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.

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.

American Way Tearsheet

American Way Tearsheet

I received my tearsheet from the recent edition of American Way Magazine which should be on all American Airline flights.  As I mentioned in my previous post, Hawaiian Cowboy…err girl, the photo editor’s art direction was very straight forward as she wanted the subjects on a gray seamless background.  It would be up to my discretion on any secondary shots.  Luckily, everything presented itself visually…the sunny weather, the blue sky green grass background, and the big Hawaiian belt buckles both Troy and Shelby wore on the day of the shoot.  I’m glad I got to see it all and happy the magazine ran worked with my creativity from the shoot.  It goes to show, no matter what a client claims they want, its always best to ensure you have backup plan and surely to think out of the box.  Creativity pays off.

Hawaiian Cowboy…err…girl

Hawaiian Cowboy...err...girl

Shelby Rita is a real cowboy…but I’m not sure if she’d call herself a boy, though.  Shelby is a Hawaiian rodeo star on the North Shore of Oahu.  You ask…cowboys (girls) in Hawaii?  Well…yes.  Cowboys, or the paniolo, were first introduced from Mexico in the old days to help develop the cattle industry in Hawaii.  The culture and clothing stayed and now small pockets of ranchers ride around the range on horseback in the beautiful Hawaiian sun.  Shelby comes from a long line of ranchers so naturally she grew up riding horses, raising cattle, and competing in state and national rodeo events.

American Airlines Magazine commissioned me to shoot her along with her riding partner Troy Gomes for an upcoming article featuring the two young riders.  The catch is they wanted a shot on a seamless gray background.  Its not often I get to shoot in a “studio” as Hawaii is its own beautiful background; however, my assistant extraordiniare Tammy and I were given the task of setting up a seamless in the great wide open.  We succeeded in finding a nook in Shelby’s garage where we carefully set up the background, flew an Octabank and snapped away.  Luckily, the windy North Shore didn’t spoil our “Studio 59” and we were able to capture some wonderful pictures.  Shelby’s a beauty and our images came out fantastic!

Though, Shelby upstaged her partner Troy (am I bias?)  Troy held his own.  He naturally would stand with that cowboy swagger, thumbs hooked into his big belt buckle.  A real classic image.

Funny enough, the mag chose a secondary shot out on the range.  I somewhat argued with the editor about the background as an outdoor Hawaiian blue sky beats any gray seamless any day but the art direction called for a seamless.  How surprised they must have been when they got the secondary shots of Shelby and Troy on horseback with the green Hawaiian mountains and blue sky in the back.  The ed fell over backwards!  Nonetheless, the seamless were not chosen.  The American Way issue will be on planes sometime soon. If you happen to fly, please take a look.

Now on the issue of Shelby calling herself a girl…I saw her ride off on the back of a horse at full speed.  She controlled the beast with grace and power.  I’ll let her tell you if she’d prefer to be called a girl.

The Transmission

From my recent story shot for The New York Times, I spent behind the scenes time with Ryan and Jen Ozawa, creators of ABC’s Lost podcast “The Transmission.” Although not affiliated in anyway with ABC or Lost, the couple as spent the better part of every season (sans the first one) producing a weekly podcast for a legion of followers who download and comment on the Ozawa’s post show discussions.

Story is here.

I preferred my selects over the newspaper’s selections so I posted my outtakes. Jen and Ryan, two who couldn’t be more visually different, were hard to place. I wasn’t sure how to fit them into a frame and make sense of who they were and the environment. I mean this was a story about two podcasters, not the people standing in front of me.

We met way out in Waialua at Camp Erdman, aka, the Other’s Village. Dusk sank quickly giving a strange glow to all around and the sickly yellow walls of the camp lent to that eerie Lost feeling.

What was hard about snapping the couple together is that they didn’t say “Lost podcast.” Jen has a motherly school teacher vibe while I felt Ryan was going to lecture on derivatives or something very cerebral. I think my problem was Jen showed up in a red dress that seemed out of place and I think she knew it. Ryan showed up in Hawaiian work attire…an aloha shirt. Funny, once we got back to their home, Jen put on a green tee shirt and jeans transformed into a totally different person. That red dress stopped her, and for that matter me.

However, I stopped doubting myself and moved forward working with my awkwardness and placed them in juxtapositions. In the fence shot, I was thinking of Grant Wood’s American Gothic painting.

My awkwardness visually placed them into an interesting place.

I was very happy with the shot. Nothing says American Gothic…yet maybe it does. Sadly, the eds didn’t see it as such but it gives me a moment to write about it for my blog.

The Ozawas pushed me to make a tough story into a really great shot, at least for me. I really appreciated working with them. They were amused…well maybe annoyed with me…using the word “interesting” as I posed them in different situations and poses. It wasn’t so much they were making my job hard, I made it hard for them. I just couldn’t find what it was to make the image work. But it did. I think they were one of the better jobs I’ve shot as it allowed me to think out of the box and do something slightly different than the usual shtick for a portrait job.

Striking to me is how the couple have grown a small home based project into an international sensation all from the den of their home. Two mics, headphones, a bit of software, and the solitude of nighttime help them create a very interesting show.
Sadly, I’ve never heard it. For that matter, I’ve never watch Lost. I don’t know anything about the show other than I’ve photographed Lost red carpets events and cast members over the years.

I shot Daniel Dae Kim and restaurateur DK Kodama at the Counter Hamburger joint for Modern Luxury and

Michael Emerson for the cover of Hi Luxury Magazine. He loved the issue and images and signed a copy which I framed and am very proud of. I should have been watching the show. Thank goodness for reruns.