A vacation to Alaska seemed the perfect opportunity to buy a cheap camera—a step up from my iPhone—and record the visit to a land so different from my own. Exploring and seeing through the lens was an experience. But there was one image I caught in Homer, that made me feel the chill of Alaska all the way back home in Hawaiʻi. It took me back to that time and place. The feeling and emotion I felt from the image inspired me to capture more—to convey feelings and emotions through what I see in my lens. And I went gangbusters from there. My hobby became a vessel for communicating my respect and love for this land.
Self-taught in photography, I feel driven to get better at whatever I feel I am not good at. It was the same way when I started carving. It’s a continual process of growing and refining. Each piece marks all of my failures before it—both in my carving and in my photography. It’s a quest for mastery. Each piece gets me closer to where I want to be, but I don’t feel I’m there yet. As my dad always said, “Son, if you love what you’re doing, but you keep failing, don’t stop trying because one day it will come out right!”
When asked what differentiates me as a photographer, I feel it’s that, and the fact that I’m Native Hawaiian. My connection to the land is deep. I see it differently. When I go out, camera in hand, ready to capture moments in time, I see my ancestors before me. I see the beauty they saw—and that’s what I work to capture. To tell their story, but also, it’s my story. They didn’t have the technology we have, so they composed legends, songs, and created hulas to document it. They walked over the same landscape that I do. And while I don’t speak Hawaiian, my images are my way of speaking. With the camera, I am able to tell a story—create my hula.
Sometimes I don’t even take a photo—the moment is too beautiful to try to capture, and just needs be experienced and enjoyed.
Near and far
The reason I started photography was to get a break from carving. I began carving Hawaiian fishhooks more than 15 years ago, and really wanted to master the lashing and cordage. I am now a kumu (teacher). But carving and cordage is something that takes intense focus—spending eight hours working closely in front of me, and it’s so nice to get out and see the broader world through the lens. Both carving and photography help me see. And photography has turned into a passion—much like my carving. I think if you’re passionate about something it will come to the surface and show. I’m very picky about the quality of my carvings, and its the same with my photography—it has to be the best it can be.
While I’ve hunted and fished all my life, I never really appreciated our surroundings until I saw it through the lens of my camera. I guess I’d never had the time to. But now is the time to record and share it—to let more people see what I’ve been seeing all my life.
Each image I capture speaks to me on some level. Through them I convey the same love and respect as my ancestors did for this beautiful land. I hope it can be felt in my work and awaken it in you. I love to make people smile and light up through shared appreciation of the beauty of Hawaiʻi.