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.



Dark Shades in the Shadows: Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart
Kevin Hart at the Ilikai Hotel and Luxury Suites, in Honolulu. Marco Garcia for The New York Times

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 Times recently 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.

All-seeing Mezzo-Soprano Laurie Rubin

Lauie Rubin
Lauie Rubin at her home in Honolulu. Copyright 2016

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.

However, I almost lost my nerve when the Wall Street Journal assigned me to photograph renowned Mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, for you see, Laurie is blind.

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.



Fashion photography learned from the big city boys

Fashion photography learned from the big city boys
Fashion photography of Claudia Vaughan for Hi Luxury Magazine. 2016 Marco Garcia, Ken Nahoum
Fashion photography of Claudia Vaughan for Hi Luxury Magazine. 2016 Marco Garcia

“Texas never got this cold” I mumbled to myself as I stepped out of the Spring St. subway station and headed for my very first job in New York City in February of 1997.  I had landed a job with famed fashion lensman Ken Nahoum who made a name for himself in the 80s-90s photographing celebrities and pop stars.  During my first week in Manhattan, I cold called the famous photographer and his studio offered me a job on the spot. Ken was a superstar photographer well known for the infamous images of Tupac Shakur for the record album All Eyez on Me.”  I could not believe how lucky I was to get a job with the famous photographer right out of the bag.  I really wanted to be a fashion photographer and here was my big chance.

MTV in the 90’s glamorized supermodels such as Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer and the black and white images (and videos) of Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber drew me to search out this business in the capital of photography.  I had known very little about fashion at the time and I wasn’t going to learn about it in San Antonio so I took off to NYC and put up with the unbearable cold to to find out what it was all about.

I had never experienced a true east coast winter and I was ill prepared for those last few months of cold weather when I first arrived in Manhattan.  Nahoum’s studio was on the corner of Avenue of Americas and Varick St and although the station was just a few blocks away, the cold, bitter wind coming off the Hudson cut through my Texas winter jacket and chilled me to the bone during that short walk.  But I endured it all because I wanted to learn how to be a fashion photographer.

Nahoum’s studio didn’t exactly explain what my job would be but once I started working there, I ended up being nothing more than an errand boy for Nahoum, his dad, and two sleazy producers.  Sadly, Nahoum was already transitioning out of photography and we only worked on a handful of photo shoots including one notorious outdoor night job that ended when a  heavy storm cut across the City and soaked us.  I remember taking the train home that morning and leaving behind a puddle of water where I had sat.

I had hoped to learn how the business worked from Nahoum but he ended up being a jerk and wouldn’t give me the time of day.  I lasted about three months before I moved on as I had arrived too late in Nahoum’s career to see any of the magic he made back in the day.  Ken wasn’t all that bad now that I look back at it.  I had fond memories of his dad and those two sleazy producers.  It’s very easy now to see why he treated me poorly as I hadn’t “made my bones” yet and was too green to understand.  He worked with the best of the best and I was just…well…an errand boy to him.

After I left, I went off and assisted all types of fashion, portrait, and commercial guys putting lots of emphasis on fashion.  But once I learned the fashion business was a nasty, shallow world, I knew it wasn’t meant for me.  I did work for some really great people and some really huge names and all that hard work as an assistant taught me how to manage a career as a professional photographer.  I wished I had become a dedicated understudy to a well known fashion photographer for a long stretch but after so many years, I moved on to start my career elsewhere.

Ironically, Annie Leibowitz was in the same building on Varick as Nahoum and I accidentally rode the elevator with her.  During that brief ride, I didn’t realize it was her and lost a chance to beg her for a job.  Needless to say, I missed (some might say I was lucky to have missed out!) my chance but all worked out as far as I can see.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 2.53.22 PM

Fast forward nearly twenty years later and out of the blue, I’m offered a job to shoot fashion in Hawaii.  Hi Luxury Magazine asked me to shoot a fashion story on the magical property of Dale Hope, author of The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of The Islands.  The photo editor had known for years I had an inner fashion photographer inside of me but never took me serious when I told her of my past. She finally found a project I could work on and pushed me to produce a great shoot.

I worked with model Claudia V and a great team of make up, hair, and styling. Dale’s property is way in the back of Palolo Valley and the environment fit well with the clothes and the styles.  It was a challenging day but we managed to photograph five looks including a few options in a brief period of time.  Overall, we made some fantastic images.

As I readied myself to shoot that morning, I recalled my days of fetching coffee for Ken’s dad and the two producers.  I recalled having to head uptown to Hermés to pick up a Kelly bag for Ken’s Victoria’s Secret fashion model girlfriend.  I remembered having to take something to Ken’s Greene St. apartment in SoHo and he refused to let me in and I had to wait in the hallway.  I recalled that cold wind, stale bagels, riding home completely wet, and the nasty world of NYC’s fashion business.

But when I looked through my camera’s viewfinder, I saw Claudia and all the moments that led me to this palm grove and I smiled.  I’d never had made it as a fashion guy in Manhattan but its good to know I learned enough make these beautiful images in Hawaii.
Thanks Ken.

16,000 likes via the New York Times

A surfer falls of the lip of a huge wave at Peahi, Maui. 16,000+ Likes on the New York Times Instagram page!
A surfer falls of the lip of a huge wave at Peahi, Maui. 16,000+ Likes on the New York Times Instagram page!

Its been a great week for work this week as I’ve had two big travel stories on the Big Island and Maui run in the New York Times and the Associated Press released my writing and pictures on a trip to Kalaupapa on Molokai.

But if anyone takes likes as a measure of fulfillment, the shot of the surfer flying off his board at Jaws on Maui got over 16,000 likes on the @nytimestravel instagram page.  Impressive!

But more impressive for myself is my new career of writing.  In college I wanted to be a writer and took a few classes  but didn’t take myself seriously to follow through with any of it.  I doodled in diaries and mailed long love letters during my travels in Latin America and Asia.  But its only been in the last few years that I’ve gotten acknowledged as a writer and published.  Taking pictures has become second nature for me but writing is still the great frontier.

The Molokai story is linked here.

Anyone recognize this hiker?

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 10.51.37 AM

Here are the New York Times tears from the last few weeks.

nyt layouts

The Big Island story is here and Maui is here.