Hawaii Architectural Photographer, Editorial Photographer, Lifestyle Photographer, Food Photographer, Travel Photographer, Commercial Photographer, Maui Photographer
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Chase the Light

Woke early Saturday morning for the customary dog walk and surf check. While at the beach, my phone began screeching & the message above appeared on the screen. 


38 minutes later came the broadcast: MAJOR FUCKUP FALSE ALARM.

Somebody pushed a wrong button.

Heads will roll.

"Tomorrow we will go to Karangasem for a ceremony. There may be some opportunities to photograph trance" said Mr. T, my friend, fellow photographer and guide into the world of Balinese "Niskala" (the unseen). Together we had attended several gatherings where people had fallen into trance during previous visits to the island and I was excited at the opportunity to witness and photograph more.

In 1957, the late Anthropologists Margaret Mead & Gregory Bateson traveled to the Indonesian Island of Bali to observe and document the island's culture, societal organizations, art & religious practices. Among the collected works gathered during their stay was a documentary film "Trance & Dance in Bali". The grainy black & white film depicts men & women in frenzied dance and attempting to stab themselves with fierce looking curved-bladed daggers known as "Kris" or "Keris" but unable to injure themselves while in a state of trance.

In the 30 years I have been visiting Bali, most of my time has been spent searching out their Hindu religious ceremonies, their Shamen & Balians (healers) and other activities that would largely fall into the category of "mystical" by western thinking. In Balinese culture, however, the unseen plays an equal role and is given at least as much attention as the visible world. Great energy, time and attention is devoted daily to appeasing and placating an enormous pantheon of spirits & Gods. In doing so, the Balinese believe that they help to maintain the balance between good vs. evil, bringing order to their world and to ours.

Trance phenomenon has been something that has held special interest for me. Hearing about these strange rituals for many years, it wasn't until recently that I have had the opportunity to see and document the activity. In trance, certain members of the community are prone to being "inhabited by spirits"... a sort of "possession" in which the spirit enter the body and communicates through the possessed. Sometimes, when sickness is an issue, for example, a spirit will enter a trancer, usually a Balian (healer), and prescribe proper offerings, etc. in order to restore the spiritual balance of the ill. In rituals such as the ones documented by Mead and Bateson, and in the images I have captured below, the individuals in trance become very rigid, their every muscle tensing, eyes glazed over. Often, those individual in trance will perform ritual dances to their gods, sometimes, animal spirits will take over the body and the individual will mime animal movements and sounds. Almost always during these rituals, men & women alike will make attempts at ritual self-mutilation, turning the large Kris daggers on themselves, beating their upper forearms with the blasé, raising welts and drawing blood in a frenzied activity, then attempting to stab themselves with the pointed blade of the daggers, though while in trance, they are protected and unable to pierce the chest even though great pressure is obviously being applied.

Arriving at the small mountain village of Selumbung, in the Regency of Karangasem, we were met on the road leading to the main temple by a number of other followers and photographers all gathered for the annual ceremony "Ngusaba Pusa" in which the village ancestors are honored. Even before we began walking towards the temple gates a woman, obviously in trance, approached us then passed and went to greet the village "Barong", the mythical beast representing good and positive forces. This was looking promising, I thought as we entered through the temple gates and into the main courtyard. A large group was already assembled and a dozen or so people were already falling into trance and dancing around a smoky fire, aided by the hypnotic sound of the village gamelan orchestra and a man wearing the mask and costume of "Rangda", a representation of the evil witch mother of Balinese mythology. Attendant priests dressed in white were ever present, armed with holy water and incense to watch over those in trance and keep order. A few moments later, a procession of men bearing bamboo palanquins with boxes housing the effigies of ancestral gods approached and entered the temple, along with the Barong and it's tranced escort. As the gods and Barong passed through temple gates, more and more attendees fell into trance, dancing, attempting to self-mutilate until the entire inner courtyard was filled with a euphoric delirium. The trancing continued for the three hours we remained and was still going on when we departed the hillside village. Mr. T did not disappoint in bringing me to this village... he never does. 

Below are photographs shot while in the midst of the ceremony. I cannot explain in great detail what is actually taking place or why. The best explanations I have read comes from Fred Eiseman, Jr.'s, "Bali: Sekala & Niskala Vol I: Essays On Religion, Ritual, and Art". Here, Eisman describes the trance phenomenon as a dissociative state, not unlike sleepwalking or some other form of hysterical phenomenon such as hysterical seizure or paralysis. The person in trance, while not completely unaware of their surroundings, appears to be in a state similar to being hypnotized. Some people are very prone to trance and fall into the state spontaneously. Others may requite other stimuli before falling... the approach or proximity to ancestral gods, proximity to an "energized" Rangda or Barong or the repetitive sound of the gamelan orchestra. In the case of Balian healers, meditation can induce trance. Others are immune to trance and are often relegated to the position of attendants and guardians, assisting in keeping things orderly and non-violent during the ritual. While in trance, some individuals appear to be in a state of euphoric bliss, other appear to be suffering from terrifying visions. Much of their movements in mass trance ceremonies such as this one are ritualistic, as with the dancing and attempts at self-mutilation with Kris'.

 Since my departure from Bali only a week ago, this village and many others in the Karangasem Regency are under threat of a major eruption of Bali's sacred volcano, Gunung Agung, the first since 1963. As of today, over 74,000 villagers have been evacuated to shelters, public buildings, homes of family and friends as they await the imminent eruption. My prayers go out to all...

Approaching the Temple
Barong & Attendants

All Photographs ©2017 Tony Novak-Clifford

A long day spent capturing food porn for new websites of my favorite local chef & restauranteur... mouth/eye watering results.

Very honored to work with Mariska Hargitay and the Hawaii Team at the Joyful Heart Foundation in producing this series of images for the national & local PSA Campaign raising awareness about domestic and sexual violence. Hawaii Says No More!

Pictured below is Mariska w/ Dr. Kamana'opono Crabbe


Attended the Women's March on Maui over the weekend. The Friday frowns were turned upside down as an estimated crowd of 5,000 peacefully turned out to be counted and demanding representation.

Becca, Queen Street Tattoo, Honolulu, Hawaii 1/4/2017

Give the Gift of Art...

Each week leading up to the holiday season, I will be offering Limited Edition Archival Pigment Prints from my series "After the Fire: The Final Days of Sugar in Hawaii" for sale. Here is this week's offering:

Title: Untitled 
Image Size: 15"x 20" 
Paper: 17"x 22" Hanemuhle Photo Rag Satin 310gsm 
Ink: Epson Archival Pigment 
Edition: Limited Edition of 25 Price: $300 USD + Tax (Hawaii Residents Only) + Shipping (Unframed), Signed & Numbered 
Payments Accepted: Paypal, Square Credit Card, Check, Cash 
Contact me by email at: 
Be sure to include your name, address for shipping and preferred method of payment.

Give the Gift of Art...

Each week leading up to the holiday season, I will be offering Limited Edition Archival Pigment Prints from my series "After the Fire: The Final Days of Sugar in Hawaii" for sale. Here is this week's offering:

Title: "Dawn Cane Burn #1" 

Image Size: 15"x 20" 

Paper: 17"x 22" Hanemuhle Photo Rag Satin 310gsm 

Ink: Epson Archival Pigment 

Edition: Limited Edition of 25 Price: $300 USD + Tax (Hawaii Residents Only) + Shipping (Unframed), Signed & Numbered 

Payments Accepted: Paypal, Square Credit Card, Check, Cash 

Contact me by email at: 


Be sure to include your name, address for shipping and preferred method of payment.

Give the Gift of Art...

Each week leading up to the holiday season, I will be offering Limited Edition Archival Pigment Prints from my series "After the Fire: The Final Days of Sugar in Hawaii" for sale. Here is this week's offering:

Title: "Survivor"

Image Size: 16"x 16"

Paper: 17"x 22" Hanemuhle Photo Rag Satin 310gsm

Ink: Epson Archival Pigment

Edition: Limited Edition of 25

Price: $300 USD + Tax (Hawaii Residents Only) + Shipping (Unframed)

Payments Accepted: Paypal, Square Credit Card, Check, Cash

Contact me by email at:


Be sure to include your name, address for shipping and preferred method of payment.

A massive burn at 4am this morning in the Omaopio-Pulehu area of Lower Kula. Four fields set ablaze simultaneously. The equipment operators, security personnel and field workers are getting to know me now. I am a regular fixture at these early morning burns for the past couple of months. 

As dramatic and compelling as the leaping flame/burning fields images are (and there are plenty of them so far), I am drawn to there images made after the flames die down and the first light of dawn begins to appear. The smoke, swirling around trees volunteering to grow amidst the stalks of sugar cane, surviving the flames and standing defiantly as the smoke weaves itself around them to obscuse, then reveal again. 

At one point earlier in the morning, I was caught between the blazing fields with flames leaping 3 meters in the air all around me. The heat was intense, the crackling of the flames deafening. 

For several weeks now I have been rising at 3am in order to capture pre-dawn burns of the sugar cane fields. With only a few months left for sugar cultivation on this island, the pressure is on to capture as much of this long-time agriculture business as possible... the burns, the harvests, the workers soon to be unemployed, the Mill...

This morning, I woke, wide-eyed, unusually early... 1:30am. I felt an unusual sense of excitement... something was going to happen. At 3:30am, I grabbed the cameras and jumped into the car as usual. Driving around the fields in darkness, looking for telltale lights from the Mill's pickup trucks around the fields the burn schedule said were to be ignited this morning. The first two areas I checked showed no sign of activity. I drove some more. No sign of a burn anywhere. First light began to silhouette the volcano looming large against the faint trace of daylight. Still nothing. I turned the car back towards the north shore, one more place to check. By this time, it was already 5am and I was losing hope. Driving through the town of Paia, I turned right and began heading up the mountain towards home. Just above the town were two red pickup trucks... security from the Mill. Things were looking a little more promising. I stopped and talked with the guards. The Mill meteorologist was on site. He was trying to determine if weather conditions were right to conduct the burn. He wasn't optimistic, worried that the winds and some potential trade wind showers might delay things for another day.

A few minutes later, the meteorologist sped off towards town. Before he left, he told me they might burn but if they did, it wouldn't be until 6:30am. I waited. A burn after sunrise is very rare these days due to complaints from island residents of the smoke inundation and ash. I have been trying to catch a daylight burn for some time with little luck. The image posted above is something I have seen in my head long before starting this project and not possible to make when burns are held during hours of darkness. 

At 6:30am, I could see traces of smoke in the near distance. Grabbing cameras, I headed down the muddy cane-haul road toward the flames. This sapling stood just inside the burning field. Snapping away at the flames, I patiently waited for the fire to die down, the smoke wrapping itself around this tree, swirling with the light breeze. Magic! Success!

Summer is now in full swing here in the islands and there is no better way to spend a balmy, tropical evening than to attend one of the many summer Bon Odori or "Obon" Festivals held at every Buddhist Temple. Here on Maui, the best of all Obon celebrations takes place this saturday, July 2, at the Jodo Mission in Lahaina. Obon is a Japanese Buddhist festival held to honor the deceased and to assure them that we, the left behind, are making good use and enjoying our time on earth. The celebration centers on a dance... the Bon Dance... where participants move in rhythm around a central tower where traditional music is blasted thru loudspeakers. Participants in the dance often wear a short light summer kimono (Yakuta). Women will adorn their hair with beautiful flowers while men will often wear a headscarf. The dance is relatively simple and easy to imitate by watching seasoned participants. All are welcome to join in.

The Lahaina Bon Odori begins as the sun is beginning to set and a massive bronze bell is rung...

The bell signals the attendees to gather on the adjacent beach to begin the event that makes the Lahaina Jodo Bon Odori so special... the floating lantern ceremony. Paper lanterns are distributed to participants on which the names of loved ones passed away are written. Young men signed to the task accept each lantern from the participant(s) and place them on a small wooden raft. Once the sun has set below the horizon and darkness begins to fill the sky, the men take the loaded rafts out into the lagoon, setting each lantern afloat to drift with the tide.

As the last lanterns are set afloat, the crowd and action moves back to the central courtyard fronting the temple and around the big, brightly lit tower where dancers have already begun moving in unison to the music and steady beat of Japanese Taiko drums.

While the significance and intent of Bon Odori is religious, mindful & somewhat solemn, the atmosphere at these festivals is joyous and vibrant... much like a summer's eve fair. There are food vendors keeping the crowd well-fed with delicious local delicacies and drinks, old friends reunited and a diverse & multi-cultural community coming together to celebrate. Given the political tone of this year's election season and current events worldwide, it's events like Lahaina's Bon Odori that can reaffirm one's faith in human nature across all ethnic & cultural divides. In this regard, Hawaii get's it right and sets an example that can benefit the rest of the country and the world in general in these devisive times.

15% of all print sales thru the month of July will be donated to the Maui Food Bank

Sugar Cane Cultivation, a principal crop in the Hawaiian Islands for decades, will soon be no more. Maui is the last island still growing, harvesting and processing sugar. In just a few months, operations will shut down completely. I've been documenting the harvest cycle for the past three years and am now working frantically to document as much as possible before it's all over. 

It's been a busy couple of months. Much of the recent work slated for editorial features in the coming months making it unavailable to view until it's officially released, so stay tuned.

On Father's Day, we headed up to the Kapalua Resort for a day of interior design photography at the oceanfront luxury Montage Resort at Kapalua Bay. Photography commissioned by KLM Interior Design of Austin, Texas.

DC... you've gentrified. Your 'burbs have sprawled and your traffic is insane. You were my home for 10 years. I loved your music scene, your art scene, your amazing FM radio offerings, your magnificent parks, museums and neighborhoods. There are times when I still miss you. Then I steer the car onto Rt. 66 or I495 and the longing passes.

Lovely weather, the best of the entire 3 weeks, while visiting the Nation's Capitol. Many thanks to Michael & Pat for bed & food. In between meetings with Ritz Carlton, Marriott, Hilton and others, I had an hour or so to kick around in toney, historic Georgetown. All of the great music venues... The Cellar Door, Desperados, The Bayou, are gone now. Big Brand shops and luxury boutiques now rule the strip. The only familiar, long-standing places I remember from the old days and still standing are Clydes & the Georgetown Theater. Old, historic brick row homes still line the leafy-green, cobblestone streets. 

I had the best of intentions of being more active & current when it comes to updating this blog... Really I did. Now just over a week back on the island after the three week whirlwind tour of the east coast. Like a cloud of fog, the jet-lag following this trip just wouldn't clear and readjusting to the 6 hour time difference, normally not a problem, has been difficult to say the least.

Chalk it all up to aging, I suppose.

Though officially spring... the east coast weather, except for a couple of beautiful days in DC, was more winter like with temperatures in the 40's, 50's and very low 60's, almost constant rain and grey skies. This, obviously put somewhat of a damper of prolific picture making. The real mission of the trip was not thwarted by the miserable weather... to check on the progress being made on the restoration of the 1870's historic colonial purchased last year and to make the portfolio rounds with creatives, art buyers & producers in NYC, DC and Baltimore.

As soon as we climbed off the plane in Baltimore, I caught the shuttle to pick up the car rental and headed straight south for the 2 hour drive to Maryland's eastern Shore. Here, I found progress made on the restoration with a new 2nd floor bedroom, bath and closet array framed up, new windows installed throughout the house, heating & AC lines installed and electricians & plumbers scheduled for later in the week. Here I spent the first few days... purchasing countertops, lighting, vanities, tile and other finishes. An invitation to an impromptu riverside crab feast and side trips to visit friends in Rehoboth Beach and to the Island of Chincoteague (setting for the book Misty of Chincoteague) for salty fried oysters and a front row seat to the local volunteer firemen's parade.

Sunset Over the Nanticoke River, Bivalve, Md.