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.
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.
For the better part of a decade, I’ve have the honor of creating portraits of Pearl Harbor survivors with some of the images published by The Smithsonian a few years ago. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack on the sleeping American naval fleet. The attack pushed the Americans into a costly yet decisive Pacific war that took countless lives.
Being the son of a war father, my childhood was filled with war stories and no tale was greater than the attack on Pearl Harbor. So when given the opportunity to meet and document the men who were there that fateful morning, I took great pride in photographing both survivors and several Japanese pilots who dropped the torpedoes that early Sunday morning.
Every year, Pearl Harbor survivors and their families would arrive in Honolulu to mark the anniversary. I would search out where the survivors were meeting and I would set up a small photo studio consisting of a white, seamless background and meticulously light the portraits to convey the depth and history of the men who sat for my photographs.
I’ve made dozen of portraits of these men and heard many stories of war and heroism. But the gut wrenching story of Arizona survivor John Anderson tears me apart every time I stare at his picture and recall his tale.
We only got to spend a very short time with Mr. Anderson but he told us his story of that fateful Sunday morning. John, who was then 24-year-old in 1941, said he could still hear the bombs exploding and remembers the buzz of the Japanese bombers flying above. He spoke of the oil fires on the water, of the men who’s burnt skin slid off their bones. He talked of the screams, the smoke, and the carnage. He told us of the horrors of war.
But his pained storied turned to the worse as he spoke about his lost twin brother who also was aboard on the USS Arizona that morning. Jake Anderson was assigned to the gun’s turrets and, according to some accounts, was killed during a misfire inside the turret. As the ship was sinking, John did not know where Jake was and desperately looked for him. But as other sailors abandoned ship, he tried to crawl back inside the wreckage to find his brother but was forcefully dragged into a rescue barge by other sailors claiming him his brother was dead.
All of his life, John carried the heavy burden knowing his twin brother died and his remains were just below the waters inside the rusty hull of the battleship.
“I wanted to get my brother,” he lamented.
This morning before heading out to photograph the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, I did a quick search to see if any news reports had been written about John. Sadly I read John died last year at age 98 and his ashes were being interred inside the USS Arizona at turret no. 4 today.
Tears fell onto my keyboard as remembered his war-scarred face painfully starring back at me through the lens. I cried because I captured a man who’s face bore a tale of loss. But with his death, I knew John finally would be reunited with Jake, the brother he so desperately wanted to rescue. John’s ashes would be placed inside the turret where they said his brother had died, and John would finally be free of his life-long burden.
A few days before the 50th anniversary in 1991, John gave an interview to the National Parks Service about he and his brother’s time together aboard the USS Arizona and the surprise attack that morning. After losing his brother, John astoundingly never held resentment towards the Japanese soldier as they “…followed the orders of their superiors and were quite capable warriors.”
I’ll never forget John’s words and his amazing stories of the attack and the love for his twin. As I write this I tear up and can only be grateful he finally can reunite with his brother.
Celebrity photo shoots are a rarity for me here in Honolulu so it is always a pleasure, and challenge, to get a high profile person in front of my lens. The New York Timesrecently commissioned me to do a portrait of funny man Kevin Hart as they were featuring Hart in the Style section’s List of Five. Hart, who’s in town filming a Jumaji sequel, alongside Dwyane The Rock Johnson and Jack Black, agreed to be photographed on a day off from filming. My job was to create a natural light portrait of him along with capturing some close-ups of his stylish clothing.
I arrived at the Illikai Hotel early one Sunday morning where I was met by his personal assistant and given a key to a suite on a top floor of the hotel. He said to head up to the room and Kevin would be up shortly. Of course, that meant Kevin would arrive whenever he was ready so I prepared for a long wait allowing me plenty of time to scout the location finding the best light and angles. I wasn’t sure how much time he’d give me all considering Sunday was likely his day off and he probably cared little about this photo shoot.
As I waited for his arrival, his personal videographer surprising arrived at the suite and I learned Kevin Hart was also doing some sound bites during the session. I immediately recognized Kwan from a video clip in which Kevin was kicking a soccer ball against the goalie from Manchester City. Kevin was yelling at Kwan during the memorable clip and we shared a good laugh about that, which actually put me at ease. Having too much time to kill filled me with pre-game anxiety and it was good to shoot the breeze with someone who knew Kevin well.
About an hour later, Kevin makes himself up to the suite. He warmly but impersonally greets me, talks with Kwan a bit then sits on the sofa and we get to work. I immediately grab my cameras and guide Kevin effortlessly around the large room. He was very easy to work with and made little, if any demands of me, which helped me get through the photo shoot problem free.
My only difficulty with Kevin Hart was he not wanting to remove his Tom Ford sunglasses that stylishly obstructed his face. Whether the photo editors would be happy with this was beyond me as he flat out said no, but I had no choice and continued to shoot around it. Luckily, the shot the Times picked was of him on the balcony gazing out at the harbor, shades on. The sunglasses added a nice touch, if not fashionable touch.
Sadly, I didn’t leave the suite with my side in stitches as I had hoped Kevin would have worked his magic that morning. But sometimes when your job is to make people laugh for a living, the last thing you want to do is get into the routine on your day off. Other than my iPhone, I rarely have a camera on me and cringe when friends ask me to take their picture.
Nevertheless, the job was a success and during my editing of the take that afternoon, I watched some clips of Kevin on You Tube and had a great laugh.