Mooo! Milk on Kauai

Mooo! Milk on Kauai

Last April, the New York Times had me document a controversial issue on Kauai.  eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s proposal to create a small dairy farm near Poipu, Kauai has made many sour in the nearby community.  I traveled to area to photograph the area, meet supporters and photographing opponents. I also got to fly in a helicopter over the land where the proposed dairy would sit.

Kauai has a history of fighting development fearing their already shrinking tropical paradise will disappear.  While many locals welcome jobs and the opportunities development brings, many newer arrivals to the Island fight tooth and nail to protect their newly purchased slice of heaven.

The controversy over the dairy stems from opponents fearing environmental damage from pollution and the environmental impact on tourist in the region.  Along with many other resorts and hotels, the Grand Hyatt sits not far from the farm area in Poipu and they fear smells and other issues will affect their high paying guests.

The Ulupono Initiative, Omidyar’s local investment firm, strives to create a more self-reliant Hawaii and a local dairy farm would likely bring Kauai’s infamously high milk prices down.  However, opponents argue the gains do not outweigh the losses.

Past industrial farming has wreaked havoc on Hawaii as plantations once diverted streams to their sugar cane and pineapple fields and waste has polluted once fertile land.  While many initiatives and technologies has improved farming overall, fears still exist over new farming projects.  A recent dairy farm on the Big Island was accused of illegally discharging animal waste polluting local water sources and this didn’t help Ulupono’s case for a new farm on Kauai.

While Ulupono are making great technological strides to protect the land and limit pollution, its not enough for some residents and lawsuits have been filed to stop the dairy from getting started.

While I was there, I met with a few of opponents who took me to Maha’ulepu Beach claiming the dairy’s waste would damage the pristine area.  Its the same beach I photographed from the helicopter that ran big on the front page of the business section.

front page of the business section August 14, 2017
front page of the business section August 14, 2017

At the mouth of the stream that feeds into the ocean, I clearly could smell something foul in the run off.  They said it was raw sewage flowing down from the above farm areas and little was being done to control the pollution.  Warning signs were posted around the stream stating to keep out of the water.

While the bad smells at the stream startled me, Hawaii’s future must create more sustainability.  We must be more independent and depend less on the monopolies that control the shipping of goods to and from the Islands.  The dairy farm is taking great strides to protect the environment and to keep the land in farming hands means it has less chance to be turned into homes by developers.

I believe Hawaii’s future is to be self reliant but at what costs?  If we allow a few to control the future of Hawaii because they fear bad smells, we will continue to be at the mercy of outsiders.  But we must ensure a new farm won’t pollute the environment.  While fresh milk won’t lower the cost of gasoline or other goods, it is a good start for a brighter future.  But we can’t allow sustainability to turn into sour milk.

The NYT article can be found here.

A Shiny and Happy Time

A Shiny and Happy Time

This past New Year’s Eve, I had the incredible opportunity to photograph R.E.M.’s legendary guitarist Peter Buck for the Wall Street Journal at his beachfront home in Kauai.  The WSJ needed a last minute portrait of the musician to illustrate their story about him that was slated to publish in early January.  Peter was scheduled to be out of the country during the upcoming weeks so this was the only time that I had to capture him before he left.

R.E.M. was on my music rotation as a high school kid in the 1980s.  I had their earlier albums and thought I was a postmodern hipster who listened to the classics and not the bland top 40 hits.  “Radio Free Europe,” “Fall on Me” and many of their other early 80’s hits were duly scratched up on their respective vinyl.  I never really cared for folk rock at the time but tolerated Michael Stipe’s whine and loved their distinct sound.  It wasn’t until their 1991 release of their Out of Time album that they skyrocketed to MTV fame and constant radio play.

I was already in college when that album was released.  We’d mimic Stipe’s quirky dancing and sang along poorly, mostly due to the copious amounts of cheap beer, toLosing my Religion” and the other hits on the album.  Kate Pierson harmonics dominated “Shiny Happy People” but it was Peter Buck’s melodic mandolin that sold LMR to the masses.  His 16th century sound just entranced us listeners and the lyrics, along with the video, made for a Rembrandt visual along with a poetic moment.

So on the days leading up to the assignment, I told some of my friends about my job but tried not to gush too much about my excitement of photographing Peter.  It is never good to get too star struck before a job.

After landing in Kauai, I worried Peter would be slightly aloof and irritable as it was New Years Eve but we had no other choice.  I had scheduled only a few hours for the job, including my travel time, to ensure I wouldn’t encroach on his personal time.  And as I drove into his neighborhood on the north side of Kauai, I became slightly lost in the rural beach community.  In an earlier email Peter sent me, he stated his property might be hard to find.  So with a little embarrassment, I called him stating my predicament and asked for directions.  And as I did a U-turn and slowly drove down the nearly deserted sandy beach road, there stood Peter Buck on his cell phone, wearing dark glasses and waving at me.

He warmly invited me into his home and we small talked as I prepared my cameras and lighting gear.  He had that cool rock vibe, and definitely no attitude.   He wore artist black and seemed out of place on Kauai where bright aloha shirts and board shorts are the norm but he stayed true to his rock star status.  At first he appeared slightly apprehensive, as we had never worked together. But after chatting for a few minutes about my work, I could see that he developed a trust that I would get it right.

I quickly photographed him on the beach, near some mangroves down near his house, and in his garden.  We also had time for a few shots of him and his lovely wife. The photo I loved most was taken on the beach where he stood with his ankles crossed. It reminded me of those music videos  or live concerts where he played and stood in a similar pose.   The picture turned into one of those memories from a time long passed that returns to the present.

Our last shot turned out to be the best.  The tropical foliage swirled around him in this beautiful  bokeh and he exuded this confidence that he developed spending nearly a life time on stage in front of thousands.   The WSJ chose that shot to illustrate the story.


During our shoot, Peter and I chatted about all sorts of things including the capriciousness of our businesses and how he’d have a tough time now recommending music as a full time career.  Digital has made the tough business of music tougher.  Photography isn’t any different.  It is tough to be a Peter Buck these days, and in some ways, it can be tough to be me.  He told me about his huge collection of African and gospel music on vinyl, talked about spending time living om Kauai, and eating Mexican food at Monico’s Taqueria in Kapa’a just down the road.  Peter did tell me it was nice to spend time on Kauai where people rarely recognized him.

Peter and his wife were really nice to be around. I never figured I’d have alone time with someone whose CD’s and albums were scratched to hell from being played, stolen, and lost behind the bookshelf.  I can’t say he meant as much to me as being around someone like The Edge or John Taylor but he’s definitely up there as rock stars go.  His signature guitar style defined R.E.M. through the 80’s and 90’s.  His legacy will last for a really long time.  I sadly didn’t have any R.E.M. paraphernalia for him to sign but it didn’t matter, as my photographs became my proof of his existence.  Our selfie didn’t hurt either.  On a funny note, I can’t remember if I had ever seen R.E.M. live.  I bothered my pal Diego about this and he claims I must have seen them in either Austin or San Antonio.  I really can’t remember but if he says so…then it must be true.

As I left his house and headed back to Lihue, I felt relieved our job went well.  There’s lots of pressure to produce a great portrait and without a budget for an assistant, its all up to me to make it happen.  I felt I had accomplished my goal in that short window of time but wouldn’t know till I edited the job.

I did leave some time for a quick bite at Monico’s on the way back to the airport but they were closed for the holiday!  They have some of the best Mexican food in Hawaii and I just could not understand why a restaurant with insanely good margaritas would be closed on New Years Eve.  Hence, I had no celebratory limey cocktail  to enjoy my elation of photographing a rock star.  As I sadly drove back to the airport on an empty stomach, the radio blasted ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine.)”  I took it as an omen and I texted Peter of my bad luck with Monico’s but of my rapture in hearing their classic song.  But T Mobile sucks in many parts of Kauai and I had no signal.  Yet it didn’t matter.  The R.E.M. song reaffirmed my success and I once again sang along, poorly but without booze, to their song as I soared back to LIH.



Don’t Move Here

Don't Move Here

17 years ago I never would have imaged the Austin I visited this past May.  The green gem of the liberal South developed into a snarling and congested city with swirling highways, Manhattan style co-ops, and a capitalism Austin once fought vehemently in order to maintain its uniquely slacker status as the State’s capital.  No where else in Texas would you find rednecks in boots next to a bare-footed bohemian siren across from a sliver-haired professors all crossing paths with a Lucchesed Congressman talking policy with a lesbian couple and their adopted Asian infant.  Only in Austin, hence the “Keep Austin Weird” logo that I don’t remember but fondly recall as I more than once found myself in such situations when I was in college back in the early 90’s.

Austin was a Technicolor dream compared to the monotoned murmur of San Antonio, my hometown.  Nothing seemed to progress very fast or far in SA other than the Spurs and tourist numbers and when my acceptance letter came bearing burnt orange, I couldn’t wait to escape the clutches of my one horse town.

Again, 17 years later, I knew it could never be the same.  The years after I graduated, Austin developed into a premiere town of statue with major tech corps putting their stakes down.  SXSW grew into an international event pulling big name bands and acts, and UT’s nationally ranked football program, and of course, its top notch and cheap education, pulled more kids into it’s enrollment. By far, the town of Austin itself drew newcomers for it’s small town flavor and southern hospitality, it’s in-town lakes and Austin’s enduring laid-back and green culture.  Sadly, new money and high demand always leads to gentrification and it pushes out many of the people that made Austin…Austin.  But change, as much as some may not like it, is good but sometimes gentrification can leave a nasty aftertaste.

We didn’t spend much time in Austin due to our whirlwind tour of Texas so we decided to just drive into town and see what happens.  We go for a walk down South Congress and I immediately encounter stuff that begins to wear on me…not for their uniqueness but for its uniformity.  Faux-hawks, Converse and skinny jeans. Mercurial girls in short skirts and cowboy boots trying to hard to hide their Brooklyn adapted attitude in western wear.  Sneering looks from people who surely didn’t care about me and seemed to be more annoyed by my presence than anything else.  It was as if they were annoyed we were on their turf.  Eh, its my imagination.  Its nothing but I was beginning to think I was like in Southern California with all the curt smiles and bad attitudes.

Within all the hip and vintage clothing were the burnt orange baseball hats of the Levi-ed and booted wearing frat boy and the Umbroed sorority girlfriend with standard frat party t-shirt and Kate Spade handbag.  But they were outnumbered by skateboards, Holgas, and people wearing identical “I’m a Pepper” t-shirts.  Oddly enough, I felt a more comfortable fraternity with Christi and Jeff than with the new hipster that flowed down the streets.

So I thought…Big deal.  So a bunch of ironic non-conformists hipsters found Austin and made it their new town to destroy then bitch about how it was so cool like last week before all the poseurs showed up and ruined everything. Hipsters infected New York long ago so I wasn’t too put out by their entitlements.  They uprooted loads of artists and photographers who were making a living (and art) in the slums of Dumbo by rushing in and pushing the rents up to the limits and standards of Manhattan.  It’s hard to stop that type of progress.

But what killed me the most about the new Austin was this jackass I came across at the Whole Foods flagship on North Lamar.  This guy wore a  “Don’t Move Here” logo-ed t-shirt.

Don’t move here. Huh. Don’t move here I kept mumbling to myself.  Is that addressed to me?  Is that addressed to anyone else that came behind him?  Bedazzeled, I rushed off to confront him about his choice of clothing only to loose him in an MC Escher world of similar faces and clothes and attitudes.  I, dazed and confused, rushed off to find solace in the past.

I knew what this ass was trying to say.  He, probably a newcomer from California, who left his craphole of a state to come here and destroy his new one.  Like a virus, jerks like this spread to the new epicenter and declare it off limits to anyone after them.  I see this type of attitude all through the Hawaiian Islands.

These entitled types, with privileges, and sometime with none, moved in remote places like Oahu’s North Shore, Molokai, and the far ends of Kauai.  They paint, surf, write, smoke pot, eat organic and pepper their language with Hawaiian words.  They demand their lifestyles be accepted, praised, glorified, and spread.  They cut you off in the crosswalk as they speed by in their hybrids with Obama 2012 stickers on the back.  They are the types that help ban plastic shopping bags in Kauai, stopped the Superferry on Oahu, and march en mass on the state capital when their views and beaches are threatened by tourists and developers.  They piss on newcomers if their surf breaks get overcrowded and pretend they’ve been local all their lives when they’ve just got off the airplane six weeks ago. They are the last ones in and try desperately to lock the door by swallowing the key so no one else can ruin their slice of perfection.

But the worst of all were the highly regarded food trucks.  What an absolute waste of time.  Bad attitude and service seems to be the only good things dished out from these trendy trucks.  Self-important meals of no real direction or distinction other than the clever ability to take two food groups and deep-fry it in organic vegan oil.  Good food, whether its an accidental mishap or taken from the food follies on cable TV, has to have some education behind it.  Because you ate banana pancakes on Khao San Rd. and taquitos in Juarez doesn’t give you creative license to deep fry a panko breaded a slice of avocado and expect Bourdain to ordain you a chef.

Oddly, I find Bourdain’s shit-eating grin amusingly absurd as it makes for better TV.  His blessing of the food truck culture in Austin must have inspired so many more kids to pick up the spatula and create food not fit for much more than their own stupid egos.  I can’t help but to wonder what Anthony was really thinking.  Sure there’s probably someone making magic in their rinky-dinky trailer somewhere but it clearly has to be vetted so it can shine.

So as my rants and disappointments come to an end, I must say Austin has changed for the better in many ways but in others I just don’t know.  Austin is much more multicultural we saw loads of Indian and Chinese families roaming the capital ( was graduation week!  HA!) so it seems diversity is clearly changing the face of the town.  I don’t live there anymore and I haven’t lived in Texas for over 15 years but I remember what it was like.  I remember older students telling me how it was back in the day.  They remembered older students telling them…yada yada yada.  So does my review of Austin count?  Only to me, really.

The one true thing I did see about Austin laid just outside the city limits towards Lockhart.  We drove past a family selling live chickens, goats, and fresh eggs.  A young boy of about 12 but mature well beyond his age asked us if we wanted to buy something.  His voice hid a slight Mexican accent but his Texan was apparent as his dirt farmed hands and dusty cheeks gleamed of his background. We asked him what kind of peoples came to shop here.  Was it only Mexicans?  He answered, “No, all races come.”

My wife noted how sad it was for him to have lost his childhood so quickly just to help his family. I felt the same but was clearly convinced he was the future of Texas.  It wouldn’t be the immature children with tight jeans and scarves around their necks.  It would be that kid selling eggs on that Sunday morning.

That encounter was my tale of two cities.  One of entitlements and demands, the other of hard work and sacrifice.

Los Angeles Times goes organic.

Los Angeles Times goes organic.

Just a quick posting of tearsheets from a travel piece I shot for the LA Times and the new travel trend of Agrotourism in Hawaii.  Well traveled tourists are now recognizing the value of eating off the resort and eating and shopping locally.  Fresh fruits, vegetables, and produce can be pretty good albeit rather pricey at times.  But on an island, everything can be pricey.

So some have asked how much certain things cost here so here is a quick rundown:

gallon of milk:  around $6 for mainland, $8 to $9 for locally produced.

gallon of gas:  HNL:  $4.45, outer island $4.70+

lb of bananas:  local apple bananas are about $1.30, imported are around $1.09

pineapple:  Costco price is $3.29 or so, tourist price at fruit stand, $6

lb of ground beef:  $3-4

locally grown tomatoes:  $5/lb, imported are about $2.99/lb

But some of these costs didn’t surprise me from New York but they are shocking when you go to a place like San Antonio where you pay like $1 for 10 limes/lemons where at Safeway locally you get a lemon for like $1.29 EACH.

But to get back to the shopping locally at local farmer’s markets, things are obviously fresher and more unique and you will get a taste of the small farm as opposed to the corporations growing produce on the west coast.  You can’t buy mangosteens or rambutans at Safeway but you’ll pay for it at the farmer’s markets but the tastes and joy of eating something exotic really do make you feel like you are in the middle of the Pacific.

Lots of the exotic fruits and produce grown here are not native but they do add flavor to the local cuisine.  Its great tourists are now recognizing the value of having a sustainable trip where things are sourced locally rather than imported at high costs.  This creates local jobs, demonstrates we shouldn’t convert every inch of ag land into condos and resorts, and sustains a better way of life for everyone one on the Islands.  The drawbacks…well the major one is the costs of doing business, and the costs of labor.  Hawaii has no access to cheap immigrant labor to work in the fields, labor laws are strict and surely add to the costs of doing business, and Hawaii is clearly not business friendly.  Costs and taxes are high enough to drive small and start ups off the Islands.  Historically, the plantations took advantage of the labor here which drove a rise in unionism and now housekeepers at the big hotels are paid as much as the night managers.  How the hotels survive is by passing that cost onto you.

Regardless of my ranting, locally grown whatevahs is the trend across the country.  I’m glad we’re pushing more of this into our lifestyle even if it does costs a little more.  A locally grown avocado is pretty tasty.  Locally grown greens are crisper and its always neat to know I got an egg from a local chicken and not off a boat.

Oh, the above picture of the farm girl, Norah Hoover.  Ah, what a beauty.  She was working on the Kauai farm that produces stuff for Common Grounds in Kilauea.  As the staff was walking me around showing me parts of the farm and gardens which produce a good portion of the food for their restaurant, Norah walks over, barefoot no less, to plant kale into the field.  I immediately was drawn to her as her off the shoulder shirt, overalls, and bed head red hair fit my image of what organic farming and life is like on Kauai.  Sure enough, the LA Times and others have used that picture to be the lead for the story.  She made a great picture.

a few from that wedding…

a few from that wedding...

Since the article for the New York Times was published on Sunday, I can post a few here.

I was pretty smitten with this photo but what really makes the entire job is actually the couple.  They were a blast.  They were completely unaware of me and that’s what made the photos.  I caught moments unguarded.