story by Stu Dawrs
When artist/designer Gaye Chan and writer Andrea Feeser set out to create Waikiki: A History of Forgetting & Remembering, the last thing they wanted to do was publish yet another coffee table book on the subject—of which there are, by conservative estimate, roughly a zillion currently in print. So instead, they settled on an altogether different, somewhat revolutionary approach and created a large format, glossy ... coffee table book?
“Much of the same history about Waikiki is repeated in the popular coffee table books,” says Feeser, noting that most of these books tend to greatly over-simplify Waikiki, in both its past and present forms. “We want people to know histories that have been buried a little, or a lot, and to think about them in relation to challenges that face Waikiki today and tomorrow. We reasoned that the coffee table book format—with Gaye’s beautiful artwork—would appeal to a broad audience and thus encourage a wide range of people to rethink their relationship to Waikiki and other tourist destinations.”
That it does: Chan, a professor of art at the University of Hawai‘i, opted to mix straightforward archival imagery with her own photographic manipulations to create a book that, from a visual standpoint, alternates between concrete history and hazy dreamscape, from dead-serious documentary to mock ironic commentary. All the while, Feeser’s text is delving into areas often deemed too weighty for standard Waikiki guidebooks: Beginning with the area’s earliest known history, Waikiki documents the gradual transformation of what was, in the fifteenth century, one of O‘ahu’s most productive farming regions into its current manifestation as one of the world’s best-known vacation destinations.
As might be imagined, it’s not always a sunny history, but it is well worth taking in: After all, what place doesn’t become all the more beautiful as we begin to understand what lies within?
Waikiki: A History of Forgetting
by Andrea Feeser and Gaye Chan
(University of Hawai‘i Press, 2006)