Editor’s note: The images in this article have been used with permission of the artist.

I am a life-long writer. Words are my clay, my oils, my musical notes. I truly treasure the massage of syllables in the creation of message.

For the past 20 years (in a career that spans more than twice that), the form and focus of those words, paragraphs, stories and books have been directed at awakening a sleeping world to two things: the sacred and profound wisdom within the ancient Native Hawaiian culture — and the painful result of colonial occupation (read, the United States) on that culture and those Native people. That has been my sole intention — my only job.

(Not coincidentally, I have been married for those decades to a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner.)

But this week I confess to the limit of what my words can say — or even more — do. And never has that limitation been so apparent.

This week I encountered the visual artist Daniel Finchum’s newest project, “Bruises in the Garden” — and I am humbled. For these remarkable images — “A picture is worth a thousand words” — doesn’t come close to defining Finchum’s accomplishment. What I have worked years to tickle alive with words, Mr. Finchum splatted across my face and into my heart wordlessly.

Even in this testimonial to the power of his images, I am hamstrung. I will honor that limitation by offering a small sampling of his remarkable photographs scattered at the bottom of my writing here — and I will direct you to find the fullness of them yourself.

I challenge those friends and readers who generously support my husband and my work; who treasure the spiritual gifts within ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani’s native culture; who mourn the oppression of his people. I challenge you to open your eyes and your hearts to Mr. Finchum’s newest work, “Bruises in the Garden.”

“The Garden” is the heart of that sacred native culture. The “Bruises”… well, consider the impact of tourism, of putting a price-tag on a culture. Consider too, the American military occupation of nearly a quarter of the Hawaiian Islands. Consider finally, the impoverished, unhealthy, often homeless Native Hawaiian people.

Daniel Finchum is the rare living master of an antique photographic process — wet plate photography. He writes on his website: “It is a difficult and unpredictable hand crafted process developed in 1851.”

I am no chemist and I expect only a few of my readers are. I give up on defining his process or his magnificent ancient camera and lenses.

Instead, permit me a few words.

Finchum’s images ooze with emotion. They scream, they demand. They do not allow us to fall asleep again. A couple of venues here on Kauai refused their walls to “Bruises in the Garden.” They are cowards, fearful of commercial consequences to their business interests.

Fear is an interesting thing. It took me 13 years to release my memoir “Grandmothers Whisper” because I was fully aware of what it meant to be a malihini (guest) writing in a culture, and about a culture, that is not mine. In a culture that has been misrepresented, done harm, by my own kind.

Finchum faced the exact same wall of terror. He admits to needing the help of well-meaning friends to “push the button.” He’s lived here for four decades — most of his life.

He is a sensitive and generous observer. But observe he must. Observe we must: Blinders are no alternative to life.

‘Iokepa and I bought the album — the book that collects the gallery of images. It sits on our coffee table. We pry it open daily. We argue about it with continuing passion. What does that image mean? Does this implicate the Native people for being complicit?

Neither of us doubt the essential truth of it — neither the native nor this malihini. We agree that it is the rare gift that continues to provoke, disturb, and send us deeper into ourselves — as any genuine art must.

I am humbled in the face of these images — and of the enduring pain, strength and beauty of the Native Hawaiian people.

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About the Author

  • Inette Miller
    Inette Miller was a national and international journalist for 16 years — a war correspondent for Time magazine in Vietnam and Cambodia. She is the author of "Grandmothers Whisper," which was awarded the Visionary Award for memoir. She is currently writing her Vietnam memoir, "Girls Don’t!" The website that she runs with her husband is www.ReturnVoyage.com.