I used to daydream about Hawaii before I had ever been there. It was a time in my life when reality seemed tense, heavy and out of my control. I would get swept up in the reverie of the Hawaiian Islands. I would float in the sapphire salt water. The sun would embrace my face, drying up the droplets that tickled down my bronzed skin. Hawaii, to me, was a dreamy escape. It was a safe place where I could rest and take pleasure in the warm aloha spirit of the land and culture.
When I finally took the time to fulfill my fantasy on a four day trip to Honolulu, my daydreams proved to be sincere. The land was vast and vibrant, the water just as blue as I imagined. I thought, this must be the only place where reality is better than the dream. This thinking is authenticated in Michael Blank’s recently released Hawaii Book. Michael, in some way, has managed to capture the genuine Island life, no frills or strings attached, while at the same time keeping the integrity of that collective dreamland that we all share.
LF: When did the idea to make a Hawaii book first come to mind?
MB: I have dreamt of this book since I was young. This is a honestly my little boy fantasy come true.
LF: To make a book?
MB: To make a photo book about Hawaii. I’ve always thought of Hawaii as this exotic adventure, full of beautiful landscapes and people. I’ve always wanted to go, especially as a photographer. Fast forward to 2015, my friend asked me to fly to Oahu for a job, and once I was there I was reminded of my childhood fantasy that I had forgotten. So I decided in the moment, that I would make time, and make this book a reality!
LF: Was the real Hawaii better than you fantasized as a child? How was it different from your what you had envisioned?
MB: It was certainly everything I had hoped for, but I was really fascinated by how modern and urbanized it had become. I guess I imagined it to be all beaches and jungle. The shopping malls and monorails threw me off. It was a little more developed than I thought it would be.
LF: How did that real impression of Hawaii influence the photos you took? Did you try to capture the imaginary Island or the tangible one?
MB: I was influenced in both ways, I think. I wanted to capture the reality and authentic experience I was having in 2015 Hawaii, but I didn’t want to lose that classic idealized version of it. There is one photo in the book that captures this mixture perfectly. There is a girl on the beach wearing a traditional headdress and she is covered in sand, but she has her iPhone and she is taking a photo. I love that photo because it perfectly captures her ancient ancestral roots to nature, while simultaneously representing modern day cohabitation with technology. Her iPhone cover is even decorated with a colorful Hawaiian design that fits the scene rather nicely. I found that combination of the contemporary with the classic to be infinitely fascinating.
LF: What’s your favorite photo in the book?
MB: There’s this one photo of that same girl on the edge of the cliff looking out over the ocean. The water is crystal blue and she is so tiny in comparison to the rocks and horizon. It really shows the magnitude of our environment and how small we really are on this planet. It was truly epic. It was moments like those that really humbled me. It’s moments like those that made it really painful for me to interact with these huge egos back here in LA.
LF: Who were you shooting there? Friends? Strangers?
MB: Some of them are friends I’ve known, and some are friends of friends that I met while I was out there. The girl I keep referencing in my photos is my friend Jade. Her and her family are the ones who made this whole trip possible for me. Jade and her mom Kim have an amazing jewelry line in Honolulu called Lotus & Lime and they helped me produce this whole book. They introduced me to most of the models and locations. One of my subjects is a friend of Live FAST. Thanks to you I was able to meet with her and came out with, what I think is one of my favorite photos in the book. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, you can’t miss her. I was also in contact with some of the modeling agencies out there, so they introduced me to their locals. It was the perfect mix of everything, nothing felt forced or contrived.
LF: What is the mantra of your book?
MB: I was privileged to be taken deep into the world of locals-only. This is a rare glimpse into what people only dream about Hawaii. I wanted to have the most authentic experience, that no tourist will ever get a chance to know. This book is about opening up that window. The real inhabitants of this sought after paradise, and their day-to-day lives. There is this bittersweet realization about these islands, that like all good things, it will inevitably come to an end.
LF: What thoughts or feelings about Hawaii did you want to share with the world?
MB: I love the idea of this classic version of Hawaii, this collective consciousness, a dream we all share of these ancient tropical paradises. I wanted to play off that classic idealism and bring it back. Live in these moments of timelessness.
LF: What were some of the coolest moments for you on that trip?
MB: One moment that really sticks out to me, was at these tide pools. Jade and one of her girlfriends took me hiking and we went off course, scaled down the side of the mountain to these hidden tide pools. We swam in these refreshing pockets in the volcanic rock, formed ages ago as the ancient magma cooled and settled next to the ocean. These pools of crystal clear water with all sorts of sea-creatures in there. These massive waves kept crashing against the rock and showered down on us as we swam in our lays. Hawaiians, culturally are very environmentally friendly. I can see why. They protect their land with such respect, and as a result they remain in their own personal Garden of Eden. Very different from Los Angeles culture I’ve found…
LF: What would you say is the vibe of the culture? What do they value?
MB: Everyone was so friendly and had a very helpful mentality. The aloha spirit as they say. They value health and nature and family. They were unbelievably welcoming. They treat everyone as extended family. When they see someone in need, like on the side of the road, they stop their car and they help. It was refreshing to see such kindness and generosity.
It’s really simple. Our intentions are infectious. If you show love and respect to others, it spreads like wildfire. Everyone feels responsible for their part in helping others in need, just as they were helped at their time of need. When you are on top of a little board, riding a massive wall of powerful ocean that can swallow you whole if it desires, it keeps an appropriate perspective of who you are in this world. The same is true for the opposite. When people let greed and hate drive their actions, it really infects people in the worst way. That just inspires revenge and self entitlement. Don’t get me wrong though, some people still watch the Kardashians over there in Hawaii. That is a world wide plague indeed.
LF: Would you ever move to Hawaii?
MB: Absolutely. If I can move there and work there, I would in a heartbeat.. and I think this trip opened the door for me to do that. Maybe that is where I will keep one of my houses some day.
LF: What’s the coolest thing you learned on this creative venture?
MB: Ummmm… Well, there’s this whole deal that if you take lava rock from the island, the lava goddess will curse and haunt you, all sorts of bad things will happen to you. So the US postal service there experience a lot of rocks coming back from the mainland from people who realized they messed up big time. Don’t do it!