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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Walk all over me!

Walk all over me!

A few weeks ago, an email appeared in my inbox with the opening lines…

“Hello Marco,

I came across your website whilst I was looking for images of the sea.”

Ah…how much more romantic could that be?  …looking for images of the sea. I started to hum an old Cure song and was whist away to years gone by where the sand and sea were more than a sunburn.  Not that killing arabs would be much fun but it was the lyrics that took me back to my youth.  All from a woman asking me if I had images of the sea.

Being my usual suspicious self, I came close to ignoring the email as I hate doing free stock research but her request was too specific.  They were looking for shots of the ocean so they could use as a composite for a larger project they were working on.

Michelle from Printed Space Ltd, a company based in England, further explained they wanted blue water ocean shots as they were designing an ocean- theme print to be placed on a floor of a private home somewhere in Great Brittan.  How intriguing.  To hear the pitter-patter of a young lad on my silent image of the ocean.  To see a dirty soccer jersey (ooops football kit) in one corner and a PS3 in the other, oh the dream.

Michelle and her design team had most of the other elements which make up the ocean but didn’t have, I would say, the sandwich to hold all the stuff inside.  The comp they sent seems to show my ocean shot holding the sharks, reef, and snorkelers all together.  Its a very impressive design and I’m excited to have contributed my work to the design.  Now only to put my feet down on the actual floor plan…now that’s the challenge.

To be honest, I’d never would have thought to have a floor plan as such.  I could only imagine stumbling home one evening only to find myself drowning in something other than my own sorrow.  I clearly would never wake up or if I did, might I have the need to rename myself Jonah?

The image they liked was from my helicopter series over the Big island a few months ago.

My image was a complete outtake…but you never know when one’s outtake is someone else spot on image. No?

“Hey kid!  Wipe your dirty feet!”