Kim Taylor Reece's hula dancers often dance to the music in their heads, or in time to the waves on the beach.

Capturing magic

"Hula I Ka La," by Kim Taylor Reece (Kim Taylor Reece Gallery, 192 pages, $55)

By Burl Burlingame

Has any photographer in Hawaii gotten more mileage out of a signature groove than Kim Taylor Reece? His studiously retro images of gorgeous, sun-kissed girls dancing hula on the beach, bare except for waving foliage, Cleopatra-style eye shadow and raven waterfalls of hair, have struck a chord here in the islands for more than two decades. A KTR photographic print or poster is the ideal, safely ethnic wall decoration of choice in modern Hawaii.

Kim Taylor Reece

His new book, "Hula I Ka La," is going gangbusters, and we've reproduced several images to show why. You younger readers, keep your eyes on the hands.

"Each image represents an island of calm which draws upon the sunlight," explains author Steven Goldsberry in the book's thoughtful forward. "And each dancer is an interpretation of light's sensuous possibility."

"What I want to focus on is the energy and passion of hula," explains Reece. "When we hold gallery shows in places like Switzerland -- the other side of the world from Hawaii -- that's what they remark on. We're compared to ballet photos. To them we're exotic, a fantasy."

Although most of Reece's pieces are of female hula dancers, he also photographs male dancers in the breaking light of dawn.

The other half of the team is Reece's wife, Kanoe, who not only operates their gallery at Sacred Falls, but books the shows and provides a comforting presence on the beach for the photographer's first-time models.

That's because they're not really models. And so it must be true that everyone looks beautiful doing the hula.

"They all actually perform in shows like Tihati's or Magic of Polynesia," said Reece. "We'll shoot three or four a week, a couple of hundred frames of each, trying to capture that magic.

None of the dancers are named in the book to enhance the illusion of antiquity.

"We normally shot early in the morning on the windward side of Oahu. We talk to them the night before and do a weather check and make sure they aren't wearing jewelry or anything. Because we're shooting black and white, they can wear quite strong makeup, almost stage makeup.

"Sometime they bring their own chanter. Sometimes they play a tape. Some just listen to the ocean. But most girls have a favorite song that plays inside their head -- and so they just listen to their inner music when dancing."

MOST OF THE images are of lithe women; there are a few studies of men as well. The book is well printed in duotone that accentuates the old-fashioned glamour of the images.

Most of Reece's studies are full-figure, to examine the interplay of environmental light and space on the dancer.

"Originally, I wanted the pictures to look like they were historical photos that came from Bishop Museum, so I sepia-toned them," said Reece. He also likes the sensuous texture of film grain, and so shoots in 35 mm with fast, grainy film.

Hundreds of pictures are shot. "One dancer said she had no idea she looked like that," chuckled Reece. "Some are shy about showing too much, and so we allow them to go over the negatives with a hole punch and destroy any they don't like themselves, something that their auntie on Molokai might not approve of."

And the Reeces have so many pieces, they've also produced a calendar for the first time.

"It's on the best-seller list," said Reece. "Right behind SpongeBob SquarePants!"

Sometimes, Reece zooms in tight for details of eyes and skin and the texture of sand and leaves.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --