BRENDAN GEORGE KO – THE MAKERS

Meet the photographer raised in Canada, New Mexico, Texas, and Hawaii.

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Where do you look for inspiration?
I am never quite sure to be honest. I spend months and sometimes years doing research to dig deeper into a subject I am curious/obsessed about. And then I find myself uninspired, lost and depressed. It is when I leave the research behind and go off into the world that something happens and carries me along in a wave of inspiration. In a matter of minutes I can go from depressed to ecstatic with joy as I find my inspiration again (or rather it finds me).

Describe one of your most challenging moments shooting.
I think its learning why I am taking this photo, is it necessary, and what does it mean to share it? There are a lot of beautiful moments and people I encounter where the camera is not allowed, that is intrusive, nor do I feel that I have the right to document. The camera can be a burden because it is a powerful thing that demands an incredibly amount of responsibility. Being someone that is obsessed with documenting for the sake of remembering and sharing, that has been the hardest thing to negotiate when the camera should be present and when it should be forgotten.

What’s the stupidest thing you’ve done for a shot? 
There’s a lot of stupid things I have done but probably one of the most dangerous things was when I was making this image of a man on fire. I had made this dummy and took it out to a friend’s farm to burn. I drenched the dummy in gasoline and when I was trying to ignite it with a match it wouldn’t catch. I kept sticking the match all throughout the dummy when all of a sudden I heard the air go deafly quiet. The dummy was immediately engulfed in flames and I jumped backwards and ran. It was in that frenzy that I realized that I left the jerry can full of gasoline a few feet away from the fire. I ran back and grabbed the can without a thought. I wonder who was the bigger dummy in that situation, the man on fire or myself.

What keeps you motivated/ excited about life?
For a while it was chasing new experiences and learning the nuances of different cultures. Now it is about empowering people by working within communities in education and the perpetuation of culture. Last month we had four new students come on board the voyaging canoe to crew the canoe from Maui to Moloka’i. It was their first time on the canoe and you can see their excitement fill their faces with smiles. For a lot of them it was reconnecting to memory that existed deep within their DNA, they were following in the footsteps of their ancestors. What could be more exciting then to be a part of something as powerful as that!

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What’s the best lesson you’ve learned since you started photography?
How problematic the medium is. It is far too easy to take an image and to have that image spread around the globe. It is much harder to understand the responsibility that it requires. I think the best lesson I learned with photography is how does it serve the person or the land that is depicted? Does it romanticize, does it obscure or distort context and does it tell the truth?

Describe your favourite part of the world (aside from home) and tell us why.
Moloka’i. It is where the sense of aloha ‘aina (a spiritual love for the land) comes from and where the spirit of the Hawaiian Renaissance started. And outside of Ni’ihau, it is the most resistant to being Americanized of the Hawaiian islands. That, and its terribly beautiful island with some deeply inspiring people that live and fight with aloha.

Who is one of your favourite people to work with and why?
The ‘Ohana Wa’a, a family of people from all over the world that all share a deep love for the canoe. It takes a community to build one of these 50ft plus voyaging canoes and when we all tirelessly put our energy to making them we are closer because of it. And then when the canoe is made, we sail and celebrate with each other of our times together out on the sea and finally arriving to back to land. In a way it is like a religion, we all share the same believe and it is to rise each other like the islands we rise from the sea.

What’s your favourite photo (ever / at the moment) and why?
I gave up working in a studio, staging shots because of moments like the one instilled in this photograph. It is Hōkūle’a, a historical voyaging canoe from O’ahu, making her way to the Mohawk territory of Kahnawa:ke, outside of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The canoe was on a mission to circumnavigate around the world navigating solely off the wisdom of their ancestors and here she was, in the same waters I was born in. I knew something like this will never happen again within my life time. I will never forget that moment and I am lucky to have been there and to have this photo prove it actually happened.

How do you want to be remembered?
I think of my life as being a guest in someone’s house, you are gifted their roof over your head so it is your responsibility to leave that house better than when you arrived. I would hope that I had done exactly that with this life I was gifted.

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