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.

Hawaiian Wedding Fantasies

Hawaiian Wedding Fantasies

Whenever I have the time or the will, I head down to Waikiki to capture the randomness of life on the beach.  I’ve always wanted to be a street photographer like Garry Winogrand, Bruce Gilden, or Martin Parr but instead of the cold streets of Manhattan, I’m stuck with bad Hawaiian shirts and endless sunsets.  There’s always something quirky on the beach whether its the sunburned Midwesterner in socks and sandals or a self absorbed Japanese girl with a selfie stick.

So the other day, we took a sunset stroll down Waikiki and encounter the usual oddities out and about on the beach.  A tout pushing exotic birds photos onto tourists for pictures, nouveau riche Chinese obnoxiously dressed in beachwear, and families scrambling to capture themselves with the fading Hawaiian sunset. We also spotted a Japanese bride and groom dressed up in full wedding garb with their photographer taking sunset pictures.

Many Japanese tourist purchase the Hawaiian wedding fantasy by renting wedding dresses and tuxedos to pose for pictures even though they might not be married or they’ve been married for years.  It is an odd sight to see but they are as common as the sunset in Hawaii.  So we watch the wedding couple with little interest until my wife notices a group of young Micronesian girls sitting in the surf watching in awe at the Disney fantasy happening right in front of them.  With mouths agape, the little sea urchins stare at the ivory skinned bride in her billowing white dress fawn as her tuxedo-wearing prince kneels in front of her for a picture perfect moment with the sun dripping behind the Waianae Mountains.

The photo wasn’t perfect as the kids were just a tad bit too far away and the sun was directly behind making them completely backlit.  I quickly maneuvered myself around the scene trying not to catch the attention of the bride or the kids to capture the moment but technically realized it was too hard to capture.  So I snapped off a few frames and moved on.  Things happen so fast I when you do this type of photography that you can’t dwell on a missed opportunity.

But it wasn’t till we got home and I ran the images through Photoshop that I saw what caught my wife’s attention.  I had to pull lighting the shadows shrouding the girls’s expressions and crop tight to balance out the composition but the image captures the fantasy of the little girl’s wedding scene. It isn’t one of my better images but I think it is one of my nicer beach pictures.

In a way, I captured the inequality of life in Hawaii, the life of those who can afford to spend time on the beach and those who have few options otherwise. The young girls appeared to be homeless or at the least, their families were not economically stable.  They were playing in front of a larger group of Micronesian adults who were cooking and sleeping in the small pavilion facing the beach.  The family also seemed to be harvesting a meal from the sea by spearfishing.  Now this is not a bad thing as I would love to spearfish a meal or two every so often but it seemed that might have been the only way to make due for themselves.  Many Micronesians immigrants arrive in Hawaii with little and struggle to live in paradise.

My image shows the haves and the haves nots in Hawaii yet none of that really mattered to anyone in the picture.  Before they walked off the beach, the Japanese bride sweetly waved at the kids and they screamed and laugh in joy that she recognized them.  They yelled “Aloha! Aloha!” and jumped around the sand, thrilled the bride spoke to them.  But as quickly as the girls lined up to watch the Hawaiian wedding, the squealed away through the surf when a relative returned from the depths with what looked like an octopus on the end of his stick.

Surely both would enjoy a lovely meal that night, the Japanese eating slices of tako sushi at a fancy restaurant, and the young girls undoubtedly slurping on a similar dish of octopus…just with a better view of the ocean.

Tulsi Gabbard saved my wife!

Tulsi Gabbard saved my wife!

“Tulsi! You saved my wife’s life!” I declared to US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard as she arrived for our photo shoot for Du Jour Magazine via Getty Images this past July in Kailua. “I’ve heard this from several people,” she replied as she warmly hugs me in the twinkling dawn hour before our shoot. “But I really didn’t do much,” she modestly states trying to play down her role in the Black Hawk Down rescue of my wife from the grips of a deranged homeless guy.

But she did run to the defense of my wife. And I always tell that story when the subject of Tulsi pops up. I told the photo editor at Du Jour Magazine. I told the assignment editor at Getty. I’ve also told my neighbors, my friends, and the guy parked next to me at Safeway. I’m always telling that tale because it is a great story.   Tulsi Gabbard did rescued my wife!

Now of course, I’ve been known to embellish a story here and there but what fable is completely accurate? Would you want to believe that Prince Charming was slightly balding and only 5’4? We all like the taller tales as they do make us feel better.

But as my wife, Yukako, tells the story, it goes something like this:

“I was walking back home from work late in the afternoon when I saw Tulsi and a group of supporters waving campaign signs before the (Nov. 2012) elections at the corner of Nuuanu Ave. and Vineyard Blvd. As I got closer I noticed a crazy homeless man had approached the group and began screaming gibberish straight at Tulsi but she never flinched. Despite none of her supporters coming to help her, Tulsi didn’t back down, she didn’t move, and never showed fear. She kept her cool and kept on campaigning. Once I got to the corner where everyone was standing…

This is where her story line becomes more of my creative tale telling…

“…the homeless man then turned quickly towards me and before I knew it, Tulsi jumped in between us and commanded the homeless man leave us alone. He was coming straight at me and Tulsi protected me from him. I gratefully thank her and rushed home.”

And like all good stories, they quickly change as they are whispered from ear to ear. And in my case, the story was immediately transformed into a butt kicking, City Council Superwoman in a red cape rescuing a petite damsel in distress.   Did Tulsi karate kick the homeless guy? No. Did she flip him over her shoulder all the while wrestling a baseball bat from his hands? Again, no. But do you really want to hear that Tulsi did something really boring? Absolutely not and regardless of the “actual truth,” Tulsi did intervene thus protecting my wife from what might have been a terrible afternoon. And sure the truth might not be so heroic but that’s the narrative I’m sticking with…despite complaints from Yukako after she read the first draft of this story.

I’ve always been impressed with Tulsi. I’ve seen her make a difference in Honolulu’s City Council as well as turn into a star Congresswoman for Hawaii. She used to live in our building in downtown and we’d frequently see her in the elevator or lobby. Tulsi always had a smile on her face and she was always willing to listen and talk to her neighbors. Her presence was powerful and she’d often wear this red suit, quite similar to the red cape I’ve made her out to wear at times. Tulsi is a fantastic person and I’m glad I can call her a friend.

When I landed the Du Jour Magazine job, I knew we’d have no trouble capturing a great image of Tulsi for the publication.   The team at Blue River Productions did much of the groundwork and secured a beachfront home in Kailua to be used as our background for the shoot. Incidentally, the location is just a few doors down from the home President Barack Obama stays in during the Christmas holidays.

We opted to meet super early at 5am Sunday morning before the sun rose so we could take advantage of the beautiful dawn light. Tulsi had no problem meeting us that early as she scheduled a live interview with a national Sunday morning talk show that would be shown live on the East Coast that day.

Once Tulsi got dressed for the shoot, we made our way down to the beach right as the sun rose over the horizon. The dreamy warm light draped over Tulsi and wrapped around the entire scene creating a surreal scene of magical proportions. Tulsi looked perfect! The image picked for the article was our first scenario and we nailed it right at the start.

I doubt Tulsi dreads hearing my tall tale of heroism, as it is a good story. She did rescue my wife and she will continue to rescue Hawaii with her progressive and innovative policies. She is something else. I am proud to know I captured her in the perfect light as well as knowing I, no we, can count on her as a friend.

And if she ever got tired of my embellishing of her tale of rescue, I’m certain I’d know due to the feel of pavement on my face or the cracking of my bones.




A Shiny and Happy Time

A Shiny and Happy Time

This past New Year’s Eve, I had the incredible opportunity to photograph R.E.M.’s legendary guitarist Peter Buck for the Wall Street Journal at his beachfront home in Kauai.  The WSJ needed a last minute portrait of the musician to illustrate their story about him that was slated to publish in early January.  Peter was scheduled to be out of the country during the upcoming weeks so this was the only time that I had to capture him before he left.

R.E.M. was on my music rotation as a high school kid in the 1980s.  I had their earlier albums and thought I was a postmodern hipster who listened to the classics and not the bland top 40 hits.  “Radio Free Europe,” “Fall on Me” and many of their other early 80’s hits were duly scratched up on their respective vinyl.  I never really cared for folk rock at the time but tolerated Michael Stipe’s whine and loved their distinct sound.  It wasn’t until their 1991 release of their Out of Time album that they skyrocketed to MTV fame and constant radio play.

I was already in college when that album was released.  We’d mimic Stipe’s quirky dancing and sang along poorly, mostly due to the copious amounts of cheap beer, toLosing my Religion” and the other hits on the album.  Kate Pierson harmonics dominated “Shiny Happy People” but it was Peter Buck’s melodic mandolin that sold LMR to the masses.  His 16th century sound just entranced us listeners and the lyrics, along with the video, made for a Rembrandt visual along with a poetic moment.

So on the days leading up to the assignment, I told some of my friends about my job but tried not to gush too much about my excitement of photographing Peter.  It is never good to get too star struck before a job.

After landing in Kauai, I worried Peter would be slightly aloof and irritable as it was New Years Eve but we had no other choice.  I had scheduled only a few hours for the job, including my travel time, to ensure I wouldn’t encroach on his personal time.  And as I drove into his neighborhood on the north side of Kauai, I became slightly lost in the rural beach community.  In an earlier email Peter sent me, he stated his property might be hard to find.  So with a little embarrassment, I called him stating my predicament and asked for directions.  And as I did a U-turn and slowly drove down the nearly deserted sandy beach road, there stood Peter Buck on his cell phone, wearing dark glasses and waving at me.

He warmly invited me into his home and we small talked as I prepared my cameras and lighting gear.  He had that cool rock vibe, and definitely no attitude.   He wore artist black and seemed out of place on Kauai where bright aloha shirts and board shorts are the norm but he stayed true to his rock star status.  At first he appeared slightly apprehensive, as we had never worked together. But after chatting for a few minutes about my work, I could see that he developed a trust that I would get it right.

I quickly photographed him on the beach, near some mangroves down near his house, and in his garden.  We also had time for a few shots of him and his lovely wife. The photo I loved most was taken on the beach where he stood with his ankles crossed. It reminded me of those music videos  or live concerts where he played and stood in a similar pose.   The picture turned into one of those memories from a time long passed that returns to the present.

Our last shot turned out to be the best.  The tropical foliage swirled around him in this beautiful  bokeh and he exuded this confidence that he developed spending nearly a life time on stage in front of thousands.   The WSJ chose that shot to illustrate the story.


During our shoot, Peter and I chatted about all sorts of things including the capriciousness of our businesses and how he’d have a tough time now recommending music as a full time career.  Digital has made the tough business of music tougher.  Photography isn’t any different.  It is tough to be a Peter Buck these days, and in some ways, it can be tough to be me.  He told me about his huge collection of African and gospel music on vinyl, talked about spending time living om Kauai, and eating Mexican food at Monico’s Taqueria in Kapa’a just down the road.  Peter did tell me it was nice to spend time on Kauai where people rarely recognized him.

Peter and his wife were really nice to be around. I never figured I’d have alone time with someone whose CD’s and albums were scratched to hell from being played, stolen, and lost behind the bookshelf.  I can’t say he meant as much to me as being around someone like The Edge or John Taylor but he’s definitely up there as rock stars go.  His signature guitar style defined R.E.M. through the 80’s and 90’s.  His legacy will last for a really long time.  I sadly didn’t have any R.E.M. paraphernalia for him to sign but it didn’t matter, as my photographs became my proof of his existence.  Our selfie didn’t hurt either.  On a funny note, I can’t remember if I had ever seen R.E.M. live.  I bothered my pal Diego about this and he claims I must have seen them in either Austin or San Antonio.  I really can’t remember but if he says so…then it must be true.

As I left his house and headed back to Lihue, I felt relieved our job went well.  There’s lots of pressure to produce a great portrait and without a budget for an assistant, its all up to me to make it happen.  I felt I had accomplished my goal in that short window of time but wouldn’t know till I edited the job.

I did leave some time for a quick bite at Monico’s on the way back to the airport but they were closed for the holiday!  They have some of the best Mexican food in Hawaii and I just could not understand why a restaurant with insanely good margaritas would be closed on New Years Eve.  Hence, I had no celebratory limey cocktail  to enjoy my elation of photographing a rock star.  As I sadly drove back to the airport on an empty stomach, the radio blasted ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine.)”  I took it as an omen and I texted Peter of my bad luck with Monico’s but of my rapture in hearing their classic song.  But T Mobile sucks in many parts of Kauai and I had no signal.  Yet it didn’t matter.  The R.E.M. song reaffirmed my success and I once again sang along, poorly but without booze, to their song as I soared back to LIH.



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.