thought it would never happen to them.

Once I got into Pahoa after midnight on May 4th, the quiet hippie town of Pahoa was a buzz with activity.  Trucks and cars fleeing Leilani Estates stuffed with all sorts of household items drove thru Pahoa while many people walked down the darkened streets holding bags of whatever they could carry.

I drove towards the subdivision looking for entry points into the affected areas but all roads were blocked by police. I then drove around the backside towards Pohoiki and found no luck there either.

I went back to the Red Cross shelter in Pahoa and found the first of many lava refugees.  They talked about how the earth rattled and cracked open with gases gushing out of the earth followed by sparks of lava rocks.  One couple from Leilaini Estates, along with their two menacing pit bulls and personal belongings in the back of their pick up, showed me social media clips of the fissures just a few blocks from their home.  The couple was in awe of mother nature but also in disbelief as they did not know if they would ever go home.

Volcano evacuee Stella Calio, a resident of Leilani Estates, watches social media videos of the volcanic eruption that took place just blocks from her home, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. Calio, her husband, and two dogs are staying at a shelter a few miles from the lava eruption. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Volcano evacuee Stella Calio, a resident of Leilani Estates, watches social media videos of the volcanic eruption that took place just blocks from her home, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. Calio, her husband, and two dogs are staying at a shelter a few miles from the lava eruption. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

That night, I slept in the car about 3am in the and was awoken a few minutes later by civil defense sirens wailing about the high levels of sulfur dioxide in the air near the eruption zone.  The earthquake not only tore open fissures that bled lava but also cracks that spewed the deadly volcanic gases.

About dawn, I headed back down the Leilani Estates only to find the National Guard along with the police blocking the entrance to the community.

Residents gathered around hoping to get back to their homes.  At the time, many did not know where the fissures were and all seemed normal from the Hwy 130 entrance.  Some vented frustrations at the manned roadblocks while others worried about their properties along with their pets and livestock left behind.  Most evacuated with little or no preparation.  One woman screamed obscenities at the police and marched in unopposed into the neighborhood.

National guardsmen across from the entrance to Leilani Estates, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. A mandatory evacuation for the area as declared by the state. Due to unsafe conditions in the area from the recent lava eruption, residents who evacuated could not return to their homes Friday. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
National guardsmen across from the entrance to Leilani Estates, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. A mandatory evacuation for the area as declared by the state. Due to unsafe conditions in the area from the recent lava eruption, residents who evacuated could not return to their homes Friday. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Throughout the day, I tried various methods to get into the affected area with little luck.  I went back to the shelter to visit others who were steadily arriving and hear the same stories of earthquakes, rumors of lava, and homes being burned down.  Everyone seemed confused, upset, and angry as no one seemed to have any answers.  One woman cried of frustration when I spoke with her.  She said her life was turned upside down by this eruption and said, “I knew it would happen some day.”

After being forced out of his home at the Leilani Estates due to a mandatory evacuation, Tim Sullivan, 61, sits in his pickup truck near a local shelter, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. The eruption took place about a block from Sullivan's home. He and his wife spent the night at a nearby shelter and does not know when they will be able to return. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
After being forced out of his home at the Leilani Estates due to a mandatory evacuation, Tim Sullivan, 61, sits in his pickup truck near a local shelter, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa, HI. The eruption took place about a block from Sullivan’s home. He and his wife spent the night at a nearby shelter and does not know when they will be able to return. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

As my second day continued, I drove what seemed to be miles as I circled the area hoping to see something or gain access one way or another into the sealed off eruption zone.

Kilauea volcano erupts, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Kalapana, HI. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Kilauea volcano erupts, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Kalapana, HI. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

On the backside towards Kalapana on Hwy 137,  I saw ash rising from Halemaumau crater inside Volcanoes National Park.  The volcano was erupting again.

As my nearly 24-hour day grew to an end, I sat frustrated as I knew the lava  was there…I just needed to get inside.

 

A two-minute portrait with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands for a portrait before a campaign event for fellow Democrat Kaniela Ing in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia – RC1A8566A7F0

Late last week, local politician Kaniela Ing announced political wunderkind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be in Honolulu to stump for Ing’s campaign for Congress.

I approached Reuters News and asked to cover the event which they approved.  With the popularity of the social democrat in the media currently, I wanted to capture a portrait of AOC before the rally.

I reached out to her campaign people and arranged to two minute photo shoot. I knew I’d have to work quick and fast and wouldn’t have anyone really helping me.

For the lighting, I opted for a Profoto ring light powered by a Profoto 7B2 and would place her against a silk background stretched over my homemade 6×6 frame.  I don’t usually use a ring light because it can be a one trick pony but I figured I would have a tough time moving a light bank and stand around by myself.  So I stuffed my Canon 1Dx Mark II with my ever present 28-70mm 2.8 lens into the case with the pack and ring light prepared to move quickly.

The event was held inside a school cafeteria at a school near Waikiki.  I arrived early and looked for a place to set up.  Ing’s people were scrambling to set up the event and didn’t have much time for me.  At the last minute, I was told the meet and greet would be in a classroom upstairs from the cafeteria.  I grabbed my gear and rushed up to build my set.

As I ran up the stairs I ran straight into AOC.  She had just arrived and was looking for a bathroom.  I told her it was downstairs and she smiled politely and I went on to meet her crew and set up the studio.

When AOC returned from the bathroom, her hair was wet like she had run water through her locks. I felt she wasn’t photo ready but her appearance was youthful and it all seem to fit.   She didn’t carry herself like a rising political star and it wouldn’t be tough to imagine her running across campus to her next class.

We chit-chatted for a few minutes before I posed her in front of my background which was being held up by two of her aides.  I awkwardly told her that standing straight at me comes across like a mug shot so I pointed her feet and shoulders at an angle and I shot about 8 frames of her and that was that.

Afterwards, I covered the rally and got the usual pictures of politicians raging against the machine.

I almost gave up as I lost time and patience trying to get the portrait set up.  But I persevered was glad I captured something different of the rising political star.

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigns for fellow Democrat Kaniela Ing ahead of the Democratic Primary Election in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

 

Bye bye my little work horse!

Bye bye my little work horse!

Call me a softy but I get emotional at times over things like music, memories, and sentimental items.  I’m not always all blustery as I sometimes appear and I can easily get weepy eyed watching Tom and Jerry from my youth.  Its not often but it happens.

But the other day, tears formed in my eyes as I said goodbye to my old pal, my Canon 1D Mark IV camera body.  After nearly a decade of using her and her twin sister, whom I sold a few years back when I got the mighty Canon 1Dx, were my reliable friends through thick and thin.  Through rainstorms on the football field to bikini babes on the set of Hawaii Five-O, my Mark IVs did the job and helped me snap some amazing images.

The Mark IV captured this great shot of Michelle Wie celebrating a putt at Turtle Bay.

Michelle Wie captured at Turtle Bay with the Canon 1D Mark IV

I got this shot of Obama and his kids at the beach,

Obama, Sasha, Malia,
Obama and kids on Kailua Beach. Captured with the Canon 1d Mark IV

and I even captured a shirtless David Beckham after a L.A. Galaxy game at Aloha Stadium!

Footballer David Beckam at Aloha Stadium. Captured with the Canon 1D Mark IV

The camera’s 16.1 mb file is outstanding.  I never pushed the ISO to its limits until Jamm Aquino convinced me I could deal with the grain and sure enough, the files were superb. The fast frame rate kept up with  the action and outside of my own fumbling, the camera never skipped a beat and captured the action.  The only drawback was the cropped 1.3x frame as it limited your ability to shoot with wide lenses but the crop was like having an built in extension for my longer glass.  Having a 400mm f2.8 turn into a 520mm  was always a treat.

Broncos Tight End Julius Thomas goes for the ball at the Pro Bowl. Captured with the Canon 1d Mark IV

Alas, technology marches on and after the purchase of the X, the Mark IV became my secondary or backup camera.  I knew at some point I’d sell her but I knew she could still handle the jobs and make wonderful images.

Reflection captured at a golf tournament. Canon 1D Mark IV

And this last winter, Jordan Murph made a deal I couldn’t say no and I purchased the stellar Canon 1Dx Mark II from him thus signalling the end of the Mark IV in my arsenal.  And just like the 1Dx Mark I, the newer camera crushed the older body’s technology.

In 2017, Canon Professional Service announced they  will no longer service the Mark IV thus heaping their once flagship camera onto the bin of obsolete technology.  For an annual fee, CPS repairs registered cameras and lenses within a 72 hour period and without that service, I can’t run a business with a camera in a repair shop for weeks on end.  Once CPS made this statement, I knew it was the end for my trusty friend.

After nearly a decade of faithful use, and more than 200,000 frames clicked, I made the tough decision to list the body on eBay this last week.

On Monday, eBay notified me that my beloved Mark IV sold. It filled with regret knowing I was letting go an important tool that helped me pay my mortgages and put food on the table.  But more importantly, the camera helped me make a name for my self in this tough business.

Guilt and dismay overwhelmed me but I knew it was time to let her go.  The bidder won and, after a few emails, I knew he would care for the Mark IV and continue to make art with her.

So as I placed the camera on the counter at the post office, I kissed the box with aloha and thanked her for all the years of reliable service.  I didn’t feel this way when I sold her sister but as I let this one go, it reminded me of all the hardships and joy of my career in Hawaii for the past decade.  It was tough and I’m glad I had this trusty camera at my side.

Bye bye… 🙁

 

The Kahuku Red Raiders

The Kahuku Red Raiders

I had a great job fall in my lap to shoot the Kahuku Red Raider’s football team at Hell Week, a preseason conditioning camp where the kids spend the entire week eating and sleeping football.

The job was for Sports Illustrated and I spend a few days with writer Austin Murphy who was spending several months following the team around.  The mag had me show up to document the training camp for a few days.

I arrived Monday afternoon at Kahuku high school to document their afternoon training camp.  Their training, in my opinion, was brutal.  The kids, many of them clearly out sizing me in height and weight, were akin to gladiators smashing and crashing into each other with great fury.  I sat stunned watching these 15, 16, and 17 year old boys hurdle at each other with such power like waves crashing on the rocks.

These kids, and coaches, meant business as the training was pushing everyone to their limits.  Navy Seals liken their Hell Week to pushing recruits beyond their breaking point wedding out those who break.  The Red Raiders apparently took a page from that book.

I saw a kid crumble and cry out in pain like a child.  He rolled on the ground clutching his ankle while the team and coaching staff slowly moved away from him.  As the medical trainers rushed to the boy’s side, one coach looked down with little sympathy as pain was something that needed to be tolerated if the team, and individuals, wanted to win.

After the afternoon training, the kids had a dinner in the cafeteria and then attended classes where coaches taught about plays and reviewed past footage of games and training.

A bit past 10pm, the kids then bedded down for the night in the grimy gym next to the football field.  Dirty shoes, mattresses, clothes, and football helmets cluttered around the many shirtless kids having none of this sleep business.  Hip hop music played loudly with some dancing, others playing games, and wrestling with each other.   I spotted a few giving each other Sharpie tattoos with Polynesian designs popular among many in the mostly Samoan community.

As I had to arrive at dawn the next morning for the training class, I opted to sleep in my car as Kahuku is more than an hour away from town.  I saw no purpose of getting a hotel room as I left campus around close to midnight and I found sleeping in my car part of the excitement of this job.  Once I got comfortable and dozed off, I would awaken to the sounds of howls and grunts from the kids who clearly were not sleeping in the middle of the night.

Around 6am, rain poured on the early morning training session making it a tough morning for the sleep-depraved kids but they managed to get through their tough training.

I went home for a bit only to return later that evening to cover and witness a lesson in the haka dance.  A cultural practitioner not only taught them the dance moves but more importantly, he guided them through the language used as they plotted out their movements.

While most consider the haka dance to be a war chant, the performance sends a message to those viewing it the violent and brutish dance.  It sings of who they are, what their intentions are, and what they will do to defend their homes and families.

I went on and covered a home game a few weeks later and got to see how their training was paying off.  Kahuku is undefeated and have only one loss and that was to a team from the mainland.  They will likely reign once again as State Champs.  They are a fantastic team and I hope many will achieve their dreams of success.

Solomon Pali out on a outrigger for the New York Times

Solomon Pali out on a outrigger for the New York Times

Last month I had a quick job for the New York Times where I photographed outrigger canoe instructor Solomon Pali for a business profile the newspaper did on him.  Pali takes Fairmont Kea Lani guests out on short trips teaching the basics of Hawaii paddling skills.

The job was fairly quick and I had a short window of time with the Hawaiian water man as I had to photograph him in between customers and his schedule.

I did the standard shots of him but we decided to go out on the outtrigger canoe where I would photograph him with the ocean as his background.  It is always nerve racking to get into a small boat with thousands of dollars of gear but the resort’s canoe was fitted with two amas making the outrigger very stable and nearly flip proof, especially in the hands of experienced paddlers.  He and a few others paddlers from the hotel took me out into the ocean for about 10 minutes but that was all the time I needed.

The shots were fantastic and powerful.  The best shot was of Solomon blowing a conch shell.  Traditionally, he said, Hawaiians blew the shell when they were paddling in warning anyone on the beach of there arrival.  The editor chose a standard shot of Solomon smiling into the camera.  My favorite is below.

Solomon Pali
Solomon Pali blows a conch shell in advance of landing his canoe on the shore at the Fairmont Resort.

You can see the NYT article here.