What a week. The Maui Photo Festival just wrapped up. I spoke or taught at five sessions and the rest of the time, I got the pleasure of sitting in on other presentations from some of the best in the business or getting opportunities to photograph subjects outside my usual area of expertise.
It was a great week. The organizers of the event are some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. The hotel (Hyatt Regency Maui Resort And Spa) staff went out of its way to make me welcome as well as to give us great venues for the festival.
Local politicians greeted us with proclamations and the entire island appeared to be aware of the festival. In other words, this is a photo workshop that all of Maui made a big deal out of.
The facilities were stupendous. We had an outdoor evening presentation each night beachside in a beautiful garden area with a 60 foot screen. It was great seeing my images so big!
The morning and evening shooting sessions gave us the chance to shoot native hula dancers, canoe paddlers and more. All were in the sweet light of sunrise or sunset on the beaches of Maui.
18 local high school students received scholarships to attend the festival. What an honor for these kids. Not many people their age could have come up with the $695 gate fee so winning was their only option. Watching them soak it all in and getting the opportunity to teach a few of them made the whole trip worthwhile and would have even if I didn’t make a photograph while here.
I also got a very rare treat: a doors-off helicopter ride over West Maui with chances to shoot everything from clouds to mountains to wind surfers and wind farms.
I was able to photograph more here than I do at a usual workshop because of a combination of the location, the fact that I wasn’t responsible for organizing, just teaching and the welcoming people of Maui.
But what amazed me was the dedication to tradition, ceremony, decorum, passion, and the Aloha Spirit. Now please understand, the Aloha Spirit isn’t a marketing slogan. It’s a way of life. It’s in fact, the law of Hawaii. While nobody goes to jail for breaking this law, it’s clear that the folks here – both natives and those who have moved here as converts, practice it.
Stick with me because there is a photo lesson coming – I promise.
What makes up the Aloha Spirit?
* Akahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
* Lkahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
* `Olu`olu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
* Ha`aha`a, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
* Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
* is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation.
* means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return.
* is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.
* means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.
I saw this manifested in so many ways this week I lost count. Sometimes it was simple. Here are just a very few:
* A woman at the buffet putting her hand on top of mine when she welcomed me.
* Knowing that everything here is done for a reason.
* Watching a torch lighting ceremony – just the fact that there IS a ceremony is cool. Too many times we just do the mundane without regard for its specialness. In Hawaii, you don’t just light the torches at night – you have a torch-lighting ceremony.
* Hula dancers who celebrate the true spiritual dance make their costumes – real grass skirts – they don’t just buy them at Costco!
I was honored to photograph some young girls from a serious halau hula (hula school). They spent all day weaving the grasses and leaves that made up their costumes so that we could see how it’s really done. I was astonished at the dedication and care these young girls exercised. I don’t meet many teenagers who are this focused, dedicated and respectful.
Hula dancing is a complex art form, and there are many hand motions used to signify aspects of nature. It’s beautiful, awe-inspiring and I could watch it for hours without getting tired of it.
So here comes the photography lesson. Re-read this post and when I am talking about things like the Aloha Spirit or hula, substitute the word photography.
What if we were to approach photography with completely open hearts? With nothing but the best of intentions? With a desire to be in harmony with our subjects and the goal of merely expressing perfect beauty? What if we took the time to learn our craft so well that we approached it with the same care and concern that the young hula dancers I worked with did their hula costumes? What if we could photograph our subjects with patience, to be expressed with perseverance?
The possibilities are endless.
I have wonderful memories of this trip and I hope that the few images I post here and on Flickr will inspire you to visit this place, it’s people and its values. I also hope that the Aloha Spirit will infect your photography as well as my own.
mahalo nui loa