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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.