In various Polynesian mythologies, the souls of the dead separate from their bodies and wander unseen among the living. They search for portals to the underworld, where they may commune with ancestors, and return to the darkness from which all life sprang up. These gateways take many forms: trees, cliffs, forest clearings, and more.
In Hawai'i, they are called leina a ka 'uhane: leaping places of the soul.
The Leaping Place is a series of large-format landscape photographs, exploring the relationship between family, history, and mythology on the Big Island of Hawai'i. The images are meant to tell two stories:
First, of my own family. In the 1880s, my mother's family left the islands of Sao Miguel and Madeira and travelled by steamship to Hawai'i, settling mostly in the Hamakua district of the Big Island. The work for these photographs began by building a path of exploration around their records and recollections. I looked for the remnants of the industries of which they were a part. I followed the clues of their own photographs and their home movies. This series is a way to connect with their history and to explore the landscapes behind their stories.
Second, of the Kumulipo, the ancient Hawaiian creation chant, from which the images draw many of their symbols and structure. The chant-tellers (haku mele) used layered symbols, transposed characters and hidden meanings to tell the stories of the cosmological beginnings of ancient Hawai'i. These landscapes are also the scenes of the myths of the Kumulipo, and I drew inspiration from its forms to tell a personal myth in a similar way.
The book of the project will be published in July of 2018, immediately following an exhibition at the Honolulu Museum of Art. It will comprise approx. 60 photographs, alongside vintage images and graphics, excerpts from the referenced poetry, and pieces of my notes. In overlapping sections, the book will include black and white images from the Azores and the big island, and color photographs depicting remnants of infrastructure, invasive and native species, and the Big Island's varied landscape. In many cases my photographs will be set opposite archival images of the same locations. Various images and mock-ups are below, and the entire body of images can be seen at mattshallenberger.com.
Drawing inspiration from the chant-poems, the narratives of the book are overlapping and incomplete. They are a story told in part by me and in part by you. Pieces of my notes are scattered throughout, and point toward some of the links between the different stories. A special edition of the book will include a fascimile copy of my entire notebook.
The book's design is nearly finalized. Approximate specifications are: 10x13.5", landscape format, softcover with flap over / 40 color photographs / 20 black and white photographs / 25 vintage photographs and graphics / 5 photographed pages from my notebooks as well as several excerpted pieces from the notebooks and other text / 2 essays. This campaign is meant to raise the funds to cover the production costs - design, printing, packaging. Any funds raised beyond the goal amount will go directly back in to the book, allowing me to increase the print run.
Press, Awards, Exhibitions
Several of the images are on view this spring at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Before this exhibition, they've appeared in numerous print and online publications and as award winners in several competitions: Flux Magazine, FocusPhotoLA, 2016 PDN Exposure Award, Moscow Foto Award, This-is-Paper, Aint-Bad, Selector, Fotografia, Another Place, Phases, Formagramma, Fisheye, and more..
- The Leaping Place (essay) in Flux Magazine
- The Leaping Place (interview) in Aint-Bad
I've been shooting photographs for the past 20 years, and created several projects along the way. I couldn't ask for a better job than being a landscape photographer. Though large-format film is expensive to shoot and process, I think it's the best medium to capture the unique diversity of Hawaii's landscape. The work of researching and shooting the photographs has occupied the last five years, and now I need your help to bring the series to print. While working on this project I've gained wonderful input from friends and colleagues, and created a body of work of which I'm very proud. I hope that through the book, the photographs and research will be of interest to a wider audience.
There are several different ways to contribute and rewards available. Along with the book and its special edition, a few of the images from the series are available as fine art prints at various sizes, at special prices for this kickstarter campaign. You can also visit mattshallenberger.com to see the entire series and to contact me directly with any questions.
from an essay in Flux Magazine:
"People often assume that photographs are meant to say something specific, but more often than not, they’re an unpredictable mix of intent and instinct, and are offered as questions rather than statements. After sequencing and titling the series, I reached out to learn what it reveals to people with different relationships to Hawai‘i: conservationists like my father, who see a story of invasive species taking over native ones; immigrants, like those in my mother’s family, who see the small evidences of their history, the cement among the lava; mainlanders who have never been to Hawai‘i, who see a landscape more violent and complex than the idyllic paradise they’ve been painted; and Native Hawaiians, who see the conflict between the landscape of the Kumulipo’s time and that of today, altered by colonization and industry.
That’s one of the reasons I call this series The Leaping Place. The title refers to ka-leina-a-ku-‘uhane: places from which departed souls begin their journeys to the underworld. Some of these locations are commonly known, and others are a mystery. These are the places where we return to the beginning. I come from Hawai‘i as a kama‘āina (local) but not a kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian), returning home but also discovering. Hawai‘i is made up of countless stories. I envision leaping places as pathways to our common past, and to conversations about our shared present. Each photograph is a haunted step back into my own history, and a chance to ask others about theirs."
Thanks so much for your support.
Special thanks to Greg Bernall for the video soundtrack, and to Jen and Bruna and Hilde.
Risks and challenges
Once the project is funded, there are no significant risks. The printer is here in the US, already secured, and prepared for the job. The research, shooting, processing, and scanning, have all been accomplished - all of the Kickstarter contributions will go directly in to the printing and distribution of the book.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (29 days)