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Erica Taniguchi of Kalalea Photography + Kahikimoe Designs

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

I first saw Erica's instagram feed a year ago. While there is a multitude of photographers on island, her work stood out to me because it captures the spirit of Hawaiian life that I hadn't seen before. It was simple, pure and had a quality that invited a pause of contemplation. Her portraits of elders in her family especially caught my attention. I saw a new perspective through her lens that made me treasure a Kaua'i I hadn't seen before. It was honoring the beauty of place and its culture. It shared a tender story of people and a way of life. Learning more about her background makes me pause and cherish Kaua'i in a whole new light.

Who were you as a 10 year old? I was the same person as I am now. Except I was more shy. When I was 10 I did all the same things I do now; I lived on a farm, spent time in the mountains, enjoyed fishing, exploring and being outside.

What first sparked your interest in photography? When I was 7 there was a poster of Hokulea on the wall in my classroom. That poster was the first time I recognized that Polynesians had an important, unique  skill; they were navigators. It was the first time I felt proud for Hawaii and the first time I felt proud for being part Hawaiian. Before that poster, I had never identified with being Hawaiian and never thought Hawaii had much to be proud of. We were farmers and everything else seemed to be centered around the plantation.  We were all kids and grand-kids of the plantation. This photo was the first time I saw beyond that and felt proud. I love the idea that a photo can open a window into another reality or perspective.

How did photography become a business?  In the 9th grade I tried to sign up for a photography elective but didn’t get in. I took matters into my own hands and went to the teacher begging to let me into the class. I offered to buy my own camera if he would just add me to the class. Fortunately he added me to the class and this began my education in photography. I spent all my time there, all 4 years of high school. From there it was a hobby mostly mixed with jobs as a 2nd shooter for weddings. During my early 20’s when I was traveling I recognized how unique Kauai was  and knew that I could capture and preserve the uniqueness of through photography. I returned and began to focus on how I could preserve the unique pieces of Kauai through my work. For the next decade or so, photography existed as a side business to my main work of waitressing that I had to support myself and my 2 boys. My photography business is evolving, as my kids get older, and I am able to expand into portraits and documenting Kaua’i.

What guides your photography?  I love to share my perspective. I see beauty all around, sometimes in small things that are overlooked & under appreciated.  That’s why I started photographing at a young age and today when I can shoot for the love of it, that’s what I focus on. I love that when people begin to notice and learn about something, it increases in importance and value.  In that way photography can be a great tool.

How do you approach challenges? This is interesting because recently I have had a big shift in mindset. I have entered into a space of surrender - not a giving up kind of surrender but an embracing what is and rolling with it. Being adaptive and accepting allows me to evolve through the challenges I face and discover new opportunities.

When do you feel most alive?  When I am the most disconnected from technology, the deeper in the woods the better. The longer I can disconnect the more alive I feel. I become more productive, more inspired and more clear in everything.

What are you noticing in this season of your career . . . and maybe life?  Last year I had a medical incident that made me face how fragile life is. I realized that I am my biggest limiting factor - which is ridiculous. I decided that I no longer wanted to live this way. I refused to limit myself through my thoughts or expectations - instead dreaming bigger and bolder than ever before because it truly does create the future. Our beliefs are so powerful so why not be fully into it?

Also I am embracing saying “no '' without regret when things don’t fit. In that comes learning to trust that the right thing will come along, and this is especially challenging as a mom when you have to provide for your family. There's risk but also a definite reward.

How does motherhood shape your work? Motherhood has really taught me how to be patient, flexible and to surrender control. Not everything is going to be the way I think it will be  and I have to let go a little bit. It adds value to my work in knowing and experiencing how quickly time goes by as I watch my kids grow. If anything it inspires me even more to capture and preserve memories that need to be shared. I’ve learned perseverance, it gives me determination regardless of challenges. At the end of the day, even the smallest successes are meaningful.

What are you reading? listening to? watching? I don’t have a TV, and am not up on podcasts . . . .but I love to read. Real Books. Right now on my nightstand you will find:  “The epic tale of Hiʻiakaikapoliopele”, Olelo Noʻeau, native Hawaiian Law a treatise, Raau Tahiti & Ferns of Hawaii. I also am enjoying an online newsletter that focuses on photography, helping me fine tune my craft.

What are you curious about exploring further in 2020? I want to collaborate on educational projects, finding ways to integrate photography that will inspire action. As far as my family I am hoping to go off the grid and explore more.

What advice do you have to share?  Hang out with Old Women. They have all the answers.  Say no when alignment isn’t present. Don’t limit yourself.

Thank you Erica for sharing your story - so rich with thoughtfulness and wisdom.  

To see more of her work check our her website or follow her on instagram.

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