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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

Molokai: Where everybody knows your name

Sunset at Kepuhi Bay, Molokai
Sunset at Kepuhi Bay, on the west end of Molokai, Hawaii.

Over the years, Molokai has proven to be a difficult island for me to travel and document. I’ve had a few negative experiences including an angry haole transplants demanding I leave his island, to really bad weather, (and I mean really bad weather) to a near fatal ride on the back mule that nearly tumbled down the side of a mountain.  Molokai has been challenging to say the least in my photo history.  However, the charming island always embraces me and I always capture something fantastic, even though I still fear a confrontation from an angry non-natives.

I took an overnight trip to Molokai trip for The New York Times this past December to capture the island’s small time charm and natural wonders. The focus of writer Lynn Zinser’s story was a character named Waipa Purdy, whom I found almost instantly inside of Kanemitsu’s Bakery, a coffee shop with a Cheers-esque vibe where everybody knows your name…and also knows when you’re an outsider. Purdy, a long time resident with a local lineage stretching back many decades, quickly embraced me and introduced me to a colorful cast of residents, relatives, and a few visitors who had been in town long enough for him to meet.   Purdy quickly helped soothe out my position on the island as not just a visitor but also a friend. Small town residences tend to keep their guard up when cameras slinging strangers come stomping through town so it was great to get his blessing in front of what felt like the whole town gathered at the decades old bakery.

After taking many pictures in the small town of Kaunakakai, I headed out see the rest of the island. Although the island is relatively small, there are pockets of microclimates that turn the monochromatic Molokai into a vastly colorful environment. Having traversed the island in the past, I knew what to capture and where to go. But I found some great luck at Kepuhi Bay, on Molokai’s west side as I captured a wonderful sunset shot.

The west side’s usually yields a great images at sunset but having only a few days to capture a famous Molokai sunset, I worried I had chosen the right location. Sunsets always do seem “greener” on the other side but by the time I set up, I had no choice but to stay put and await the drop. As the descent began, I moved myself towards a rocky cliff that bordered the bay to the left and lined up the waves, rocks and sun into what turned into a cover shot for the story. I had been standing next to a group of locals who were also taking pictures and one of the guys turned to me and said I was really lucky, as everyone had recognized the surreal sunset we had just witnessed.

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Painfully Slow

Painfully Slow

“When I first arrived, I saw black smoke billowing not so far in the distance – the lava had struck a pile of car tires. When it burns, it’s quite amazing. It’s mesmerizing,” I was quoted saying during an interview with Reuters News Service on their photo blog.  Reuters sent me to cover the impeding doom facing Pahoa Village on the Big Island last week as lava from Kilauea Volcano threatens to split the rural town in two.  A recent lava flow has made its way down the volcano’s slope directly towards the middle of town.  Many residents are able to do nothing as lava stops for no one.

The blog continues with my story:   “Lava is unpredictable. It could go left or right, up or down. It will move 5 meters in an hour, then not move at all. And it usually moves slowly, like squeezing toothpaste down a hill – but it will get there eventually. Unlike a tsunami or an earthquake or even a hurricane, it’s a painfully slow death.”

And clearly residents are anxiously waiting for Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of the volcano, to cast her judgement on the land of Puna.

For hundreds of thousands of years, lava has erupted on the Big Island helping make the island the biggest of the Hawaiian chain.  The volcanoes have not been silence since they formed the Big Island.  Since 1983, lava has flowed from Kilauea and the USGS has reported Kilauea is responsible for creating more than 500 acres of new land.  “The Lava flows had also destroyed 214 structures, and resurfaced 14.3 km (8.9 mi) of highway, burying them with as much as 35 m (115 ft) of lava.”

Luckily for the town, the lava has currently stalled but the threat still remains and nothing can predict whether the lava will stop or continue.  But if Kilauea’s past is a sign of the future, the lava will not cease and will enviably destroy much of the town of Pahoa along with everything else in the flow’s path.

Lava spouts from a hot spot as the lava flow from Mt. Kilauea inches closer to the village of Pahoa, Hawaii

While on assignment, Reuters was granted permission to fly over the flow so we hired a helicopter to get a better view of the flow’s destruction. Luka, who works for Hawaii Volcanoes Helicopter Tours, piloted the tiny little chopper and ferried me over the lava’s path. Very little compares to lifting off in a helicopter, especially one with no doors.  Luka’s chopper was the size of a Prius and as we left the ground, it seemed we stood still and everything fell below us.

The lava flow path from Mt. Kilauea inches closer to the village of Pahoa, Hawaii

Luka took me over the town and up the trail to the Pu’u O’o vent where the lava is oozing slowly down the mountain.  The aerial photos were noticed by Reuters’s London office and Karolina Tagaris called me and had a quick chat with me about my experiences with this natural disaster. You can see the blog here as well as a write up by the BBC’s News in Pictures site as well.  The interview became roughly my story without much of her input.

I continued, “I asked the pilot to follow the path of the lava back to the crater and it was quite amazing to watch the lava flow. There’s a lot of steam and smoke and you can see some lava being created inside the crater, which looks like a bubbling cauldron. It’s so primitive it’s almost as if the world is being created – I found myself looking for dinosaurs!”

There’s nothing that really compares to seeing lava on the Big Island. I’ve tried my best to document what’s going on with the volcano over the years I’ve lived in Hawaii. I’m not a lava photographer as I don’t care to hike out miles in the middle of the night to see nature at it’s best but there are times like this when I have access to fly over it…nothing can really match it.

Smoke rises from the lava flow from Mt. Kilauea as it inches closer to the village of Pahoa, Hawaii