Mooo! Milk on Kauai

Mooo! Milk on Kauai

Last April, the New York Times had me document a controversial issue on Kauai.  eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s proposal to create a small dairy farm near Poipu, Kauai has made many sour in the nearby community.  I traveled to area to photograph the area, meet supporters and photographing opponents. I also got to fly in a helicopter over the land where the proposed dairy would sit.

Kauai has a history of fighting development fearing their already shrinking tropical paradise will disappear.  While many locals welcome jobs and the opportunities development brings, many newer arrivals to the Island fight tooth and nail to protect their newly purchased slice of heaven.

The controversy over the dairy stems from opponents fearing environmental damage from pollution and the environmental impact on tourist in the region.  Along with many other resorts and hotels, the Grand Hyatt sits not far from the farm area in Poipu and they fear smells and other issues will affect their high paying guests.

The Ulupono Initiative, Omidyar’s local investment firm, strives to create a more self-reliant Hawaii and a local dairy farm would likely bring Kauai’s infamously high milk prices down.  However, opponents argue the gains do not outweigh the losses.

Past industrial farming has wreaked havoc on Hawaii as plantations once diverted streams to their sugar cane and pineapple fields and waste has polluted once fertile land.  While many initiatives and technologies has improved farming overall, fears still exist over new farming projects.  A recent dairy farm on the Big Island was accused of illegally discharging animal waste polluting local water sources and this didn’t help Ulupono’s case for a new farm on Kauai.

While Ulupono are making great technological strides to protect the land and limit pollution, its not enough for some residents and lawsuits have been filed to stop the dairy from getting started.

While I was there, I met with a few of opponents who took me to Maha’ulepu Beach claiming the dairy’s waste would damage the pristine area.  Its the same beach I photographed from the helicopter that ran big on the front page of the business section.

front page of the business section August 14, 2017
front page of the business section August 14, 2017

At the mouth of the stream that feeds into the ocean, I clearly could smell something foul in the run off.  They said it was raw sewage flowing down from the above farm areas and little was being done to control the pollution.  Warning signs were posted around the stream stating to keep out of the water.

While the bad smells at the stream startled me, Hawaii’s future must create more sustainability.  We must be more independent and depend less on the monopolies that control the shipping of goods to and from the Islands.  The dairy farm is taking great strides to protect the environment and to keep the land in farming hands means it has less chance to be turned into homes by developers.

I believe Hawaii’s future is to be self reliant but at what costs?  If we allow a few to control the future of Hawaii because they fear bad smells, we will continue to be at the mercy of outsiders.  But we must ensure a new farm won’t pollute the environment.  While fresh milk won’t lower the cost of gasoline or other goods, it is a good start for a brighter future.  But we can’t allow sustainability to turn into sour milk.

The NYT article can be found here.

Live by the club, die by the iron.

Live by the club, die by the iron.

2014 started with a bang, rather a swish of a golf club.  Hawaii is golf central in January.  Everyone from Barack to Vijay come to the Islands to hit our beautiful links.  My first two weeks of the year are filled with the smell of grass, the pain of walking 18 holes plus an additional 18 holes, and the sound of…well…nothing as pro golfers are too sensitive to the sound of the camera shutter or the sound of anything else.  An NBA player or Premiere League footballer can be screamed at during a free throw/kick…but a golfer?  Well, silence is the only way to oppose this noble and elite sport.

Kapalua

My week spent at the Kapalua course for the Tour of Champions in Maui was hell.  The hilly greens could easily be a ski resort and hiking is the only way to really describe covering the action on this course.  The outstanding views of Molokai are touchable from many of the holes and all considering the current weather pattern on the mainland (Jan 2014) there is no better place to be…just don’t ask my knees, thighs or calves the next day.  What a pain!  Hoisting 400mm f2.8 up hill is no fun.

My next assignment is the relatively flat Waialae Country Club course for the Sony Open staring Wednesday.  Its warmer, not as scenic but there are no hills.  However, there are many more golfers to cover and be sensitive about ensuring an errant camera shutter disrupt their concentration.

Mr. Obama, above, started my year on the first at Mid Pacific Country Club.  The club is one of the few Mr. Obama can play at where the public can actually catch a glimpse of him.  Most of the courses he now plays in Hawaii are secluded and difficult to get to but Mid Pac’s 18th hole sits on a public street across from a popular hiking trail.  Obama, hat askew, hit off the fairway onto the green and made a long putt that would make any golfer proud.  All considering he’s played about 12 rounds of golf during his 15 day Hawaiian vacation, he should be able to make all his putts!

 

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.

 

Ikebana

Ikebana

I’ve been wanting to put this cover up since the beginning of November but life has gotten in the way.  Not the good life mind you but life.  It can really just come out of nowhere and really put you on a different path.

But back to the cover…

I don’t like to sing too many praises to myself at times but I must admit I am very impressed with my ikebana, or Japanese flower arrangement,  photo appearing on the cover of Halekulani Living, the resort’s in-house magazine.  One of the editors I work with seems to never give me the easy jobs.  She never hires me to snap photos of bikini girls or beautiful celebrities as she’s always throwing the hardest and most difficult subjects on my plate.  The jobs are usually obscure, never obvious or easy to capture.  Either she wants me to fail or she knows I can pull something out of nothing, as they say, and come up with something bordering on the fantastic.

If you could only imagine how this picture was taken and the little photoshop it took to make it sparkle, you’d be surprised.  Well, more than surprised.  I won’t say much more other than “damn, that’s a good shot!”