Photographic Series (In Progress 2008 – present)
Adrienne Keahi Pao
Portrayals of Hawaiian people exist regularly in the media and in photographic history; often the women are portrayed as exotic hula girls and the men as ancient warriors in loincloths. In the least desirable case scenario, Hawaiians are pictured distastefully and as a culture of “low class” citizens. It is always fascinating to me to view these portrayals because what I see in my Hawaiian ohana is something completely different. The Family Portraits began with a desire to further connect with my family members in Hawai’i through the process of portraiture.
I began this series of photographs quite simply. I asked my Uncle Jeff if I could photograph him and if he would bring his favorite rooster to the photo shoot. I set up in the driveway on a rainy evening and he came out of the house dressed in my Uncle Frank’s traditional hula attire. I was surprised, but excited by his chosen outfit, and seized the moment. Every photo shoot after would be a collaboration between myself and my sitter. I would ask them what they wanted to wear and decide on the locale. It immediately became apparent to me how imbued the Hawaiian fantasy is with my family and myself. Each cousin, aunt, or uncle chose to replicate in some form an element of Hawaiiana. Past, present, and future merged simultaneously as I was able to see how imbedded the vision of Hawai’i is within a contemporary Hawaiian person.
In the end, we are all seduced by this incredible fiction – a fiction that becomes a reality where Pele’s hair is worn within a banyan tree, a lovely seductress poses topless on the beach, and three cousins become the three graces as the sun rises at Makapu’u. By photographing these aunts, uncles, and cousins, I attempt to connect with my family, our real and imagined history, and reinvigorate a political place for a new culture to emerge.