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Picture this


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POSTED: Monday, February 16, 2009

Ron Jacobs sounds like a proud father talking about “;Obamaland,”; his new book about Barack Obama and his island roots.

At the same time, it grates on him just a little that the first thing everybody says when they start flipping through the book is, “;Great art! Where'd you get the all the pictures?”;

While it's true that the book includes a fascinating display of photos, many rarely seen before, Jacobs is also proud of the writing in this highly topical book that popularizes both Obama as the first Hawaii-born president of the United States and the island culture that produced him.

Jacobs himself is an engaging writer, but he has collected pieces here from an impressive list of contributors: filmmaker Cameron Crowe and television writer Ken Levine, for example, as well as local leaders such as Walter Dods, Puakea Nogelmeier, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie. They write not just about Obama, but about Hawaii in the days he lived here. Joella Edwards, who attended Obama's alma mater, Punahou, shares a heartbreaking story of her experiences as the only African-American girl at the school. Jacobs said he's heard from a reader infuriated by the treatment Edwards recounts.

Jacobs is so well known in Hawaii for his career in radio that those who know him as “;Whodaguy Ron Jacobs”; might be surprised to learn of his parallel career as a publisher, author and magazine writer.

All this experience helped when it came to compiling the elements of “;Obamaland.”; All those photos, for example, came from a wide variety of sources, including the Associated Press. Jacobs dug deep to find some of the others.

Gerald Kwock, a friend of Jacobs' of 50 years and an “;inveterate collector,”; made his collection of high school annuals available. Former Punahou students also shared memorabilia, including a photo of Obama graduating.

“;I think between the pictures and the graphics, there's a couple hundred images in there,”; Jacobs says. “;Each one represents bunches we didn't use, or real interesting stories.”;

For instance, there's a picture of one of the bars where Obama's father hung out with his university friends in 1959, and two artists' renderings of a grocery store/shave ice stand that was popular with Punahou students. Local historian DeSoto Brown opened his collection of Hawaii memorabilia available as well. Other images were found online.

In one case Jacobs saw a drawing of a girl eating shave ice and thought it would be a perfect counterpoint to a photo of Obama enjoying the uniquely local equivalent of the mainland “;snow cone.”; He found the artist in California and got permission to include it.

In short, every picture tells a story, and there is a story behind each picture and each illustration, but Jacobs hopes that—eventually—the writing will get its due.

“;At the top level, I love it when people say, 'I like the way it looks,' but I much more love it when they say that they've read something.”;