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.


A dip in the Obama pool

A dip in the Obama pool

I won’t start ringing the bells just yet and start selling off the cameras but my professional writing career is taking off.  We should take my statements lightly as  I’m not sure if my authorship can cut the mustard, let alone pay the mortgage; however, we have liftoff.  With the first published article on Nimitz in the Star Advertiser to two major bylines worldwide with the Associated Press, I am off to a good start…a GREAT start and end to 2013.  I am soooo grateful to Associated Press news editor who happens to share my last name as he put his trust in me to report on the big news.  And that big news was following Obama and la famila around during their annual Xmas vacation in Oahu.  I also have to thank Audrey-san and cuz Jen as they might have been the ones who put my Nimitz article in front of hermano Garcia which convinced  him I was the right hombre for the job.   Señor Garcia (no relation at all) assigned me to cover POTUS and my reporting seemed to do very well and was sent ’round the world.

My assignment placed me inside the media circus that follows the President around.  Permanent staffers from all the major media are assigned to cover the President wherever and whenever he travels or just stay put.  The coverage, sometimes affectionately referred to as death watch, needs to ensure every minute of the President is accounted for.  It is one of the most taxing assignments any journalist is assigned as you have to be ready to capture that moment.  Sadly, you have to sacrifice your life as you live for POTUS.  Vigilance through the lens or the pen is crucial to this job as anything can happen at any point in time.  A slip in concentration could mean missing the assassin’s bullet or the angry Iraqi’s shoe.  No telling when that slip will occur or when the aliens comeback to reclaim their property.  The truth is you never know when you’ll have the Zapruder film or classic bloopers from the Bush years.

Sadly Obama strongly disregards the professional media and his administration would rather use social media than independent media to get his message out.  He routinely uses hand outs from his personal photographer and fiercely guards his image from the press yet; as he keeps back the pros, regular citizens and paparazzi get much better access.  The Obama Administration is one of the most unfriendly administration in history towards the media and clearly lacks the transparency he campaigned on.


My above video shows the view the media bus gets of Obama and it really never gets any better. Some might argue that the President owes the media nothing; however, the media is needed to ensure the government stays honest.  If you allow the government to police itself, there will be very few arrest.

Some of you might recall my so called paparazzi encounter with then Presidential candidate Barack Obama in August of 2008 when I parked myself on Kailua Beach waiting for the future POTUS to make an exit and walk down the shore.  For three straight days, Obama stayed away and I figured his security detail just kept him informed of my existence.  So I took a gamble and left the beach and snuck around to a different beach access point opposite his hoping he’d think I abandoned my assignment.  Sure enough, as I walked from the opposite direction, Senator Obama and his two kids left the house and strolled down the beach, hand in hand, with nary a though to where I stood.

Obama, Sasha, Malia,


I took some of the most intimate pictures of the Senator with his daughters which I feel defined him as a father and made him human.  So many times, candidates fake their photo ops and try to pretend they are just like us.  They roll up their flannel shirts and help wash dishes, serve food at a homeless shelter, eat at McDonalds like the rest of us.  I’ve NEVER believed these people really were who they are.  It was fake.  Always fake…Romney and Kerry with their millions, Bush with his dynasty.  Obama, on the other hand, was caught off guard, and it shows.  I caught him being human.

When the Senator actually realized he was being photographed, he got pissed.  He waved his sandals at me and yelled at me to leave.  Sorry, Senator, its a public beach and you’re a public figure.   Secret Service said nothing.  I stood next to them and showed everyone respect and dignity.  The future President might have been really upset but he signed up for the whole public image thing.  In my view, a politician is owned by the public.  We demand to see him.  His kids are off limits but whenever the parents are out and about, they are fair game.

As far as the writing assignment went, it was beyond boring.  It was a tedious exercise in hours of playing Candy Crush, being pestered and pestering others on the media bus, not to mention snacking on really bad vanilla creme cookies and other terribly unhealthy things Michelle surely wouldn’t approve.  Obama kept the media completely away, as in many ways, he should as his vacation is somewhat private but we are not there to paparazzi him but to ensure we cover his every move in the inevitable…well lets leave it at that.

I’m extremely thrilled to have more writing under my belt.  I’m aiming to continue to add more bylines and stories to my every growing career.

Not worthy for the wire…

Not worthy for the wire...

A day of shooting election primaries for a wire news agency isn’t loads of fun.  It usually consists of chasing the fake smiles of hopeful candidates and shooting their manicured smiles and prom queen waves.   You drive all around town to different locations where the politicians are doing their last minute sign waving trying to capture that one undecided voter passing by.

So last week’s coverage of the primaries gave me some of the better pictures I’ve taken in some time.  As I drove down Beretania St. on the way to see Ed Case waving down on the Pali Hwy, the traffic slowed down a bit as we neared the Capital.  Several police cars with flashing lights caused just enough rubbernecking to make traffic just that more irritating but I noticed something slightly out of place.

She’s naked!

So I weaved my way through the rubberneckers spinning around the Capital to rush up on the small group of Occupy Wall Streeters turn Honolulu and found a porty protestor, a cop, and a leggy blonde with plenty of tattoos and just enough tape to cover the naughty bits.  With these type of elements forming all around, its hard not to get a great photo.  Her sign of getting screwed bu the politicians works very well.

I had just enough time to capture them waving their signs and cops around them to capture a few pictures and move on. So I hopped back in the car and was driving past the protest when I noticed the large lady in the wheelchair rolling down the cross walk nearing the Occupiers.  I only had my 24-70mm lens at hand and the light was green so I had no other option but to shoot and just crop.  Little did I know I captured a great moment.

So I get back and transmit my take to NYC and sadly found the editors didn’t have the courage to move the “graphic content” or so they say.  They can run headless bodies, blood and guts, and whatnot but no boobs.  Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

A note on pictures…sometimes you can’t plan it.  It just happens.  Looking through past great photographs, it seems most photographers didn’t plan to be at that place at that moment.  Things just unraveled in front of them.  This New York Times piece has a POWERFUL image of a Tibetan protestor who set himself on fire protesting Ju Jintao’s visit to India this year.  Its a powerful moment that could have never been planned.  I can only imagine the photographer, Manish Swarup, never would have thought he have a shot like this.  There was no time to think about composure, f stops, what type of lens is on the camera, filters, iso, etc…nothing.  Absolutely no time to think as its just a reaction. And sometimes those reactions are things that happen out of no where.

My picture is not award winning  nor is it life changing for me and I shouldn’t event mention my name in the same breath as Manish Swarp, but its those moments that are unplanned and just happen.

Funny, AP ran the image of the self-immolation…but they didn’t run mine.