Popular Photography

Popular Photography

A few weeks ago, I received an email from an editor at Popular Photography magazine asking me if I’d like to be featured in their “How Traveling Photographer” article for December 2015.

Although I had shot a portrait for Pop Photo a few years ago, I was thrilled to be featured as I was obsessed with the magazine as a very young person.  Their articles showcased big name photographers, fancy equipment, and different photographic techniques.  They published images from far away places that truly did seem so far away from my little bedroom in San Antonio.  I fantasized about one day being a Nikon slinging photographer crossing deep valley gorges to capture exotic people and locations.

At the time, I was taking pictures with an inexpensive Pentax with third party lenses, but I longed for a Hasselblad, a state of the art Nikon strobe, and Kodachrome film.  The magazine made me believe if I had a camera with an evaluative metering system along with a Vaseline smeared filter, I could be a jet setting photographer and travel the world.

Jump a few decades forward and I have crossed a few valleys and do live in an exotic location.  I just did it without the Vaseline.

The assigning editor asked me for a few of my best Hawaii pictures and set me up with writer, Jeff Wignall, interview me on how and where to take the best beauty photos in Honolulu.  The writer and I went back and forth a few times and he came up with a great piece.  I’m more of a travel guide than a photographer guru as I gave no technical advice, but it is an enjoyable read nevertheless.

I hope the article inspires a young kid somewhere to dream big about making a life with a camera.  I  know it did for me.

Hawaiian Wedding Fantasies

Hawaiian Wedding Fantasies

Whenever I have the time or the will, I head down to Waikiki to capture the randomness of life on the beach.  I’ve always wanted to be a street photographer like Garry Winogrand, Bruce Gilden, or Martin Parr but instead of the cold streets of Manhattan, I’m stuck with bad Hawaiian shirts and endless sunsets.  There’s always something quirky on the beach whether its the sunburned Midwesterner in socks and sandals or a self absorbed Japanese girl with a selfie stick.

So the other day, we took a sunset stroll down Waikiki and encounter the usual oddities out and about on the beach.  A tout pushing exotic birds photos onto tourists for pictures, nouveau riche Chinese obnoxiously dressed in beachwear, and families scrambling to capture themselves with the fading Hawaiian sunset. We also spotted a Japanese bride and groom dressed up in full wedding garb with their photographer taking sunset pictures.

Many Japanese tourist purchase the Hawaiian wedding fantasy by renting wedding dresses and tuxedos to pose for pictures even though they might not be married or they’ve been married for years.  It is an odd sight to see but they are as common as the sunset in Hawaii.  So we watch the wedding couple with little interest until my wife notices a group of young Micronesian girls sitting in the surf watching in awe at the Disney fantasy happening right in front of them.  With mouths agape, the little sea urchins stare at the ivory skinned bride in her billowing white dress fawn as her tuxedo-wearing prince kneels in front of her for a picture perfect moment with the sun dripping behind the Waianae Mountains.

The photo wasn’t perfect as the kids were just a tad bit too far away and the sun was directly behind making them completely backlit.  I quickly maneuvered myself around the scene trying not to catch the attention of the bride or the kids to capture the moment but technically realized it was too hard to capture.  So I snapped off a few frames and moved on.  Things happen so fast I when you do this type of photography that you can’t dwell on a missed opportunity.

But it wasn’t till we got home and I ran the images through Photoshop that I saw what caught my wife’s attention.  I had to pull lighting the shadows shrouding the girls’s expressions and crop tight to balance out the composition but the image captures the fantasy of the little girl’s wedding scene. It isn’t one of my better images but I think it is one of my nicer beach pictures.

In a way, I captured the inequality of life in Hawaii, the life of those who can afford to spend time on the beach and those who have few options otherwise. The young girls appeared to be homeless or at the least, their families were not economically stable.  They were playing in front of a larger group of Micronesian adults who were cooking and sleeping in the small pavilion facing the beach.  The family also seemed to be harvesting a meal from the sea by spearfishing.  Now this is not a bad thing as I would love to spearfish a meal or two every so often but it seemed that might have been the only way to make due for themselves.  Many Micronesians immigrants arrive in Hawaii with little and struggle to live in paradise.

My image shows the haves and the haves nots in Hawaii yet none of that really mattered to anyone in the picture.  Before they walked off the beach, the Japanese bride sweetly waved at the kids and they screamed and laugh in joy that she recognized them.  They yelled “Aloha! Aloha!” and jumped around the sand, thrilled the bride spoke to them.  But as quickly as the girls lined up to watch the Hawaiian wedding, the squealed away through the surf when a relative returned from the depths with what looked like an octopus on the end of his stick.

Surely both would enjoy a lovely meal that night, the Japanese eating slices of tako sushi at a fancy restaurant, and the young girls undoubtedly slurping on a similar dish of octopus…just with a better view of the ocean.

The blue-green “see” from a different angle.

The blue-green

After living in Hawaii for sometime, its easy to forget about the beauty that surrounds us.  The blue-green sea, the white (eroding) sandy beaches, the food, the weather, the mountains…I can go on and on describing wonderful Hawaii.  So its always a challenge when clients ask for something slightly different for as an opening shot.

At any moment, somewhere somehow is snapping a picture, whether it is a family shot or professional shot, around Waikiki.  It is one of the most photographed pieces of real estate in the world.  There are thousands of professional pictures available on line and clients can easily pick a beautiful stock shot for pennies over a custom shot (uhhhh….for pennies—I digress!)  Why hire when there is so much available?  Because a custom shot gets you a unique, dare I say signature, vision from a professional photographer that no other client will have.

The Los Angeles Times asked me to shoot a full page image of Waikiki for their travel story illustrating a budget friendly vacation in Honolulu.  The editor sent along few images taken by the writer and wanted me to capture a similar feel.  My only parameters were to shoot from above, keep it vertical, and ensure I had a killer image at the end of the day.  Jobs like this really get me fired up because no amount of money really accounts for all the time and effort it takes in finding a shot as such.  But the outcome is completely worth the input.  I couldn’t imagine doing anything else as the challenge of my craft is not work, it is just an extension of my life.

The pictures taken by the writer were photographed from one of the better hotel balconies on the beach.  All the elements lined up and and made a pretty different view of Waikiki.  Oddly enough it seemed the picture wasn’t from one of the budget hotels in the story so my challenge was not to present my image as such.  The art direction was to capture Waikiki, not illustrate the story.

Fabulous views command big money and hotels rates are based on the amount of ocean and beach seen from the room.  I could easily have called up one of the beach front hotels and asked to shoot from a room but hotels tend not to help you unless the story relates directly to them.  I don’t have the budget to shoot from a rented hotel room and a helicopter view was not the perspective the client was after.

After living here for some time, I learned it is possible to enjoy Hawaii without blowing too much diñero and having a great time along with tourist who are taping out their credit cards.  I also know how to find the big dollar views without having to shell out big money for hotel rooms or fancy restaurants.  Sometimes just wandering around a big hotel looking like a tourist can help you gain access to views you might not be able to if you wandered in full camera regalia and reeked of the decisive moment.  Looking like a clueless tourist with a Best Buy camera bag will keep housekeepers and bell hops off your tail.

So without revealing too many tricks of my clandestine trade, I got into a hotel, shot down at the beach and made a marvellous shot.  I won’t reveal my location but a Waikiki sleuth might be able to pick it out based on what is in front of them.  Needless to say, the Times editor Tears for Fears (I’m feeling overly cheeky tonight!) over the images as she had a large variety  to choose.   In an email after the article published, she stated “everyone LOVED the photos.”

That kind of praise makes the hours and time put in completely worth it.  Again, it doesn’t take much to sea…err…see things from a different perspective.  I just awaken  my paradise slumber and look around.

ca 1990

ca 1990

In the early 1990’s, I took a design class with a professor whose name escapes me.  He taught 2D Design during my freshman year at UT Austin and I found myself painting, drawing, designing and generally having a wonderful time exploring mediums I had never worked with.  The class he taught focused on basic art fundamentals; the mild mannered professor knew his stuff.  He once claimed he had famed actress Farrah Fawcett in his class back in the 60s.  She was from Texas, you know.

My classmates rebelled against conformity, reality, sexuality, and just about anything to rebel against.  Some thought they’d be the next Schnabel, Basquiat, or Haring.  Mostly they just wanted to get high. I had a hard time relating as I grew up in conservative San Antonio with a Sergeant father, a Bible-beating mom, and a brother who was a cop.  I clearly had no intentions of turning out to be a sculptor, performance artists, or general anarchist.  I knew I would be a photographer but drifted in and out of majors my first few months drawing towards the art department for a few classes.

In class, no one really told us we were wrong; but kept encouraging us to create and explore what we might not know.  I quickly learned that everything in art is subjective but the fundamentals were the bedrock.  In this 2D class, the professor had us do an exercise on a white sheet of paper with ink.  As I recall, he gave us no real instructions other than to draw lines on the paper.  I took my ink pens and ruler and began to doodle.

I had no formal art education at school or in my household.  I drew and colored lots as a child but made nothing extraordinary.  We’d go to the McNay and the Whitte Museums often and I was always enamored with the old masters and the shapes of the sculptures and figures on display.  I guess I had some informal understanding but nothing that an art professor would notice.

At the end of our exercise, the prof came over and critiqued my piece.  I remember so clearly he pointing out my sense of balance, negative and positive space, and weight of design.  I just saw them as straight lines. I didn’t understand his words until later when I became a professional photographer and began my own career.

lines in the real world

I’ll often wander Waikiki in the late afternoon as the tourists begin heading back to their hotels.  As they roam around the sand seemingly astounded by the spectacular sunsets, most drop their guard and I’ll capture some interesting moments.  As I made my way around a group of people, I noticed this woman wrapped in a damp sarong standing on a pier.  I saw her in my peripheral and pushed my way towards her to capture the moment.  I wasn’t sure why I was drawn to her other than I found her attractive and secluded from the hoards of people crowding the area to watch the sunset.  I began talking out loud to myself noting the monotone colors, her curves, the horizon, and the bend of her arm as she brushed her wet hair from her shoulder.  I fired off maybe six frames before the composition was disturbed by people walking through.  It was only when I chimped the image on the back of my Leica did the professor’s words echo in my ears.  I saw the “balance, space, negative and positive, and weight of my lines.”

Marco Garcia

Once I got home, I searched for that ink drawing that I’ve kept with me all these years.  I was astounded to see how my experienced camera eye had now been able to see, almost naturally, what I drew so long ago, but couldn’t quite comprehend.

I’ve never professed to be an artist.  I’ve often said I xerox what’s in front of me.  Nothing more…just pressing the copy button instead of the shutter button.   Yet I’m happy to hear the professor’s words echo in my head when I do push it.  Those words make me realize I might be more of an artist than I think.

Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times

 

The Los Angeles Times hired me a few weeks ago to spend some time with Hawaii ukulele legend Eddie Kamae as they were to feature him for an upcoming travel piece to Honolulu.  As far as Hawaiian legends go, Eddie is on top of the list.  He might not be as famous as Don Ho, Bruddah Iz or for that matter Elvis when it comes to that distinct Hawaiian sound, but Eddie, along with band mate Gabby Pahinui, introduced traditional Hawaiian music to the world via the post war tourists flooding the Hawaiian Isles.  At the time, traditional Hawaiian music wasn’t played in the tourist districts as most local musicians catered to mainland musical tastes.  But once their band The Sons of Hawaii took off, the music found commercial footing which opened the door for Hawaiian music to be heard world wide.

The duality of my job had me creating a portrait of Eddie and then turning around to document Eddie’s Honolulu and the places that helped create the Hawaiian legend.  Development and time has erased some of the old town but lots remain such as the Hau Tree Lanai bar at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel where he once played under the massive, century old tree in the 1970’s.  Kamaka Ukulele, which made a few of his ‘ukes, still cranks out hand made and custom instruments since 1916, and time seems to have stood still in some areas of Chinatown, Eddie’s childhood stomping grown where he hustled newspapers and fish he caught in Nuuanu Stream.

Making of portrait of him proved to be the most difficult because Eddie isn’t well known to follow directions.  He’s a legend.  You don’t make him do much of anything as he’ll do what he wants when he wants.  But with the prodding of his wife Myrna and their assistant, I got Eddie to the water’s edge at Waikiki Beach at sunset and made a magical shot of Eddie playing a few old standards on his “box.”  I knew I had a few minutes to get this done before his mid 80’s patience would wear and I’d have to plan another time to get him in front of my camera.

After our quick photo shoot, we retired to one of his daily spots at the Hilton Hawaiian Village to enjoy a few Kona brews, some pupus and listen to the young musicians play music for the tourists.  During our shoot, we had tourist coming around and listening to Eddie play.  No one really knew who he was but people knew he was important.  Eddie could still command a crowd as he crooned away.  A young Japanese girl stood and watched from the beach and probably would never remember she saw a famous ukulele player on her first trip to Hawaii.  Eddie doesn’t often play live any more so we got a rare and intimate concert.

Photographically speaking, I must point out a few tricks of the trade that I’ve gotten notice on.  Negative space is positive.  Shoot loose a photo editor once told me long ago and I took it to heart.  If you shoot too close, you don’t give an editor or a page layout person space to work with.  I knew to shoot Eddie with lots of space around him, especially head space on my verticals as there was a good chance it would be an opener.  I thought about text and headline space and and my in-camera framing worked.  Sometimes this approached is ignored as many photographers crop for themselves, not for the end product.  You can always crop or shoot tight on your own frames but once you take away negative space, you image can quickly turn negative.

Below are the pdf files from the times.  I have my opening shot on top mostly because the pdfs are so washed out.  The editor assured me the images were wonderful in the newspaper and on line.

 

 

TR.L.1.L1.LA.1.04-21-13.su.1.3.st.Q

 

TR.L.4.L4.LA.1.04-21-13.su.1.3.st.Q