2016: A year in review

January, 2016. My teeth chattered as I rushed to load my suitcase into the taxi. The cab driver stepped out to assist. Long white shocks of hair stuck straight out under the rim of his newsboy cap, and the edges of his trench coat swirled, chasing snowflakes in the wind. His leathery hand shake said I have a story, catch it if you can.

Five minutes into our drive to the airport, the pages began to turn. 

"I worked at a suicide prevention hotline for years," he recalled, " and the number one cause of suicidal ideation was always isolation. People think nobody else can understand what they have been through, but the basic emotions are always the same. Fear. Anger. Loneliness."

His solution? Simple- if somebody is having a hard time, take them out to eat. To him, a happy stomach was love. He believed this so deeply, he proposed to his wife with a bowl of soup. The words "Will You Marry Me" at the bottom of the bowl were revealed after her final sip. Sure enough, their marriage had been a happy one, good to the very last drop. She had passed away a few years ago, so now he made soup for his friends.

Several hundred pages later, we arrived at the airport, and I took off for Vancouver, Canada.

Andrew and I spent the next month exploring parts of Canada and the West Coast. He took photos for a travel article, and I interviewed the characters - a hermit turned dog sledder, an ambitious skier turned businessman. In between, we snuck away to explore ice caves and test our own wobbly ski legs.

When I returned home to Hawaii, I resolved to uncover more stories of the human emotions that inexplicably link us together. Stories that said you are human - you are not alone.

I began a personal project- a series of street portraits and interviews, which I called People in Paradise. At first, I was terrified to approach strangers, but the more I practiced, the better I got.

Only a few weeks later, I was able to put these newly honed interview skills to work, and I covered the Eddie Aikau for the Guardian, the first of several stories I wrote this year.

I flew over to Maui and met up with the athletes from a travel racing TV show called Boundless. We shot their own athletic challenge they dubbed The Maui Wowee - 90 miles of tangled bike spokes and rubber soles, frenetic warrior chants, and smeared zinc oxide.

Back home, I continued to shoot, and brought a few creative visions of my own to life.

I taught a 6-week photography course to 4th and 5th graders, which I called Developing Empathetic Storytelling with Photography. We utilized iPads to explore creative ways to tell their stories. I wanted to explore the concept of empathy as it applied to viewing things from different perspectives, and we spent time studying photographs from the lives of other children around the world, comparing and contrasting their struggles, and discussing times they had experienced similar emotional circumstances.

Several wrote in their reflections "I feel like I'm from another planet and nobody understands me." The kids loved finding ways to take creative photos, but many said the discussion component was their favorite.

Then, in June, just three days before Father's day, my own father passed away, without warning or explanation.

When I was 10, my dad planted the seeds for my photography and handed me my first film camera. "A good photograph tells a story," he said. Throughout our childhood, we ducked and moaned as his ever-clicking camera haunted our most awkward moments. 

Now, back home with my family, I spent hours shuffling through the boxes of photos - stories he had left behind for us.

In a bittersweet twist, the painful circumstances brought me and my six brothers and sisters together for a few weeks - the most time all seven of us had spent together in quite awhile, and the most precious moments of my 2016.

Back home in Hawaii, I continued the year with various portraits, events and commercial jobs. I continued to interview people, and published a few more stories.

In the fall, we returned to Canada, joined our friends canyoneering for a feature with the Weather Channel, and then explored some of the amazing climbing Squamish had to offer. In some sort of an inceptionistic photograph, here is an aerial photo Andrew shot of Gaby shooting me climbing a crack on The Chief.

I also did some inter-island travel as a producer for Andrew's video production company, Shibby Stylee. Here's a shot from one such adventure on Kauai, when he was filming for a show on the Travel Channel. 

After living on the islands for five years, I finally witnessed lava meeting ocean, both by air and by land.

I continued to explore the mountains that have inspired me on Oahu. Losing a parent was unlike anything I've ever dealt with. As you grow older, you see parts of them in you, both the good, and some of the things that drove you nuts. It felt like losing a piece of myself. In all this, I found a special solace in the mountains, and spent many treks in solitude exploring the ups and downs of the ridges.

I also found great consolation in stories of people who have felt the same emotions, or dealt with similar circumstances. 

Stories of fear, stories of puzzlement, stories of sorrow, stories of dreams.

 Stories of the shared experience of being human.

In 2017, I'm looking forward to sharing more photos and stories of these people and places that have inspired me.