Mahalo by Lex Thompson
In his nineteenth-century travel essay, Northern California, Oregon, and the Sandwich Islands, Charles Nordhoff describes the landscape of Hawaii: “these great rocks, thus adorned, reminded me constantly of the rock scenery in such operas as Fra Diavolo, the dark green being of a shade which I do not remember to have seen before in nature, though it is not uncommon in theatrical scenery.” Hawaii is a small volcanic archipelago in which landscape can shift from jungle rainforest to barren desert to grassy fields to craggy lava rock to snow covered mountaintop within a few hours drive. Its lushness is balanced by its harshness, coexisting in fascinating and unique ways. The pervasive image and expectation of Hawaii, as relaxed tropical paradise filled with surfing and grass skirts, is contested as often as it is substantiated by the reality of the islands.
Mahalo is titled with the Hawaiian word for “gratitude”, one of the few Hawaiian words that tourists learn, and subsequently overuse – a word added to the Hawaiian language only after early visitors noted the generosity of the native people despite their lack of a word for gratitude. Through this series of photographs, I explore the multiplicity of spaces that occur within the modest perimeter of the islands. In addition to photographs made on five different islands, the series includes images from television and cinema that shaped my expectations of Hawaii. As a counterweight to these media images, the project also includes drawings of “Photographs I Wish I’d Made,” which are my record of photographs that I failed to make. These renderings, filtered through memory and nostalgia give just as sublimated a vision of the actual scene as the photographs from television.
Mahalo forms a portrait of Hawaii that both reinforces and subverts the prevalent image of the islands perpetuated by Blue Hawaii, Magnum P.I. and Fantasy Island. Film and television have created a mythic Hawaii in our popular imagination that is distant from reality – a distance that is just as difficult to traverse as the Pacific Ocean was to settlers and colonists. The series collapses the distance of the Pacific Ocean and the idealization of media portrayal, offering the viewer a more encyclopedic and nuanced portrayal of the Hawaiian Islands.
Lex Thompson is a Minneapolis, MN based artist.
To view more of Lex's work, please visit his website.