Lens on life

Text Donna Blanchard
Art Rafael Bergstrom

Many of us are avid and competent picture takers. We try to get the lighting right, we try a few compositions and, if we’re really branching out, our subject matter is about more than just delicious-looking food or the beauty of a Hawai‘i beach. But there is a difference between taking a picture and making a picture. I’m talking about the photo that draws the eye into a perfectly told story of image and frame; the photo that stops us dead in our tracks—and, often, we don’t even know why.

“I was stealing little point-and-shoot cameras from my friends and trying to get shots here and there—like when I was in Israel. I traveled down to Egypt to see the pyramids, but I didn’t have my big camera yet,” says Rafael Bergstrom. “Some of them turned out well, but not the same as when you have a big single lens reflex (SLR) camera and manual controllers.”

Bergstrom has loved photography since he was 15, but didn’t begin investing time and money into practice and camera equipment until around 2009. “A photographer is made by the vision that they have of the world, but as you evolve in the process you realize that advanced equipment can push you farther,” he says. “Updating gear allows you to shoot in higher resolution, get deeper color range, shoot in low light situations, have clarity in your zoom, or dive deep under the water or into a wave.”

Following undergraduate studies, Bergstrom spent a few years traveling around the world as a professional baseball player, pitching for teams in Germany, Australia and Israel.

After an injury forced him to stop pitching, Bergstrom got a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Now he is the Coordinator for the O‘ahu chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches so that they may be enjoyed by generations to come. Bergstrom’s Master’s degree in environmental management and his passion for photography have come together in a synchronistic way.

“Through my work with Surfrider Foundation, I feel real lucky that I can bring photography in to convey messages about our protection of the beaches, of the coral reefs, our upland streams that affect the ocean,” he says.

“I’m enjoying trying to figure out ways to convey the beauty of the world—the intricacies that we see on an everyday basis,” Bergstrom adds. “And that teaches people that we need to be connected to our resources; we need to connect to our landscape.”

Looking through Rafael’s photos is like being warmly invited into a conversation with someone who has great respect for our natural environment. With care and patience, he gazes at a landscape or into the sky, awaiting the light, textures and colors that speak to him. He dives into Shark’s Cove over and over again, holding his breath as long as possible so he can catch the sea turtle and reflected sky in such a way that we feel freedom and grace when we look at the image later.

“I feel we’ve gotten to a point in society where we’re disjointed from the reality of what it takes to create the lives that we’re living,” Bergstrom reflects. “And I think that reconnecting people to landscapes, to nature, to people who are living off the land, through photography, is a really good way to reconnect people back into their resources.”


Summit is Hawaii's global magazine of ideas, style and smart living. We're named for Queen Kapiolani's motto, "kulia i ka nuu," strive for the summit. Summit is available on fine newsstands throughout North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

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