Thursday, April 29, 2010

Practice Aloha


The word rolls easily off the tongue and conjures up mental images of exotic islands floating amidst azure seas, brown skinned beauties adorned in sheer grass skirts and tropical blossoms - their arms beckoning sensually in the graceful movements of the hula. It brings to mind the sounds of gentle waves, of steel-guitars & ukuleles. Yes... aloha is all of this and yet so much more...

Aloha is also a way of life, a way of dealing with others whether they be close friends or complete strangers. And, while this way of life, this practice may not be entirely unique to Hawaii, I can think of no other place on this planet where it is more in practice than in these islands.

In my years on these rocks, I have met many wonderful practitioners of the art of Aloha. At the top of that list, I would have to place Mark Ellman, the hard working Chef, Restauranteur and all around nice guy. Mark arrived here just a few years after I did and quickly established himself with the long gone and sorely missed Avalon Restaurant in Lahaina. Mark was one of the original thirteen chefs in Hawaii at the forefront of the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine movement back in the late '80's & early '90's, a tend in dining that refuses to die and remains popular throughout to this day. Mark, never at rest, has gone on to found the chain of Maui-Mex taquerias  known as Maui Tacos with outlets found all over the mainland, a homestyle itallian pasta joint called Penne Pasta and now, two other excellent eateries operating under the name Mala Ocean Tavern.  Mark is also the guy I call the "patron saint" of food photographers in these islands. He was the first the demand high-quality food imagery to promote his restaurants back when there were no photographers specializing in food still-life. My early mentor rose to the challenge and learned how to produce those sumptuous photographs of food and as his assistants at the time, I followed in his wake. 

Never one to sit still, Mark has again thrown his hat into the publishing ring. After penning a couple of successful cookbooks, Mark has undertaken the monumental task of compiling a soon to be released new book to be titled Practicing Aloha where he compiles personal anecdotes from island notables across the state, sharing their experiences & their definitions of what practicing Aloha means to them. 

In preparation for publishing this book, Mark has assembled a crack team of writers, editors and contributors. I have been blessed with the opportunity to contribute as de facto photo editor on the project, as a contributing photographer and now, as a writer. Yesterday, I was asked to contribute a short blurb about my experiences with Aloha for inclusion. In today's blog entry, I thought I would share with readers the text of my submission... with thanks to co-writer & editor Barbara Santos for the clean editing. Read on...

Isles Of Smiles
Tony Novak-Clifford

Maybe it is because I am a photographer, but one of the first things I notice when visiting a place for the first time is whether or not the people I meet are smiling. That is the thing that stands out most in my mind about my first encounter with the Island of Maui, an island where I have been privileged enough to have remained a guest for almost thirty years now.
People smile here. OK, people may smile everywhere, from time to time. At least their lips curl up on each end. People in the islands, however, seem to have this perpetual grin that is ear-to-ear big, teeth-flashing big, deep from every fiber of their being big. It’s as contagious as it is disarming, I’ll have you know.
I admit that I didn’t quite know what to make of it at first. It threw me off. Here I was fresh off the boat from the east coast, a place where people you pass on the street seem as grey & stern as the weather three-quarters of the year. To suddenly arrive on the shores of a tropical island with mountains sharp, angular, and green; surrounded by water the color of precious gemstones; and breezes scented with plumeria was already an amazing transition for an uninitiated new arrival like myself. It all seemed so exotic & completely foreign to me.
And then there were these PEOPLE… these amazing people. They were big and beautiful; they were brown & golden; and they were smiling!  Well, not so much a smile as it was a giant opening in the face, roughly where the mouth should be, curled in an upward direction on each end. A smile like that can swallow you whole and then spit you out again a new man (or woman, as the case may be). And that’s exactly what happened to me.
The first time one of those big brown faces reached out and took my small, pale hand into their giant brown hands, clamping ever so gently, so warmly, in a gesture of welcome, the giant, tooth-filled grin spreading from ear to ear, I was immediately besotted… a complete goner.
The weather, the scenery, the sensual surrounding sea… these things alone were enough to make me linger in these islands for a while. It has been the people that have made me want to stay here forever.
After arriving in the islands, I had to look for things like a job, a place to live, a bed, a bicycle or car.  I remember back in those early days, going from shop to shop on Front Street in Lahaina, looking for work, inquiring about rentals and some of the other creature comforts one is forced to leave behind when flying to an island on the other side of the world. I remember some of those shopkeepers; some of them remain friends to this day.  If they didn’t have a job available or one of the other things I may have inquired about, they would stop whatever it was they were doing and pick up a telephone to call an auntie, a cousin, or a friend. Speaking into the receiver in that exotic, sing-song dialect we call pidgin, they would ask the person on the other end: “I get one malahini haole boy heah, you get one bed you like sell?” Or maybe it was a bicycle… or maybe an ohana cottage for rent. What I remember most is that they took the time, expended extra effort without giving it a second thought, to extend kindness to a stranger. That kindness always came bundled with one of those enormous smiles.
You can call that—aloha. No other word, in my mind, comes close to encompassing the feeling one gets from just hearing the word. Certainly no other term sounds as magical and musical. Aloha.
Several notable Hawaiian authorities have lent their knowledge on the subject of aloha to this book. I am neither Hawaiian nor a scholar. I am only an observer and a guest. When I first washed ashore, I was armed with only a very basic knowledge of Hawaii, it’s people, practices, and culture (and most of that garnered from the Michener novel). It was the feeling of immediate, almost unconditional, acceptance of those that I encountered and continue to encounter that were my first experiences with what I will call aloha. Their sharing of backyard fruit or fish or game, their invitations to join them under dusty carports to strum along to impromptu chang-a-lang music sessions and the ubiquitous passing of cold beer and fresh poke… in my experience these are not everyday occurrences in most places. And then there were those smiles… always those smiles.
Though the scholars may disagree on certain points, these are the things that have come to define aloha for me. Aloha is a spoken embrace and a bestowing of love. It is a sense of warmth and an acknowledgement of family that reaches beyond bloodlines. It comes, always, wrapped in one of those heroic smiles.I

Even more than this, Aloha is a practice… or maybe it’s a mindset. 

You can find out more about the Practice Aloha project here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Update to Social Media & Photographers

As an update to yesterday's post regarding the benefits & perils of social media and intellectual property rights, I find the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) has published a guide for photographers using these services. You can find ASMP's Best Practice Recommendations For Social Networking Sites here.

From the ASMP site:

  • In response to member requests, ASMP commissioned attorney Chris Reese to undertake a review of the Terms of Service (TOS) of six social media sites and to prepare findings and recommendations. The sites included in his assessment are Facebook, Photobucket, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter. This report presents recommended best practices, considerations, common terms used, and hypothetical situations photographers may face when images are posted on social networking sites.

    Take a few moments to read the article. You'll be glad you did.

    Thanks again to Leslie at the Burns Auto Parts Blog for the find.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Social Media & Photographers

It's virtually a given that you are making use of some form of social media to keep in contact with clients, colleagues, friends & family. And why not? It's fun, it's easy and allows information, promotions, or simple idle banter to instantly be broadcast to all of your contacts and in turn, their contacts, with little more effort involved than a simple keystroke. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace... these are the new meeting places in cyberspace. Besides the sheer entertainment value, there is also economic & professional value in having the ability to instantly cast a wide net of communications. There is also peril for those of us that use these services to distribute images & other forms of intellectual property. Read on...

Today, at Rob Haggart's APE blog, there appears a story about Haitian Photographer Daniel Morel. Morel was in Port Au Prince when the big earthquake hit. Morel, being on the ground when disaster struck, was able to capture some of the first photographs of the ensuing devastation. Given that most forms of traditional communications in Haiti were interrupted by the quake's damage, distributing these early earthquake photos must have been very difficult indeed. As a result, Morel opted to use Twitter to get his images out to the world.

According the APE, APF (Agence France Presse) found Morel's images thru another Twitter user who had allegedly hacked into Morel's account and stolen them. APF downloaded Morel's images and then distributed them, crediting the alleged hacker, rather that Morel, the real author of the work. Those images appeared in newspapers (and we can assume other news media) worldwide.

A simple case of infringement, cut & dry, you say? Well hold on there... nothing could be further from the truth... or at least the truth according to AFP. Morel did go after AFP for infringement. He went after Getty Images too as apparently Getty also played a hand in distributing the work.

AFP is now, in turn, suing Daniel for "antagonistic assertion of rights". You can read the details of the AFP complaint at Dan Kennedy's blog, Media Nation.

The crux of AFP's complaint points to the TOS for Twitter users. What's a TOS, you ask? TOS stands for Terms of Service. All social media sites... in fact almost all interactive website have them... blog hosting sites, FaceBook, Twitter, web hosting services. Some sites have TOS more disturbing than others. In this specific case involving a user of a Twitter Account, the TOS claims that anything uploaded using the service grants Twitter a "non-exclusive license" to use all uploaded content, including copyrighted photographs.

Here's an excerpt from Twitter's TOS:

  • By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

Even worse, the TOS goes on to state:
  • You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.
  • Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services.

The bad news, at least for photographer Daniel Morel, is that even his attorney states that Mr. Morel had no prior experience using Twitter and, in fact, did not read the Terms of Service.

Do you read the TOS at sites and networking media distribution services that you use? Don't you think it's time you did? I can't speak for Twitter or for MySpace as I am not a user of either of these services. My primary networking services involve use of Google's Blogger & FaceBook. Both of these services claim less intrusion into intellectual property rights of creators according to their respective Terms of Service, even claiming to uphold copyright for creators. What neither of these services tell you, however, is that when uploading photographs to either of these services, all metadata where you SHOULD be inserting your name as author, your contact & copyright information not only to simply protect yourself from unauthorized use or distribution, but to also simply identify yourself as author & creator of the image, is immediately stripped away from the uploaded image file when uploading the either of these services.

Networking & social media sites are not the only ones at fault these days for attempting to make covert right's grabs. Far too many photography contests also hide language within their Terms of Entry,  grabbing distribution and use rights from unsuspecting contest entrants.

The lesson to take away from Mr. Morel's mistakes? If you are an author of any form of intellectual property... written word, recorded music, video, film, photography, etc., first & foremost it is IMPERATIVE that you take the time to read the Tems of Service before using any of these services or entering any contest. The rights bestowed to you automatically as creator are in peril if you opt out of doing so. As image makers, I feel strongly that we should take it one step further (and readers of this blog or contacts via FaceBook will note that I take this step almost religiously with most of the imagery I upload & post) and embed watermarks with name, year of creation and the copyright symbol © to the front of all images we upload and post at any of these services. Not only does this offer a bit more protection from unauthorized use (watermarks CAN be removed if you've got the time and patience), but it also identifies us as authors & creators, making us a little easier to find & contact in the cases when legitimate art buyers like what they see and wish to contact us.

Monday, April 19, 2010

More CD Packaging

More CD packaging bearing my work dropped to the public last week. Phil & Angela Benoit, formerly Benoit Jazz Works, just released third CD hit the shelves last week after an impressive concert with Phil's brother, David Benoit on piano, at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Here's the cover (top image) and a composite that appears on the inside of the package (bottom image).

Design, again, by the notoriously talented Scott Johnson, Creative Director & owner of Dogtowne Design.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Na Hoku Nominations & A Conversation With the Creative Team

First things first...

I'm not digging the new Google Blogger interface for text. It won't allow me to use my favorite font, Courier, in the size that I would like... it publishes the text written in that font in sizes either too small or too large for my liking... so, it's back to Hevetica, at least for now...

Now that we've dispensed with the unpleasantries immediately at hand, it's on the the meat of the matter...

Word spread like a wildfire in an oil refinery yesterday about this year's nominations for the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts Na Hoku Hano Hano award nominations for 2010. The Hoku's, the Hawaii equivalent of the Grammy Awards, are a much anticipated event amongst Hawaii's music glitterati and this year, Maui stands proud with several island artists receiving nominations for this year's awards.

This year I, too, have reason to celebrate the nomination announcement. Maui's own The Throwdowns album, Don't Slow Down has received a nomination for Best Rock Album of the Year. Great news and congratulations to Erin, Kimo, Ian & Ola! I would be hard pressed to name another group of artists in any category or genre that have worked as hard as these guys have and have captured the ears of so many in so little time. The Throwdowns have turned the local music scene on it's ears and seem poised to launch their act into the stratosphere of the remaining parts of North America. No shoe-staring, guitar-solo-noodling band are they. Combining radio-friendly, hook-laden, 3 minute original power-pop tunes with a visual and energized stage show, these guys have wowed audiences across the state, toured eastern Canada, appeared live on Canadian Television, opened for just abour every major mainland rock act touring the islands in the last six months and won the praises of artists like Metallica's James Hetfield who told the band after watching them at sound check & their opening slot at last week's Sammy Hagar show that they "have a BIG sound". 

Now The Throwdowns are about to receive the statewide recognition they so richly deserve, a Na Hoku nomination and a very real chance to pick up the award at the gala ceremony in late May.

In addition to the The Throwdowns nomination for Best Rock Album for their september released debut album Don't Slow Down, the packaging has also been nominated as a Technical finalist at the awards for Best Designed & Created Album Package. Designer Scott Johnson of the irrepressible Dogtowne Design gets the credit for creating a great  package. Yours truly had a hand in producing all the photography.

In today's blog entry, I sit down with designer Scott and have a conversation about the creative process that went into producing not only the T-Down's album packaging, but virtually all of the marketing materials used to promote the band since they hit the scene. 

CTL: I first became aware of these guys thanks to you, Scott. You kept bugging me that I needed to get out and see them perform, that they were another animal entirely from the rest of the Maui music scene. I finally took your advice and caught a rough performance during one of the early Wailuku First Friday events. They were still a trio at the time, just Erin, Ian & Kimo. Their "stage" was a rough concrete slab, and a  shitty PA system.They were down at the park on the corner of Vineyard St., a bit far from the main street action and there were only a handful of people there. My first impression was a skinny kid on bass who couldn't sit still, a drummer that beat the skins like he really meant it and this chick, Erin, in a big, almost glamorous, poofy dress with an electric guitar. I watched them unpack their gear, plug in... Erin stepped up to the mic with a cute, almost girlish voice and thanked the half-dozen or so spectators milling around the area. Erin stepped back from the mic stand. launched into a big power-chord and immediately, Kimo was nearly airborne, jumping and dancing around the makeshift stage as Erin began snarling thru a fast-paced, part punk, part pop original tune. Wow! What was this, I asked myself! This band, even in those early days, sounded far more polished than many of the other local acts that have been trodding the bars & "boards" for many years. I was impressed from the beginning. Thanks for insisting that I check them out! It wasn't too long after that that you invited me to meet the band to discuss photography for the promotional materials.

SJ:  Yeah, I first met Erin at a beach party for a mutual friend of ours, Meli. I had caught her music at a few clubs before this meeting and really wanted to work on some sort of project with her. Fortunately, around this same time, the Throwdowns were beginning to take form and I was able to work on a small promotional piece and logo. Our creative relationship began. I was totally impressed by their energy and cohesiveness and the ability to follow their own lead! You could tell they believed in themselves and their music. I became an instant fan and friend.

CTL: Now... you and I knew each other... had worked indirectly together on several projects where I had done the photography and you ended up handling the design duties. You and I had been dreaming of a project we could work together on from start to finish... you apparently thought this was a good one to try out... thanks for bringing me in.

SJ: As a graphic designer good photography is golden, and most CD projects that I have worked on, I am handed photography and not brought into the initial process. This was a refreshing change, especially with your caliber of work, Tony. This was truly team-think with all parties involved. I believe the original idea was flying daggers, but done with the camera not with photoshop. But after clashing visuals of the Beastie Boys, the Stranglers and The Cure, and bouncing ideas off of Erin, this concept emerged.

CTL: Yeah, I remember that first preproduction meeting where we actually sat  with Erin, Ian, Kimo and yourself to start talking about image ideas. Erin's big, girly dress thing immediately told me that these guys had already begun to develop a sense of image for themselves. (Her sister, Darcy, designs most of those dresses). As we began brainstorming... I seized on visual ideas like the forced perspective thing used in the Cure's Never Enough video. With the dress thing and after watching Erin sort of snarl her way thru a high-powered set, I knew immediately that the usual Hawaii band photos with a palm tree & sunset was not gonna work and I had no interest in doing that either. I was seeing something of a fusion of "Natural Born Killers" meets "Alice In Wonderland". I then showed the band a stark, B&W album cover from The Strangler's Black & White release... a very cool photograph taken by Alan Parker, the director of the film Midnight Express. From there, we started talking about a black & white, or more of a monochrome type photograph to really stand out in the CD bins at the music stores...

SJ: This would not have been as effective in color. The black and white feel gave it a timeless DIY feel with a bit of punk edge. Also the minimalism of the shoot with the white background helps the viewer focus more on the energy of the shoot. The big trick was capturing the live feel of this band in pictures, which I think you did nicely. What happened at that photo shoot was the same thing that happens on stage, the Throwdowns giving 300%. The band members were shot as individuals doing what they do best (Rocking out) and when I received the images, it was great. I could manipulate the layout and layer together one single image of the band. The Throwdowns actually started as a three piece so it worked in our favor when Ola joined the band, all you had to was reshoot Ola for the cover. 

CTL:  To back up just a bit... yes, the band was a trio at the time. For me, I think it worked more easily, compositionally speaking, with just the three members. And, given the limited space of my studio and a 9 foot wide set-paper sweep and the fact that I was attempting to distort or force perspective by using super-wide, almost fish-eye lenses... having only three band members made things easier. Some of those first group configuration photos are still my favorites from the shoots we did with them. At this time, none of us knew just how big this band might get, but we knew they were going places. You could sense their commitment & drive. So... we needed to get as much stuff as possible to use for gig posters, media coverage & other promotional materials... even, a CD cover,  if the time came.

We ended up shooting the three  in both group formations and individually for later composing in photoshop. The pure white set made that goal much easier. For the individual shots, we just handed each member their instrument and let them go at it. Since bassist Kimo is always in perpetual motion onstage, I really wanted to get him airborne. For that we used a small exercise trampoline. At one point, Kimo was getting so much air on that thing, that I feared he might break an ankle. There was one launch where he brought the entire roll of set paper down with him when he re-entered earth's atmosphere. Erin even put a stilleto-clad foot thru the set at one stage. By the way... the shot of Erin tossing the mic at the camera was done live... no photoshop. 

SJ: Just how I like it, live no photoshop!! The photos are incredible and really make this visually what it is. I actually had Kimo bleeding off the package design at one point. Also, when Ola joined the band the red lines on the packaging emerged, as well as the extra sound that completed this band. I really like this detail (red lines, also Ola's guitar) added to the black and white feel of this album. It gave the images a bit more motion and also brought a bit of an 80's feel to this that I really think it needed. And, I think red and black are two very strong colors together that add to the impact of this package.

CTL: Right... Ola was Kimo's cousin and the band's recording engineer. He did some guitar parts on the recordings and the other band mates were suitably impressed enough to co-opt him into the band. Photo session redux. This time, because we had already captured each band member individually, it was easy enough to do the same with Ola... and he fell right into form with the others giving me some great stuff. He had rock-star moves. I felt we needed to try and get some more group configuration shots too, and I'll admit, I found it a bit of a struggle to come up with compositions of the four members that were equally as dynamic as the trio shots. Luckly, good fortune and the band's talent prevailed and there were a few group keepers from that second session.

SJ: The group shots were awesome and it was great seeing some of the local magazines pick up on them and use them for covers, one in particular being On Maui Magazine.   I am extremely pleased with the way this whole piece came out and how all the secondary photography really anchored the whole look of the Throwdowns with the look of the CD. I really think Erin and the boys were forward thinking going into this photoshoot. Having a concept and a plan before starting a CD project not only will create a better design but it will really make the whole project more fluid and polished. I am completely stoked to have been part of this process with all this creative energy. It's an honor to have received a Hoku Hanohano nomination for this especially with you, Tony and with the Throwdowns. This is probably the most fun I've had working on a CD packaging project and I am excited to see where these guys end up next. 

CTL: Right... I love it when I'm brought into the creative process right from the beginning. So many times I am simply handed a shot list to execute. This one came up smelling like roses! Thanks again for bringing me in on the project. Thanks to the Throwdowns for trusting the both of us to help in formulating their visual image for print and congrats to all of you for the honor of being nominated.

SJ: Yes, Thank you, here's to many more fun creative projects! And Erin, Ian, Ola & Kimo, congratulations, because the music is great!

So, there you have it... a peek into the creative process in creating a CD package, branding of a band, etc. Big mahalos to Scott for taking the time to share his talent & thoughts with the readers of this blog. And... best of luck to all Hoku nominees. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Spring Is In The Air

Recent steady rains stir nature's symphony to life

Friday, April 2, 2010

Welcome To The Neighborhood

For years he would be seen head down into the wind, eyes forward & slightly downward, stained & shabby clam-digger length pants & aloha shirt with sleeves ripped off. In one hand, an ever present styrofoam coffee cup (rarely containing coffee back in the old days) and under the other arm, the ubiquitous roll of crumpled, original drawings, sketches & prints tucked deep into his armpit.

David Sandell is a Wailiku fixture. For years he has drawn & painted the town's dilapidated, crumbling buildings & street prophets, hustling door-to-business-door to sell his work to anyone that had an extra fiver to spare. Times have changed....

Wailuku has seen a spurt of redevlopment in recent years. Those dilapidated buildings, if not renovated, are at least sporting new coats of paint. David no longer moves about the streets quietly like a man on a mission. For the past few years, he has held down an actual gallery location, irregular hours of course, at the far end of Market Street and just a bit out of the center of things to generate any real foot traffic that might lead to patronage for his quirky masterpieces. 

This week, Dave moves uptown to a gallery location that more resembles a shabby-chic second-hand store than a hallowed art gallery and is located right across the street from my studio. The interior space is dark and poorly lit at the moment (hey, he just moved in), but filled floor to ceiling with prints, paintings and original Sandells. Racks scattered about the open floor space are filled with T-Shirts bearing the mark of Sandell.

I managed to drop in this afternoon to welcome David to the neighborhood and chat a bit, even persuade him to allow me to photograph him for a moment of two. Of course he bitched and nattered at me non-stop, all while going through the motions of attempting to tidy things up a bit as I attempted to compose and snap the shutter... but that's just David. Drop in sometime & meet David yourself. You'll see what I mean.