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.

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.




The Nimitz Byway

The Nimitz Byway

My first professional written article was published in the Star Advertiser Sunday, Nov. 24th.  On a trip to Texas last year, it dawned on me how Hawaii and Fredericksburg, Texas, a small town just west of Austin, north of San Antonio, are directly connected by a man who helped win the Pacific War against the Japanese.  So I wrote a travel piece on visiting this small town in Texas and the significance of one of the town’s greatest sons has in the history of Hawaii.

Chester Nimitz was born to a German pioneer’s family who help settled parts of Texas.  Nimitz rose to be the US Navy Admiral in charge of the Pacific Fleet after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  His role in the defeat of the Japanese is slightly overshadowed by the US Army’s Gen. Douglas MacArthur; but in Hawaii, Nimitz’s legacy is not forgotten.  Nimitz’s name lends itself to one of Oahu’s most important thoroughfares, Nimitz Highway, along with a nearby elementary school several businesses including a yoga studio and a BBQ joint, although those might be named for their proximity to the road, not the Admiral.  At the end of the war, upon returning to Hawaii, he was given a hero’s welcome and led a parade from the battlegrounds of Pearl Harbor to the Kingdom of Hawaii’s historic Iolani Palace.  The Admiral was named “Alii aimoku,” or supreme chief, by all the Hawaiian Orders in Hawaii – a rare feat for a haole from Fredericksburg, TX.  A war museum was established in his family’s old Fredricksburg hotel and the collection of WWII artifacts rivals Pearl Harbor’s historic museum.  The Nimitz Museum actually has the Japanese midget submarine that washed ashore on the beaches of Oahu after the  Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  Quite a collection, indeed!

Please take a moment to read my first travel piece written as a professional “writer.”  I’ve never thought of myself as a writer yet I’ve written most of my adult life.  Here’s my first chance to prove I can.





Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times


The Los Angeles Times hired me a few weeks ago to spend some time with Hawaii ukulele legend Eddie Kamae as they were to feature him for an upcoming travel piece to Honolulu.  As far as Hawaiian legends go, Eddie is on top of the list.  He might not be as famous as Don Ho, Bruddah Iz or for that matter Elvis when it comes to that distinct Hawaiian sound, but Eddie, along with band mate Gabby Pahinui, introduced traditional Hawaiian music to the world via the post war tourists flooding the Hawaiian Isles.  At the time, traditional Hawaiian music wasn’t played in the tourist districts as most local musicians catered to mainland musical tastes.  But once their band The Sons of Hawaii took off, the music found commercial footing which opened the door for Hawaiian music to be heard world wide.

The duality of my job had me creating a portrait of Eddie and then turning around to document Eddie’s Honolulu and the places that helped create the Hawaiian legend.  Development and time has erased some of the old town but lots remain such as the Hau Tree Lanai bar at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel where he once played under the massive, century old tree in the 1970’s.  Kamaka Ukulele, which made a few of his ‘ukes, still cranks out hand made and custom instruments since 1916, and time seems to have stood still in some areas of Chinatown, Eddie’s childhood stomping grown where he hustled newspapers and fish he caught in Nuuanu Stream.

Making of portrait of him proved to be the most difficult because Eddie isn’t well known to follow directions.  He’s a legend.  You don’t make him do much of anything as he’ll do what he wants when he wants.  But with the prodding of his wife Myrna and their assistant, I got Eddie to the water’s edge at Waikiki Beach at sunset and made a magical shot of Eddie playing a few old standards on his “box.”  I knew I had a few minutes to get this done before his mid 80’s patience would wear and I’d have to plan another time to get him in front of my camera.

After our quick photo shoot, we retired to one of his daily spots at the Hilton Hawaiian Village to enjoy a few Kona brews, some pupus and listen to the young musicians play music for the tourists.  During our shoot, we had tourist coming around and listening to Eddie play.  No one really knew who he was but people knew he was important.  Eddie could still command a crowd as he crooned away.  A young Japanese girl stood and watched from the beach and probably would never remember she saw a famous ukulele player on her first trip to Hawaii.  Eddie doesn’t often play live any more so we got a rare and intimate concert.

Photographically speaking, I must point out a few tricks of the trade that I’ve gotten notice on.  Negative space is positive.  Shoot loose a photo editor once told me long ago and I took it to heart.  If you shoot too close, you don’t give an editor or a page layout person space to work with.  I knew to shoot Eddie with lots of space around him, especially head space on my verticals as there was a good chance it would be an opener.  I thought about text and headline space and and my in-camera framing worked.  Sometimes this approached is ignored as many photographers crop for themselves, not for the end product.  You can always crop or shoot tight on your own frames but once you take away negative space, you image can quickly turn negative.

Below are the pdf files from the times.  I have my opening shot on top mostly because the pdfs are so washed out.  The editor assured me the images were wonderful in the newspaper and on line.

I hear that train a commin’…its rollin’ ’round the bend

I hear that train a commin'...its rollin' 'round the bend

This past September, Hyphen Magazine, an Asian-American publication out of California, called me out of the blue and asked me to do a portrait of an ex con who was on Oahu.  The story focused on Native Hawaiians who were incarcerated and sent off-Island to serve their sentences due to State budget matters.  The ex con was one of the first Native Hawaiians to be shipped off in the late 1970s.  After finding out how much they actually wanted to pay, I turned them down stating it was way too much work for what they expected.  The photo editor, Damien Maloney, who believed I would be the best candidate to capture this unique portrait, then told me the story of Delbert Wakinekona and I was sold.

Its not everyday you get to spend time with a man who broke out of Folsom Prison, the jail made famous by the man in black, Johnny Cash.

According to a legal record found on the web, in 1970, Wakinekona and a partner entered a local store to buy sashimi when the outing turned deadly as the shop owners were robbed and beaten with one later dying of his injuries.   Wakinekona and his partner were “indicted for the crimes of first degree murder, first degree robbery (two counts) and aggravated assault.”  Although he claims he was not part of the attempted robbery and/or the beating was unintentional, Wakinekona was given a life sentence for the murder.  Wakinekona felt he was framed by the others testimony and  flawed court system worked against him.  He tried unsuccessfully to fight his conviction but lost.

After serving time in jail, and if I’m not mistaken, breaking out of the Halawa Correctional Center, Wakinekona was found to be a troublemaker and was sent off-Island to the mainland to serve the rest of his sentence.  Wakinekona was part of the first wave of Hawaiian shipped off to the mainland thus breaking his family and cultural ties to Hawaii.  He sued to remain in Hawaii, even having his case argued in the US Supreme Court, but eventually lost his case.

And I ain’t seen the sunshine,
Since, I don’t know when

So as I drove out to Waianae to meet Delbert Wakinekona and Lilian Harwood, his new wife who helped him get out of prison on a compassionate release due to Delbert’s declining health, I filled with dread and anticipation of dealing with a man who might be maladjusted to the outside world.  But the few hours I spent with ex-con Delbert had me understand not just what life is like inside prison but understood was prison does to a man.  I make no excuses for the crimes Delbert supposedly committed.  He was no angel.  However time does change people and injustice can make a person very bitter.

Delbert, who looks give him the appearance of a weathered Santa Claus, greeted me with a smile but his demeanor made me realize he was a tiger.  He looked through me, intimidated me, and outplayed me instantly.  I immediately knew I was dealing with someone who understood the nature of man and survival.  Delbert lived within a silent world where life and death were separated by a glance, a sudden mood change, a split decision.  There was no trust, no basis of friendship or loyalty in his mannerism.  He was dangerous.  But dangerous as a means of survival.

We began to chat, talk and getting to know each other.  I felt every move I made was watched and anticipated.  Like a wild dog, any movements towards him might have resulted in a snap, growl or worse.  I could sense he struggled with PTSD as he had been in jail for most of his life.  The outside world was different.  He had no constraints yet knew no other way.

I’m stuck in Folsom Prison,
And time keeps draggin’ on,

We talked about his case.  He asked about my ethnicity.  I told him I was Hispanic and he relished time time spent with Mexican Americans in Folsom Prison.  He told me once he was shipped off Hawaii, he entered a world in the late 70’s early 80’s where Hawaiians were only known through Elvis and aloha shirts.  Hawaiians were virtually unknown on the mainland and invisible in prisons.  He was neither white or black so the only people he could visually associate with were the Hispanics.  In his first encounter with Hispanics in jail, they began to talk Spanish which he couldn’t understand.  The Mexicans, finding his disrespect intriguing, demanded to know who or what he was.  He told them he was Hawaiian and quickly the Hispanics found humor in calling him a pina, or pineapple in Spanish.  According to Delbert, this slight was more sexual in nature and he quickly had to establish he was no “fruit” and quickly gained the respect of the Hispanics for his bold stance.  Delbert was then referred to as Hawaiiano which he claims with pride.

He talked about his case, his life, his breakout of several jails including Folsom, and life being outside.  He talked about some of the more infamous inmates he knew at Folsom including Charles Manson and others.  He talked of legal battles with prison wardens, judges, and prison itself.  He talked of life on the lam and shining the light on Native Hawaiian struggle as they are sent off Island.  He mentioned the correspondence from other infamous prisoners he met along the way.  Delbert was a walking history book of American crime figures and prisons.

But that train keeps a-rollin’,
On down to San Antone

As I finally felt he trusted me enough to pose, we went down to the beach near Yokohama Bay at sunset and I was able to snap some haunting images of this man who some might feel he still belongs in prison for the crimes he committed.  It wasn’t hard to have him give me that prison stare as it seemed natural to him.  I never posed him pretentiously or expected him to show me some deep emotion.  I wanted to capture him like the man I saw in front of me.

Delbert Wakinekona

At first he work a dark blue t-shirt with  some type of fishing logo and I really wanted it to come off.  I quickly realized his body was covered in “jail-house tats” and Delbert was more than willing to show me his history told on the folds of his now old skin.  He had the names of his children, Hawaiian folklore icons, dragons, roses, and a half goat man hugging a naked woman.  His crude tattoos told a story that no hipster skin could ever begin to tell.  These were the stories of a man whose life turn a turn for the worst on a faraway night back in 1970.

Across his now flabby belly were the words “Hawaii No Ka Oi’,” or simply, “Hawaii…the best.”

Aside from the convicted murderer who stood in front of my lens, I found Delbert to be a tiger, but an older tiger who still had his teeth but losing his bite.  He was granted a compassionate release from jail as he is currently suffering from advanced liver cancer.  Whether a man like this deserves to be out of prison is up to debate but with cancer quickly advancing, he might not be around long enough to fight that battle.

At the end, Delbert was grateful for the attention and kindness I gave him and gave me a bear hug that clearly wasn’t toothless.  It was kind and tender but quickly felt the power of man who survived prison life.  I learned I wasn’t meant for prison but a young Delbert probably thought the same thing.  We all have tigers inside of us, its just odd we have to be incarcerated to find it.

When I hear that whistle blowin’,
I hang my head and cry.