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.
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.
Celebrity photo shoots are a rarity for me here in Honolulu so it is always a pleasure, and challenge, to get a high profile person in front of my lens. The New York Timesrecently commissioned me to do a portrait of funny man Kevin Hart as they were featuring Hart in the Style section’s List of Five. Hart, who’s in town filming a Jumaji sequel, alongside Dwyane The Rock Johnson and Jack Black, agreed to be photographed on a day off from filming. My job was to create a natural light portrait of him along with capturing some close-ups of his stylish clothing.
I arrived at the Illikai Hotel early one Sunday morning where I was met by his personal assistant and given a key to a suite on a top floor of the hotel. He said to head up to the room and Kevin would be up shortly. Of course, that meant Kevin would arrive whenever he was ready so I prepared for a long wait allowing me plenty of time to scout the location finding the best light and angles. I wasn’t sure how much time he’d give me all considering Sunday was likely his day off and he probably cared little about this photo shoot.
As I waited for his arrival, his personal videographer surprising arrived at the suite and I learned Kevin Hart was also doing some sound bites during the session. I immediately recognized Kwan from a video clip in which Kevin was kicking a soccer ball against the goalie from Manchester City. Kevin was yelling at Kwan during the memorable clip and we shared a good laugh about that, which actually put me at ease. Having too much time to kill filled me with pre-game anxiety and it was good to shoot the breeze with someone who knew Kevin well.
About an hour later, Kevin makes himself up to the suite. He warmly but impersonally greets me, talks with Kwan a bit then sits on the sofa and we get to work. I immediately grab my cameras and guide Kevin effortlessly around the large room. He was very easy to work with and made little, if any demands of me, which helped me get through the photo shoot problem free.
My only difficulty with Kevin Hart was he not wanting to remove his Tom Ford sunglasses that stylishly obstructed his face. Whether the photo editors would be happy with this was beyond me as he flat out said no, but I had no choice and continued to shoot around it. Luckily, the shot the Times picked was of him on the balcony gazing out at the harbor, shades on. The sunglasses added a nice touch, if not fashionable touch.
Sadly, I didn’t leave the suite with my side in stitches as I had hoped Kevin would have worked his magic that morning. But sometimes when your job is to make people laugh for a living, the last thing you want to do is get into the routine on your day off. Other than my iPhone, I rarely have a camera on me and cringe when friends ask me to take their picture.
Nevertheless, the job was a success and during my editing of the take that afternoon, I watched some clips of Kevin on You Tube and had a great laugh.
It is far and few between that I get the jitters when I have to photograph someone. Working as a professional photographer for over ten years has given me the kind of confidence of being able to walk into a situation, put all the pieces together and walk out with a wonderful image. I’ve photographed just about everything imaginable and very little rattles me.
I faced the literal “how do I photograph someone who can’t see?” As my world is a visual performance, I was unsure of how to approach capturing someone who can’t see what I am creating. I was not sure I could pull it off. But I put my best foot forward and went to tackle a subject to which I feared.
Laurie and her partner live in the middle of Oahu and I had to meet her at their home. The assignment was part of the paper’s “What’s In My Bag” series and I had to photograph all the items she usually carries around in her purse on a daily basis along with capturing an environment portrait of her.
Laurie greeted me at the front door and if it hadn’t been for her cautious, meticulous moments around the house, I would have never guessed she was visually impaired. Apparently her eyes give it away but she refuses to wear dark glasses, as she’s comfortable with herself, unlike me who has never spent much time with anyone with an disability.
We chatted politely and she was very accommodating helping me sort through her house in helping me prepare for the photos. I set up a small studio atop their modern designed furniture in the living room and began to shoot the items that she carried in her purse. She kept this rather large, red bag (unsightly, at best) that held everything from her MacBook, wire cutters for her jewelry making, a wallet, and a book she kept for inspiration. She also had a compact and lipstick and Laurie told me how she taught herself how to put on makeup.
After shooting the still life images, I then went to set up for the portrait and moved my Profoto light bank around and used a bookshelf as the background. Laurie, who had no insecurities about having her picture taken, was very agreeable and took instruction well on how to pose. I became very mindful of my visual vocabulary as I worried about using terms like “look this way,” or “look towards the cameras,” but my sensitivity seemed to do little good, as Laurie was comfortable with herself and what we were doing. Laurie did say she could sense bright light and I would direct her by asking her to point her nose at my light which she did.
After another setup on the couch, I took her outside to the backyard and set her up against a brick wall with a tree right behind her. As we slipped out the door, Laurie gently placed her hand out for me to guide her and we stepped through the overgrown grass in her quaint backyard.
As far as how our portrait session went, Laurie was a wonderful subject who was keenly aware of who she was and was perceptive of how she “looked.” We made some stellar images and was very proud to have had her in front of my camera. I couldn’t help but to feel slightly empty as I left as I couldn’t show her my pictures. Like a chef who cannot taste he creation, I could not enjoy a moment with her relishing over our pictures. I’ve never felt photography was a one way street as it takes two to make an image. Laurie was the most important ingredient in the image and it pained me that I couldn’t have her take a bite.
But as she is a tremendous creative who uses a different tool than the one I have grown accustom to using, Laurie understood, whether she could see it or not, that we made something wonderful. Regardless of my fear of something different, I was very proud to have photographed Laurie as she helped me understand a bit more about art and about a disability.
But she also taught me that not all that is beautiful can be seen.