Community Advocate: Aaron Hess

Community Advocate: Aaron Hess

Photo_Interview_AaronAaron Hess

Autism Paraprofessional // Community Advocate

Photo Studio Director at Hawaii Fashion Incubator (Hifi) & Photography Coordinator at Hawaii Fashion Month

Inspired by a dream, Aaron relocated to Hawai’i 4 years ago from the Bay Area. A Jack of All Trades, Aaron has in just a few years here in Hawai’i crafted visible & engaged roles in the community as organizer, events planner, photographer, model & producer. Sitting down to talk with Aaron recently in Downbeat Diner in Chinatown, Honolulu, the versatility of his roles & personality is directly apparent in the easy flow from one industry topic to the next & in his passion for collaboration.

 “I love to shoot & that’s tied with the fact that I love collaborating. I have a personality that likes to bring people together & have fun.”


How did you get started in the local Arts, Design & Fashion community here on Oahu?  

I met with a local club promoter & club owner & I offered to promote their nightlife & events via social media, flyering & postering throughout the island. I figured that if I “paid it forward” I would quickly learn who would appreciate me & who wouldn’t. I partnered & continued networking accordingly. As I was actively promoting the nightclub, I sought as many event planner assistant responsibilities as I could. By volunteering, I was able to be a part of events throughout Chinatown & Waikiki. I gained a lot of experience volunteering & shadowing. There’s definitely a tremendous value in “know how” & I encourage anyone with the opportunity to get their foot in the door to give it a shot. I took my event planning experience with me to SoHo Mixed Media & produced the First Friday Fashion Show every First Friday & my art show featured talented artists such as Lauren Roth, Colin Andrew Woods, Sarah Bliss Rasul, Zachary Ramos & many others. I met Toby & Melissa from Hawaii Fashion Incubator (the producers of Hawaii Fashion Month) in early 2011 & we’ve been actively collaborating since. Most recently I shot and/or produced free photoshoots for every interested local designer that participated in Hawaii Fashion Month.

As the HFM Photo Coordinator & HiFi Photo Studio Director, you had a very specific pulse on the organization & energy of the 1st Hawai’i Fashion Month. It must be great to also step back now & take a breath! Please share the excitement of the 1st Hawai’i Fashion Month as well as what you look forward to for HFM 2014.

Hawaii Fashion Month was very beneficial to everyone who was involved. There are countless stories of people who were positively affected by Hawaii Fashion Month. The event had the natural effect of lifting the bar for everyone & motivating each of us to showcase our best. The world got to see what the Hawaii Fashion Scene is made of! Next year will definitely be bigger and better. This was our first year. I said from the beginning, “This is the year we make it happen. Next year is the year we get everything right.” There are a number of challenges creating a month long event from scratch & everyone worked very hard & did a fantastic job despite many obstacles. We’ve learned a lot from the experience & we have openly shared with one another our triumphs as well as our shortcomings. Honest communication is the key to growth & everyone’s fortunate enough to collaborate with people (Hifi & HFM) who will always appreciate our honest input. Be on the lookout for bigger and better events! We’ve barely scratched the surface of our potential.

HFM, to me, seemed to parallel the energy & professionalism of well established Fashion Weeks across the globe. It appears to be a very auspicious start as well as an open invitation to the international community to turn an engaged eye to future HFM’s. What are your thoughts on Hawai’i in the global community, especially in the realms of fashion & photography?

Hawai’i is definitely at a crossroads right now. The state government is looking at increasing community investment into our fashion industry & the world is watching. Will designers, stylists, mua’s, models, photographers, etc. step up together & become part of the international fashion community or will the industry give an apathetic attempt at organization & lose the support of local government & sponsors? If we want respect from the international fashion scene we need to give respect to our talents by cultivating them & respect to our local organizers by being involved in the process of further developing our industry. The time is now to step up & show what you got. There may not be another opportunity like this in the future. If we are unable (we are able!) to show enough support for our fashion industry now, it will be much harder to argue for funding in the future. So let’s show that we are doing our best, so that we may expect the best from our funders in the public & private sectors. This will lead to international publications & media offering paid photography jobs & productions.

What do you find unique about the photography community here in Hawai’i?

People will help you. If you don’t know something, there are dozens of photographers who will teach you or tell you where to go to find the info you’re looking for. I’ve had a lot of good people help me with my photography & in return I try to help people when I can. It’s a very “giving” community. Everyone knows everyone. It’s very small here & it’s not uncommon to run into fellow photographers on location because of  space limitations. The weather here is a blessing & a curse. It’s usually very sunny but you never know when it will rain. It’s often very windy which can make for lovely shots of windblown hair or disastrous shots of windblown hair. It all depends. The scenery here is amazing. We have gorgeous beaches & lush rainforests. Since our island is so small I hear many photographers say that they find it challenging to find new & unique locations. It would be nice to see more photographers experiment with greenscreens & photoshop to create new environments. Economically, being a professional photographer in Oahu is challenging. My general understanding is that it’s pretty much only possible to make a living by doing wedding/portrait photography & myself (as well as many other industry professionals) are looking to change that. I can only count on one hand the number of photographers who make a living that doesn’t require them to shoot wedding & portraits. This can & will change but it’ll take time & effort by our entire community.

While you now reside in Hawaii & are very engaged in life, work & community here, you keep your California roots pretty alive right? Does Cali continue to influence you in some way though you now call Hawai’i home?

I spent most of my childhood in New York. Cali shaped me & Hawai’i refined me. I will always consider California as a home just as I will always consider Hawai’i my home. I make sure that I travel to California at least once a year. When I go, I network with local photographers & other industry professionals & am always looking for opportunities to promote Hawai’i as a shoot location, promote Hawai’i fashion in the mainland & promote Hawai’i talent in the mainland. One of my photographer friends in SF said, “It’s good luck to cross oceans” & I believe that! This past November I spent time networking in Portland & San Francisco. Later next year I look forward to meeting more industry professionals in Los Angeles & San Diego. I would not say that California as a scene influences me more creatively than other areas of the world but I would say that California is a very inspirational place that will inspire anyone who visits. You can find inspiration in the desert, the mountains & the ocean. It’s beautiful.