Fire at the Marco Polo

Fire at the Marco Polo

Honolulu suffered a major tragedy this last week when a fire broke out at the Marco Polo, a residential high rise, killing three people along with a dog and displaced many from their homes.  As of this blog posting, the cause of the fire is unknown but we do know the fire started in one unit on the 26th floor and spread to the 27th and 28th floors destroying dozens of units in its wake.  Marco Polo also did not have fire sprinklers as the law mandating sprinklers in new construction was past several years after Marco Polo was built in 1971.  Currently, there are no laws requiring buildings in Hawaii to be retrofitted with these fire safety measures.

The Associated Press sent me out to cover the blaze as a three alarm fire in a high rise was sure to make national headlines .  When I arrived on the scene, black smoke billowed from the upper floors turning Hawaii’s blue skies gray.  Flames danced inside the gutted apartment units quickly spreading from floor to floor.  Onlookers said they heard cries for help and others spotted people waving from smokey balconies.  Some residents claimed they didn’t hear the fire alarm go off and only knew there was trouble when they saw the firetrucks.

Those who evacuated the building, along with many onlookers,  watched in shock as the fire spread from floor to floor.  The intense heat shattered glass and broke apart balconies sending debris crashing down on the street below.  Firemen had a tough time containing the fire as it was said they had to daisy chain hoses and walk them up the emergency exit stairways to reach the fire.

Crowds gather to watch a fire burn on a high floor at the Marco Polo Condominiums, Friday, July 14, 2017, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

As I continued to photograph the fire, I interviewed many people using my iPhone to record video accounts of their experience.  I spotted this one woman with a towel wrapped around her shoulders as she was led away from the building and asked her what happened.  The 71-year-old Karen Hastings said the fire felt like a ‘horror movie.’

The following day, I went back to the building to report on survivors and the damage left behind.  The upper middle portion of the building was mostly destroyed and smoke and flame damaged covered the structure.  Authorities allowed residents back into their homes around 2AM Saturday morning and many returned to soot, smoke, and water damage.

A man looks off his balcony at the the damage left from a deadly fire that destroyed several floors of the Marco Polo residence, Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Honolulu. The fire killed at least three people. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Since the building was only allowing residents inside, I spent my time interviewing people outside who told me of the damage and witnessed the damage on the affected floors.  I was also able to get one guy to share his images with AP as he photographed the damage first hand when he went to check on his unit which was above the fire.

It is never easy photographing a human tragedy, especially in your back yard.  And especially when you live in a high rise.  Apparently, a lack of sprinklers allowed the fire to grow unchecked but the cost to retrofit an older building might force many from their homes.  Estimates could be in the tens of thousands for each unit in a high rise.  There is no price on safety but home owners might not be able to afford such safety measures.  Lets hope new laws and regulations are reasonably reviewed and not harshly passed.

In regards to my photography and coverage of the fire, I found myself relying heavily on my iPhone for video as I able to text message small clips of the fire and interviews I did with survivors.  My videos were seen across the internet via AP.

A New Voyager

Kahala Life, the in-house magazine at the Kahala Resort, had me photograph Austin Kino and his boat on Kahala Beach several weeks back.  Needless to say, it was an easy job as it took about two tries.  Austin, who runs the concession sailing business on the property, is also a model and made it look good.  Austin is also a navigator on the Hokulea and he told us about his time on the historic boat.

I really like this picture.  I shot this with natural light and a gold bounce reflecting the morning sun back onto his skin.

Hula dancer outtakes for the cover of Celebrated Life

Hula dancer outtakes for the cover of Celebrated Life

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.

hula, Hawaii, photography
Marco’s favorite images from the photo shoot with hula dancer Kayli Carr.

A cover try with a hula dancer

A cover try with a hula dancer

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.

hula, Waikiki, Hawaii, tourismForward 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.

 

 

 

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.