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Focusing On The Beauty Of The Islands

About 12 years ago, Tom Yim sold all of his belongings and left Los Angeles and a career in the fashion industry to move to the Islands and pursue his true passion: photography. Taken aback by the Hawaiian landscape – the perfect sunsets, the clear ocean, the waterfalls – Tom quickly found a focus for his art.

He has been selling his photographs at Aloha Stadium Swap Meet ever since. And this past July, Tom and wife Caroline, who also worked in fashion in L.A., opened a studio, Art Y Hawaii LLC. The space, a converted warehouse located in an industrial area of Waipahu, displays Tom’s stunning artwork.

“Photography has always been my passion,” Tom says, “and we live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. So I just kind of combined those two things.”

Tom has a degree in art from University of Arizona. But as a student, he focused mainly on graphic art; he is entirely self-taught in photography.


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Caroline and Tom Yim with one of his photos | Photo by Tom Yim

As he describes it, Tom specializes in capturing “the moment,” and his photos dis play scenes that include a moonrise over Waikiki, the Koolau Mountains as seen from Stairway to Heaven, a paddler in the ocean as the sun sets and a panoramic shot of Maili Beach.

“I like to get things that are more out of the ordinary that you cannot capture on a daily basis. The Eddie contest, the waterfalls, sunrises – these things are only for the moment. Once it is gone, it is never the same again,” says Tom.

In setting up a shot, Tom usually has an idea in mind of what he wants to capture before he sets out. But he also leaves a lot up to chance. A number of his photos were shot with a degree of spontaneity – he often is inspired when he is out driving or walking around.

“He does not leave the house without a camera,” Caroline says.

“Another thing that inspires me and keeps me going is talking to people who come (to Hawaii) only one time in their whole life,” Tom says, adding that the images in his photos might be commonplace for residents, but are once-in-a-lifetime views for visitors.

“These photos help them keep that memory,” Caroline adds.

That is not to say that only visitors are drawn to his work. The Yims say their clientele tends to be pretty evenly divided between mal-ihini and kamaaina – and it’s the locals who keep coming back. Among locals, the Yims seem to have found a particular niche in former residents who have moved away and are looking for a keepsake of the Islands.

The new location also has allowed the Yims to connect with an even larger pool of residents. They still can be found at the swap meet three days a week, but the studio has allowed them to interact with art lovers who may not frequent the market.

“Everybody on the island has a special place, and Tom probably has captured it,” says Caroline, adding that she likes that they can provide images that are personally significant to buyers.

The studio also has afforded them other opportunities, including providing framing. And now that they have the room, the Yims hope to expand Art Y Hawaii to include other artists and a broader range of artwork, bringing paintings, sculptures and more from other artists into the showroom. While they want to diversify their company, it’s not just a business decision.

“You have got to give back,” Tom says. “And I wish that someone had allowed me to display my stuff when I was starting out.”

Starting out, they admit, was not easy. The business has had its ups and downs throughout the years, but the rewards are worth it.

One moment that has stuck with both of them was when an elderly man stopped by the studio to tell them how much Tom’s photography meant to him: When his wife was dying, he decorated her hospital room with photos that Tom had taken of her favorite island spots.

“He said that it helped bring her joy in the last part of her life,” Tom says.

Art Y Hawaii is located at 94-547 Ukee St., Ste.107 in Waipahu. For more information, call 753-5898 or visit photographyofhawaii-.com. You also can find the Photography by Tom Yim booth at the swap meet Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.