My New BFF: Honeybee Trio




It’s been more than two weeks since I parted with Honeybee Trio at Fukuoka Airport after a week of whirlwind trip through Japan: 4 performances in 3 cities. The girls were not only talented singers but also very professional delivering their art. So it was such a delightful privilege for me to see how they are fairly “normal” giggly teenagers off stage. Having traveled with them, my conclusion about the secret of their success was their families’ devotion. Not just the moms but also the dads’ consistent support kept these gifted girls together and kept them focused on their gift. Moms told me the girls never fought during the six years of performing together. It was the adults who got to work out some kinks within the dynamics of this group. I find that so impressive. My colleagues in Japan were quite impressed about how well the families were getting along. I guess it didn’t come naturally, but I give lots of kudos to the three families for having perfected their dynamics.

The concert in Tamana City was the very last performance for Honeybee Trio for the time being. Now that they’re graduated from high school (Sarah will in June), they’re all going on their own path. Karli is off to Hong Kong for a mission for 2 years; Natalie is now an exclusive singer for the renown Glenn Miller Orchestra traveling around the world; and Sarah off to study music at Cal State Northridge. They may miss each other and performing together so much they just may come back together in 2 years, which a lot of us including the families, are hoping for. Then again, they are all spreading their wings onto their bright future. I only have the best of the best wishes for them.


The best part of this trip for me, though, was that I came home with 10 new great friends! We, the “girls,” especially bonded soaking in the hot spring and getting pruned for two hours. There’s an expression in Japanese, “Naked Relationships” (Hadaka no Tsukiai), meaning it’s an intimate friendship. It’s so special!

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Akiko Makes Me a First Place Winner!


So while I was traveling the remote city of Kumamoto in Japan, I received a voice message from the Council on Aging in Orange County informing me it was important that I called them back. Thank God to Skype calls, I was able to make an international call using the hotel’s WiFi signal without incurring a big charge on my AT&T Wireless bill. When I got this woman, Charlotte, on the phone, she told me I was the first place winner in the juried photo exhibit called, “Aging as Art” contest! I had even forgot about my submission I made before I left for Japan.

The reception will be held on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at Bower Museum in Santa Ana. The image along with other winners’ images will be displayed there for a few days, then will move to New Port Beach Public Library.

The images of Akiko have become so close to my heart since I shot them. I use them for my marketing materials. I am grateful to Greg Miller, who was my instructor in a workshop called, “Documentary Portraiture” and prompted me to go find a “Japanese mom” to photograph for the class assignment. Of course, I am grateful for my dear friend, Janet Mitsui-Brown, for allowing me to photograph her mother with a last minute notice on that weekend last year.

This is the image that won the first place! Akiko in her element!

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Accidental Tourist


I am currently traveling in Japan with a group of very talented young singers from Vacaville, California, named, Honeybee Trio for their performing tour.  We just spent a busy few days in Tokyo, got two great performances done, and now on a bullet train heading south for a couple more shows.

On the first day, we were lucky enough to have a little sightseeing tour of Tokyo visiting Meiji Shrine, Imperial Palace, Asakusa Sensoji Temple on the classic Hato Bus, which is like the Starline Tour buses in Los Angeles.   First we visited Meiji Shrine where there was a Shinto ritual happening for “agricultural fertility.” This is one place I had never been to even though all the surrounding area of this property was my stomping ground when I was still living in Japan. The girls of Honeybee Trio and their families got a little sample of purification water and see all the men in the Shinto robes gracefully entering the shrine and uttering the undiscernible (even to me) yet somewhat melodic “sound. 2.17.14_Tokyo-37

Our tour guide on the bus, Keiko, was cute and funny, and I got a review of some historical facts that I had forgotten and learned something new, like this was the 100th anniversary of the passing of Empress Meiji this year. (Who would have known!) 2.17.14_Tokyo-59


Needless to say, they all enjoyed riding the commuter trains and subways. And I am just as much a tourist as they are by accident. I just happen to know my way around and speak the language, but being in Tokyo with “gains (foreigners)” always gives me a whole new perspective on this giant city.

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80-Years Young


Ralph Michiel turned 80 late January. His wife, Lori, threw him a big party to celebrate this big birthday, and Lori’s birthday present for him was to get his “A-day-in-a-life-of” portraits taken. And what an honor it was for me to have such an opportunity! Ralph certainly has the advantage of having a wife who is a personal trainer by profession, and he’s certainly in a GREAT shape – much better than my husband, who is barely 60.


Ralph was a school teacher until he retired 20 years ago. Only several years ago in his 70s, he picked up a brand new career as an actor, and he’s working!  He was recently in a beautiful music video of Goo Goo Dolls.  It’s so inspiring to see someone that age with such zest and grace. What was more inspiring for me was the fact that Ralph and Lori have been married for 30 years this year. Their love for each other was so palpable.   I told them I will be married for 10 years this coming September, and I have to admit, sometimes it feels like a lot of work and 30 years seem like a long time!  Yet it’s something I would aspire for.  Thank you, Ralph & Lori!MIchiels10 MIchiels11

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My First Solo Exhibit


The new year started rather slowly for me. I took some time off to reflect on the year past and the year ahead between the holidays. As the activities of 2014 started to roll in, I’ve been conscious about not getting back into a hectic life.  Fortunately, it seems that 2014 is on a good start for me as I received a message in the beginning of the month that my very first appearance in a group gallery exhibit at the Kiernan Gallery in Virginia concluded with a sale of my piece.

And today I’m excited that my very first solo exhibit is going to be up next weekend! Thanks to my client and friend, Jane Srebnik of Jane Srebnik Landscape Design, who also owns a well established restaurant on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, Jack’s On Montana, we are able to realize my long time dream of having a solo show titled, “Forest and the Sea“. These images are from the places I love to go for contemplation and solace.


The above image is from the area in Japan my father used to love to hike in. It is a very sentimental piece for me as I shot this image when I went to sprinkle his ashes in the forest where he used to rest during his hikes a year after he passed away. It was particularly beautiful as the wild cherry blossoms were in full bloom. The images below are shot with my iPhone on my regular morning bike ride to the beach from the same spot at Will Rogers Beach.

The show will be up from Friday, January 31 through the end of February. Unfortunately, we are not able to have a reception as the restaurant stays open from breakfast through dinner. I hope you can stop by for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even coffee.

Jack’s is located at 1610 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90403. They are open every day from 8AM through closing at night.



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Happy New Year!


Happy New Year!

I experienced some painful losses earlier in 2013, but I find myself in a very inspired place as we greeted this new year. Wishing you many blessings and looking forward to sharing them with you in 2014!



Sunrise, January 1, 2014
From Questhaven Retreat Center


Izumi Tanaka
田中 泉

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Absolute Eye Candy: Stunning Mid-Century Home Renovation


As the year draws near the end, I’m looking back at all the different projects I worked on this year. In the realm of architecture and interior photo shoots, this was one of the most exciting projects.


This is a house in Santa Monica Canyon originally designed by Robert Alexander, a contemporary of Richard Neutra, and built in 1954. The current owner purchased this house in 2000, and by then the house had been slightly renovated but the original structure hadn’t been changed yet. It sits in the canyon surrounded by enchanting nature with tall eucalyptus trees and a creek. The owner had a vision to create something truly great – retaining the original mid-century modern design. It took three phases of renovation concluding with the most expansive work around 2008.



For me it was like eye candy. Everywhere I turned, there was a picture. I was particularly resonating to the simplicity of overall design. No surprise, the owner had spent some time in Japan and was greatly influenced by Japanese aesthetics. His collection of furniture, art pieces, books and objects all played in the harmony of this space. What a treat to have an opportunity to photograph a home like this.

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Ode to Sam Abell


Holiday season has started.  There are parties and holiday events to go to.  I certainly don’t consider myself a social butterfly, but there were a few parties and event I was somewhat looking forward to going to this past weekend to see friends and share some laughter.  Then there was a weekend workshop I was considering of taking with a former National Geographic photographer, Sam Abell.  The title of the workshop was, “Sharpening Your Photographic Vision.” I heard he was fantastic from those who had taken this workshop before.

Really, I was torn.  Is it worth it?  Am I ready for this?

On Thursday evening, he had an open to public lecture to give a glimpse of what he was going to do in the workshop.  I sat on the front seat so I can get his vibe.  Once he started talking, I was hooked by the poetic tone of his talk and the sequence of images he presented.  There was no question whether I should take this workshop or not.    I was in.

Fast forward, it’s Tuesday now.  I’m still feeling intoxicated from the weekend.   The parties and events I missed wouldn’t even come close to the valuable experience I had by being in this workshop.  Without going into my intimate thoughts, the workshop did exactly what the description said and more, “bringing clarity to (my) own personal vision.”  What was most valuable was how he humbly shared his creative and thinking processes as well as some fascinating stories that led to some of his iconic images that appeared in National Geographic and other publications over 40 some years of his career.  I was also deeply inspired by his personal photographic diary with contrastingly personal images.

Most of all, I found Sam Abell to be not only a superb artist and teacher but also a very fine human being.  As it turns out my “fav” shots of the weekend were of Sam at the bar at Union Station posing as if he were texting.  And he wants you to know he doesn’t text!  In this shot I deliberately focused on the edge of the table in front.  Only those of us who were in the workshop have the privilege to know the back story of this, and I am holding on to it like a piece of pearl I found on a remote sea shore.

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Herding A Large Family


This week I had an honor and much pleasure to photograph the big Smartt family. Elitha and Joyce, the parents, seven children, and their offsprings counting 16 people all together. They were actually missing a few grandkids, who either had to work that day or lived out of town. They told me this was a rare occasion all seven siblings were together as one of the brothers lived in England and was visiting for a short visit for Thanksgiving. I thought photographing small kids and a pet was challenging. And oh, my God, herding 16 people to photograph was more challenging, I thought! To be honest, I was a bit nervous about it before I got to the location.

Once I met the family on the beach late afternoon, I put aside my concern and went for it.  I had an idea to spread them on the beach and get them to make some fun poses.   To get everyone in a shot, I had to get higher for a good perspective. There was an unused lifeguard station with the ramp removed. I was too short to jump up and not strong enough to pull myself up. It still makes me laugh out loud remembering how the guys in the family had to pick me up and shove me up to the station. You had to be there to know how hilarious that was. And I think it actually helped everyone to get really relax. After a good laugh, we just had fun being goofy for some nice goofy shots!


Then we took advantage of the setting sun. We were losing sun quickly, and we were getting cold. But by then, I felt like everyone was all into this process. After all, it wasn’t too challenging. I just had to make some fun from the experience for myself and more importantly for them.



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Getting to Know Elaine


I went to visit Elaine again.  I had called to let her know I was coming at 10AM. When I promptly arrived, she was dressed in adorable pink outfit ready to go out! She led the way for us to take a bus a couple of blocks up the street to get to the local French restaurant for breakfast. She had a french onion soup, and I had a nicoise salad.  As we sat across the table by the window, she told me about her husband, Michael, how they used to go folk dancing, skiing and camping.  She showed me how her engagement/wedding rings go together.  And oh, yes, how much she misses him.

11.15.13_Elaine-9711.15.13_Elaine-75 11.15.13_Elaine-41

She said she wanted to treat me to dinner at the Italian restaurant we met, which is where she dines every night.  She was going to dress up in her favorite black velvet dress because the restaurant owner wanted to see how she would dress up for the pictures that I was taking. We made a plan for dinner the following night and I was to pick her up at 7:30PM.   All day long the following day, I was giddy about my “date” with Elaine telling my friends that my husband was away for the weekend and I was going on a date!  As I was driving home from a shoot the next day, she called me at 5:30PM and said, “I’m ready now if you like to come get me!” I made a quick stop to pick up some flowers for her and rushed to her door feeling like an adolescent going on a date for the first time.  And she was indeed ready for our date!   She had her black coat and a pretty rhine stone sachet all set to go by the front door, which she told me later she bought 60 years ago in Beverly Hills.  She showed me the pearl necklace telling me how she took the bus earlier to the jeweler in West LA she’s known for also 60 years to get it shortened for the occasion.  As we walked to the restaurant around the corner, she talked about how she and Michael used to travel by “boats” and how she would dress up for dinner with the captains.  And she exclaimed, “I haven’t dressed up like this since my husband passed away!” 11.16.13_Elaine-811.16.13_Elaine-18

Later that evening, having had such a lovely time with Elaine, I was sitting home alone appreciating the time to myself without my husband. He was away for four days but was due home on Sunday night.   A few minutes later, all of the sudden, tears were running down my face thinking about Elaine.  It’s been a little more than a year since her husband passed away. What she had told me in those two days was all about her husband and their life together. Even though she certainly seems to enjoy herself bopping around the city, I know she’s still grieving.  It must feel so lonely to be home alone without him and he’s not coming home again. Even though  I know deep down I would always be O.K. no matter what happens in my life, I have always told my husband I want to go first because I cannot imagine being left behind.

For whatever reason, she was brought into my life and vice versa.   I feel some sort of destiny.  May be she’s an angel showing me how to trust.  I just know I was supposed to be photographing her and her life for unknown purpose I’ve yet to know.  May be this is all there is to know right now.

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