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.

 

 

Turn on a dime.

Turn on a dime.

So after my two weeks golf week hell, I had a week off to recover, pay the bills, and storm the football field for the NFL’s Pro Bowl.  We don’t get to cover sports much in Hawaii on the national level.  Hawaii doesn’t have any professional teams  nor is there much national interest in college or high school sports unless they win big.  Yet with two major PGA Tour golf tournaments and the Pro Bowl…all within the span of three weeks in January…I’m sported out!

Sport photography is a tough business.  Your career is based on capturing that winning moment.  Photographer (and mentor if you ask me) Nathaniel Welch once told me about sports photographers.  “Your livelihood depends on whether or not the athlete or team you are following makes the big play and wins,” or something like that.   If that team or athlete fails, you fail.  If you have to depend on someone else to make a living, it isn’t a good career.

I once wanted to be a sports photographer back in the day of film and manual focus cameras.  It was in college and the University of Texas had top notch athletic programs and athletes.  I spent much of my college days at football fields, basketball courts, and swimming pools.

UT vs Houston BB
UT vs Houston men’s basketball 1991-1992

 

Luckily I avoided that career path but do wish I had dabbled in the professional sports photo world a bit in my younger days.  I would have been special times to have gone to a Super Bowl, a World Cup or an Olympics yet I don’t regret the path I have taken.  Although I heard Nathaniel’s words much later in life, I clearly understood them years before.

But back to the Pro Bowl, the NFL event that brings the best of the best players who currently are not playing in the following week’s Super Bowl.  Not too far back, the Pro Bowl used to be held after the Super Bowl but the Pro Bowl began to lose relevance and the NFL had to update and remake the event to keep people interested.  For too many years, the Pro Bowl was a powder puff game where teams played hard the first quarter and cruised the rest of the time.  I recall many times hearing boos and catcalls  from fans as QB’s would take knees to run down the clock or tacklers would gently grab a runningback so as to avoid injuries.  The last two years have changed quite a bit as players are actually out there to win.  There’s still some powder puffiness going on but this last game proved to be a nail biter.

With minutes left in the game, Team Sanders scored only to have Team Rice quickly score soon after and take the lead with a two-point conversion.  Team Sanders then drove midway down the field only to have Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles sacked by Dallas Cowboys DT Jason Hatcher forcing TS into an impossible 67-yard field goal.  With virtually no time left on the clock, the kick went wide but New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie caught the kick and ran towards the opposite end zone.  The media and the side line had rushed the field as we thought the game had ended but clock had not completely zeroed out.  Cromartie ran down field in hopes of making a touch down and headed straight towards me.  I aimed my camera and fired thinking he’s stop but he kept coming.  I didn’t have time to move and wondered if my cameras would break on impact.

Antonio Cromartie almost runs me over.
Antonio Cromartie almost runs me over.

Cromartie looked forward then back and rushed towards me only to turn on a dime to avoid running me over.  He clipped the lens of my second camera on my shoulder which rocked back and forth after he shot by.  Most of you who know me know I’m not a small guy but Cromartie would have knocking the hell out of me.  It would have made a funny top ten plays of the day on Sports Center but it would have been an expensive trip to Canon repair…if not the doctor as well.

If you are not on the field and only watch it on television, its really hard to understand the athleticism of these men.  I’ve seen 300 lb plus linemen move like ballet dancers and watched wide receivers make impossible catches…and this is only the powder puff Pro Bowl!  My current and recent experience photographing football is the University of Hawaii and many of the players if not most will never see the professional side of the sport.  There is no comparison.  The Pro Bowl brings the best of the best to the field.  I can only imagine if it had been a stumbling local college kid and what might have happened.  Thanks Antonio for not breaking my back or bank.

*Note–The 2o14 Pro Bowl teams were drafted from both the NFC and AFC and teammates had the possibility of playing each other.  The teams were headed by Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.

 

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.