Thanks for the Memories, Barack Obama.

US President Barack Obama greets a gallery before departing from Joint Base Pearl Harbor/Hickam, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Honolulu.

As Air Force One rumbles down the runway carrying away US President Barack Obama, the end has finally come to Barack Obama’s eight years of Honolulu holiday vacations.  We’ll no longer gather for ungodly call times at Safeway.  No longer will the house on Kailuana Place be the center of the holiday frat party.  And we’ll no longer sit on that media bus waiting for the President and friends to finish up a round of golf.

And as that plane lifts off and the jet wash rattle us on the riser, we photographers and writers are now realizing how lucky our small community was to have a sitting President holiday in Honolulu for so many years.  And for most of us, these times will never repeat themselves.

US President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama wave to a gallery before departing from Joint Base Pearl Harbor/Hickam, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Honolulu.

Photo comrade Hugh Gentry said “this is essentially closing a chapter in my life,” as Hugh spent many a holiday inside a cramped van with other crusty journalists chasing Barack Obama around the Island.  He told me more than once about the stress it put on his family as they had to plan opening Christmas gifts around whether Obama wanted to go to gym early that morning or stay out late for dinner the night before. Many others who were part of the pool sacrificed large parts of their lives as well to report on Obama’s whereabouts.

Did Hugh or the others regret it?  Doubtful, as neither he, or myself, turned down the holiday work as we knew these coveted jobs would be hard to come by in the future.

But what made any of this Obama stuff so special to us? What’s so glamorous about spending more than 18 hours a day plus inside that stuffy bus waiting for hours on end to photograph and report on the elusive President on holiday?  Maybe it was the camaraderie among the equally bored journalists or the hodgepodge Asian furniture inside the media house.  Free government Doritos and Cutie oranges likely also played a roll but it’s hard to say why we chose to be with Barack Obama rather than our own families.  But it was the only time for many of us to be that close to the White House and a sitting President.

We made our early morning call times.  We downed predawn coffees to make sure our images were focused and our text was factual.  We reported, as meaningless as it may be, the truth.  And whether that truth was about the flavors Obama ordered on his shave ice or how long his putt was at The Kapolei Golf Course, the press pool was there and recorded it.

Fellow writer Kalani Takase stated on his Facebook page, “Despite the long days and being kept in the dark about pretty much everything, I’ve got to say, riding in the presidential motorcade never gets old.” And we all felt the same elation as we watched the passing Koolau Mountains, their peaks heavy with rain clouds, from inside the motorcade bubble ferrying us to wherever destination the President was heading.  There was something special about the motorcade but I guess when you consider how crappy traffic is on Oahu, rolling in the motorcade, as Kalani said, never got old.

We all had those long days struggling with the empty hours of boredom. We snored loudly in the bus, on the beach, or inside the clubhouse. We checked our phones endlessly and tried in vain to read books but failed.  Yet in the end, we cherished our White House press credentials and relished our time wrangled by the gaggle of the secretive, yet underpaid sorority of White House press agents.

So as the plane’s taillights become a twinkle in our collective memories, I sadly hear Bob Hope and Shirley Ross singing…

“Thanks for the memories…”

Bye-bye to Barack and Michelle.  Adios to the Secret Service and their dogs who sniffed through our gear. Au revoir to the media bus and those who snored through the waits. And sayonara to the cold banquet room at Mid Pac.  And when December 2017 comes around, and we’re not waiting for you outside of Titcomb’s or Nobu, we’re not going to miss it and surely, we will not miss you…but in a nostalgic way, we all probably will.

A hui hou…until we meet again.

 

My Last Press Pool Day with President Obama

On the Bus
White House pres pool members waiting for the Presidential motorcade to leave MCBH. Dec. 21, 2016

As Obama is quickly wrapping up his last Hawaii vacation, my last White House press pool day was on Dec. 21st.  The day came with a deep sadness as I knew this type of assignment would likely never happen for me again.  Never would I sit endlessly waiting for the President to finish a golf game nor would I ever have the chance to shout out “What flavors did you have on your shave ice?!?!”

While this sadness overtook me, I have to be thankful as the Associated Press gave me a chance to use a pen over pixels as I worked as a reporter inside the press pool.  While I wanted to be a writer early in my days, the camera topped the keyboard and f-stops replaced verbs.  So it wasn’t a stretch to write a few sentences about where the President was heading and what color hat he wore that day.

While no real breaking news took place while on duty over the years, I still enjoyed zooming through the city within the motorcade.  Those jaunts are likely the most memorial aspect of working with the President over the holidays.  Everything else was a mixture of waiting, eating junk food, and more waiting all set to the theme of Candy Crush.

Hardly did any of us set eyes upon the President other than a glimpse at him through the windows of his armored limo or in the far distance as he crossed the greens at an exclusive golf course.  After his motorcade would speed past us, I’d plead if anyone had seen what he was wearing as that seemed to be the only thing of importance to write about on those sunny winter days in Honolulu.  And beyond that, any other sightings of the President were strictly controlled.  Windows were blacked out by dark tarps taped to the windows or we were kept blocks away and not allowed off the bus.  Those were the worst days.

Blacked Out Windows
White House Press pool cameraman standing in front of blacked out windows at the Kapolei Golf Course.

Obama was very secretive and rarely gave the press pool any glimpses into his vacation life.  Why the White House did so much to block the credentialed pool from view yet allowed anyone outside to have full access to him was mind boggling.  Just tonight, local TV aired smart phone video of the President on a hike.  Where was the WH press?  Back in the bus.

Press pool photographers demanded access and producers pushed for air time but the White House never budged.  For a President who was spawned through social media, he was hardly the model for transparency as he preferred to speak directly to the public via Facebook and released crafted images from his personal photographer.  He sidestepped the media anyway he could, yet the romance went on.

On occasion, the White House allowed whats termed a “spray” where media was given a short window to capture whatever was going on.  In the video above, I captured my colleagues photographing Obama as wrapped up his golf on the 18th green at the Kapolei Golf Course.  The White House handler rushed us off our perch no more than 30 seconds later.

But aside from all the hassle, the press pool bus became a small winter haven for the few years I was allowed in.  The press pool allowed me to work as a writer and gain international bylines.  I am grateful for all those who trusted me to sit inside and report on the daily events of the President.

As I walked off the bus that night, I was hugged and was back slapped by many who had known me over several years for a few days in December.  I shared many a coffee inside the tiny kitchen of the media house and talked endlessly about the strange Japanese bath at the other end.  We fed the goldfish and we all saw G1 jump in the swimming pool at least once.  We all ate the best hash browns at the MCBH McDonald’s and shared a common exhaustion as the motorcade sped out to another late night dinner.  I’ll miss the rush and the companionship…but I won’t miss the painful boredom.  I won’t miss that at all.

 

 

Obama’s Final Hawaii Holiday Vacation

Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama waves at he exits Air Force One In Honolulu.

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.

White House Press Passes
White House issued press passes collected during the many Obama visits to Hawaii.

 

 

Pearl Harbor survivor united with twin.

USS Arizona Survivor John Anderson lost his twin brother during the Pearl Harbor attack. John is a Pearl Harbor Survivor.
USS Arizona Survivor John Anderson lost his twin brother during the Pearl Harbor attack. Copyright Marco Garcia 2011

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.

 

 

First Shutter Click

First Shutter Click

For some reason or another, my older brother gave me my first camera back in what I remember being 1987. He purchased the Pentax Super Program 35mm film camera from someone at work and it started me on my eventual professional career in photography.  I remember seeing the cheap blue camera bag on the carpet of our house and marvelling at this magnificent silvery machine with mysterious knobs and dials. I can still smell the silica gel desiccant packets that were inside the black lining of the bag.

The camera came with a 50mm, a 70-210mm, some filters, and another lens or two not worth mentioning. Those other lenses turned out to be really cheap quality and took Instagram quality images.  Attached to the camera was also one of those awesome retro camera straps that are sadly found on hipsters who are using retro cameras such as that Pentax.

I loved that camera but it wasn’t my first as I do remember my mother had a 110mm Kodak that I captured some of my first childish imagery on it’s tiny negatives that are still somewhere in the house on Huisache St. I guess my brother saw something in me and thought maybe I had some talent with photography. I guess he was right because I’ve made my career of taking pictures starting about the time I walked out into the world with that Pentax.

The camera still sits on a shelf near all the new fancy stuff.  I almost threw it out but Sweetie made me realize the importance of that gift.  I would imagine the camera still works if I put a fresh set of batteries in her.

As the last of the photo labs close in Hawaii, the Pentax becomes a relic lost within the pixels of the digital age. Thank you Brother for the most significant camera that helped start my career. But to tell you the truth, you should have given me a damn stethoscope!