Russell’s Angels

Why wait until a person dies to say nice things about them, Russell Tanoue says, explaining the reason for thanking the ‘angels’ in his life at his birthday bash

Yu Shing Ting
Friday - July 08, 2005
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Mark your calendars: Saturday, July 9 — Russell Tanoue’s 10th Annual Birthday Project Celebration at Ocean Club.

Yes, you’re invited to this annual party with hundreds of local celebrities, supermodels, entertainers and beauty queens expected to be in attendance.

Tanoue, one of Hawaii’s most wanted glamour photographers, has planned a special evening with performances by Hypersquad Dance Company, Jordan Segundo, Jennifer Hera, Tani Lynn, Olena Rubin, Anita Hall, Laka Carpenter, Juliet Lighter, Emi Hart, Marlene Baldueza, Cathy Tanaka and Kaina Costa.

The event, themed Angels on the Rocks, also serves as a fundrasier with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the American Cancer Society and Tanoue’s Project Shine.

“Usually every year I try to spread a message and, of course, this year it’s about celebrating your angels,” says Tanoue, a graduate of McKinley High School. “They’re the special people in your life and I think we tend to wait too late before we actually celebrate them.

“I’ve been to too many funerals in the last couple of years, and at these funerals I would sit there and listen to the eulogies and to all these wonderful things that are being said about the person. But they’re dead. And I thought I want to do that now. I want to tell the people in my life now, when they’re alive.”

So, while the event is being held in Tanoue’s honor, it’s really a chance for the birthday boy to acknowledge and, of course, party with all the special people in his life (including Ocean Club and its general manager Beau Mohr).

Actress Kelly Hu, Tanoue’s longtime friend, will open the night with a prerecorded greeting. And Jordan Segundo will sing Josh Groban’s To Where You Are in a touching tribute to friends who have passed, including Jon Mozo, Monica Kong, Jason Bogle, Dennis Dung, as well as Hu’s father Herbert, Kiyo Tanoue and Shawn Yamanaouchi.

Many agree that Tanoue has a talent of capturing a person’s spirit through the camera lens and producing photos of flawless beauty. He has a natural ability of getting people to open up to him and feel comfortable around him. He lives life with urgency, knowing that it can end at any minute. And he’s real.

“I think that people who don’t know me, they see me and all they see is the physical beauty around me, and the physical beauty I create,” says Tanoue. “At this event, what they’ll feel is my substance. My compassion. Just because I’m surrounded by physical beauty doesn’t mean that’s what I want. It’s the unseen beauty they don’t see of why these people are around me.

“I’ve made a lot of tall, big men cry, and a lot of women. That’s because I speak what’s real and sometimes it hurts. Most people I work with are looking for their self-esteem. I’m really dealing with their insides and I think that’s why I have great results.”

Along with his title of photographer, Tanoue is also the founder/creator of Project Shine, offering makeovers with photo shoots to people battling cancer and other related diseases, teenagers out of drug rehabs, and victims of domestic violence.


“Russell brought out my spirit that was smothered by my physical condition,” writes Leila Moniz, one of Tanoue’s Project Shine recipients who suffers from a severe spinal condition. “He rekindled my spirit. I will never forget him, he is God sent. I know I am beautiful, alive and now live my life in peace.”

Deborah Ardolf, Tanoue’s first Project Shine model who in 1999 was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease called fibromyalgia, says, “When I met Russell I was really ill and I hurt all over, so when he chose me (for his Project Shine) it was like the highlight of my life. And then working with him, in a sense, he gave me a reason to continue fighting and continue living and finding an answer for what was wrong so that I could live.”


Deborah Ardolf, Tanoue’s
first Project Shine recipient

Ardolf, who at the time she became ill was a competitive athlete and speech pathologist, is currently attending medical school in Arizona. Her illness forced her to close her office and the pain caused her to be “basically bedridden.” She credits Tanoue for changing her outlook on life.

“In the pictures he took, he was able to pull out the inside of me and show my happiness and my zest for life,” notes Ardolf. “Wherein the other pictures, I just look ill. I have reddened eyes and sunken cheekbones.

“That’s his gift. You really need to be relaxed in front of the camera and that’s what he’s able to do. It was a catalyst. Also, I think that him doing this Project Shine says a lot about him because he’s so busy, he doesn’t need to be doing this, but he cares about people.”


Tanoue with Kelly Hu, who will open
the party with a pre-recorded greeting

Tanoue hopes to eventually expand Project Shine and launch other community service programs, such as Shine Day and You So Lucky.

“I want to remind people to focus on what they have and that everyone is lucky,” he says. “My whole thing is to encourage and help others. With You So Lucky, I want to do things like maybe grant a family with something they need. Or maybe every month have a lottery where that person is granted a gift, maybe a makeover, or a scholarship for education.

“In order to be successful, you need to help others become successful. Every year, my birthday party is about celebrating others. My birthday wish is for people to not be afraid to have compassion and to show compassion. Be bold.”

And then there’s a book he plans to write revealing how ugly the beauty industry can be. “Beauty is unseen,” he explains. “And a pretty person can be ugly.” The title of his book? Pretty Ugly.


Tanoue with Tani Lynn at his birthday party
last year

In his 16-plus years behind the camera, Tanoue has photographed a myriad of models, actors, entertainers and celebrities, including Kelly Hu, Laura Harring, Tony Silva, Jason Scott Lee and Anita Hall, and MidWeek’s annual swimsuit issue. But he’s available to anyone seeking to feel and look beautiful.

“It’s all about feeling good,” he says. Photo shoots start from $225 excluding commercial assignments.

Doors open at 7 p.m. Cost is $20. Space is limited, so arrive early. And it’s a white party, so dress in fashionable white. For more information, visit www.russelltanoue.com

 

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