Malama Pono is a series of photographs based on interviews and encounters with women during the five years that I lived on Hawaii Island (2011-2016).
The Puna District of the Big Island is the fastest growing district in the state, with some of the highest rates of poverty, domestic abuse, and drug abuse in the nation. This work became my way of processing and addressing the problems that are abundant in Puna. This is not the postcard paradise that “Hawaii” brings to mind.
In all honesty, the idea for Malama Pono came to me during a lunch break at Macy’s, where I was working selling handbags and jewelry. I was getting to know my coworkers a little more everyday through the stories they would tell in the break room. Raising three kids alone on a retail salary. Finding out your boyfriend sold your car for Ice. Whose cousin cheated on who again. Always new stories. More problems. Plenty of laughs too. The beauty of Hawaii is apparent, even in hard times.
Starting with a few interviews and portraits, I then hosted gatherings asking women to come together and share stories, and many agreed for the sake of making art. Many said the process was insightful, almost therapeutic- and I can say the same for myself. Some women modeled for their own images; others gave me permission to interpret their stories in other ways. I will always be extremely grateful, because this process helped me adjust to a new and challenging life in a very different landscape- physically, socially, and psychologically.
In this extraordinary yet difficult place, I say to the women I came to know and love- and to myself-
Malama Pono- “Take Good Care” (one of many interpretations)
Blood Is Thicker
The Starfire Flame Sisters, Hilo
Pua Van Dorpe, Kapa Visionary
She tells me-
No matter what, there’s always the ocean. As strange as it seems, this is the only place that has ever made sense to me.
Kai Kai's Wedding
Middle of Nowhere
“My friend has a story to tell, but she wanted me to tell it to you…. She still gets too upset to talk about it”
She had never been off island. We talked about the Mainland, maybe Oahu.
“But even if I left, where would I go?”
Queen Liliokolani, South Point
They say Pele will test you over and over…
Sure you want to stay here?
Holly Von Slappenbitch
Poke the Dog
She called me to photograph her black eye and the window he threw her through, a week after it happened.
I asked if she called the cops.
“I’m the one who poked the dog”
Fighter I, Toughman Hawaii Wahine Division
Ring Girls, Toughman Hawaii
“Sometimes it feels like all I can do is hang on”
June passed away a month later from an accidental drug overdose.
She was 13.
I had been on the island less than 2 years, and couldn’t wait to move back to the mainland. After June died, I stayed and threw myself into my work.
We love you June.
Fighter 2, Toughman Hawaii Wahine Division
She won the fight.
Moweaqua: The One and Only
Welcome to Moweaqua, Illinois. Population 2000.
I have always found my hometown’s exotic name and slogan- “The One and Only”- to be humorous, considering that Moweaqua is much like any other rural community found in the Midwest. Yet here, I feel a sense of wonderment and ease that I have yet to experience anywhere else. Then there are other times when I feel uneasy, frustrated, and foreign within such familiar surroundings. This range of feelings is what I capture in my work, what I think about when photographing in Moweaqua– how to be gentle without being nostalgic, how to be critical without being harsh. I have my own relationship with my hometown, and it continues to be complex, conflicted and wonderful all at once.
Through a combination of still-lives, portraits and landscapes I am constructing a portrait of Moweaqua, not completely as it exists today, but as I narrate it to be through the acts of accumulation images and editing. My memories, knowledge of town history and new experiences shape the body of work into a narrative that is not only personal, but universal to the collective experience of living in the Midwest.
All images were created in 2008-2010 in completion of the MFA in Photography at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. All images are 18x24" archival prints.