Molokai, Hawaii Photography Workshop – Day 1

Musicians sing on the front porch of the Hui Hoolana, a retreat center on the island of Molokai, Hawaii.

Musicians performing ‘Kaulana Wailua’ during the annual photographic workshop at the Hui Hoolana on Molokai, Hawaii.  Listen to the audio by clicking the play button below.


It wasn’t long ago that I was standing in front of some of the most famous photographs of all time at the Boise, Idaho art museum. On the walls of the gallery hung iconic images produced by Ansel Adams from his many trips to Yosemite Valley and the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range. What struck me about the show, that had never before crossed my mind when admiring Adams work, was the context these images were created in. Many of Ansel’s most famous, lasting and iconic photographs were produced during the great depression and World War II. Two of the most frightening times in the history of the world and his vision was not clouded by fear, nor was it diverted by the call for image makers to turn their lenses and attention to document the social crisis at hand.

Today in the workshop we discussed the idea of “what turns your head”. Rikki planted the thought that if something makes you stop and look, it should perhaps also make your arm pick up a camera and your finger click the shutter. Ansel knew what turned his head, and he dedicated his life to putting himself in situations where he was surrounded by landscapes that excited him. At the time, Cartier-Bresson, another giant in the world of photography, said the following about Ansel’s exploits into the wild “The world is going to pieces and Adams …(is) photographing rocks and trees…” 1. While stung by this criticism, “ironically it turns out that one of the great social human issues of the twentieth century has … been the environment.” 2.

How often have I let my vision be clouded by the fear of failure or diverted by the call from other photographers to turn my attention to what they feel is important? How often have I let my vision become so distracted that nothing turns my head other than the next email?

After wrestling with a testing mid life crisis, Ansel wrote the following words of wisdom to a friend “A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that relate to those who are loved and those who are real friends. For the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what art should be. Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things…Friendship is another form of love — more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting and acceptances of things like thunderclouds and grass and the clean granite of reality. Art is both love and friendship and understanding: the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of things. It is more than kindness, which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light of the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is a recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the interrelations of these.” 3.

May we find ourselves partaking in the taking and giving of beauty, and may we not be afraid to turn our heads to the light and click the shutter.