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An Interview with Urban Koi


Urban Koi is an artist based in New York and over the years she has been working as a Director, Writer, and of course, Photographer. Enticed by the mystery and hidden wistfulness in urban life, she can be found with a camera in hand, capturing quiet, ephemeral moments, and documenting her adventures around the world.

Full disclosure: This post was sponsored by Squarespace.

She has directed two documentaries and is currently working on another film. When she is not travelling, she is studying as an aspiring physician and scientist at university, immersed in the scientific study of life. Her enigmatic work weaves and interconnects the realms of travel, science, and visual-storytelling.

She has been featured on VSCO, Washington Square News and in the Eye for an Eye art gallery. We had the amazing opportunity to ask her a few questions about her creative process, what inspires her and her overall approach on photography. She has also shared with us some insights into how to design a great photography website and how to use it to attract more customers.

Her Squarespace website definitely stands out with its simplicity and straightforwardness.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and where you’re from.

I am a writer, photographer, and film director from New York. My film work is a bit of a secret at the moment, but will be revealed within time. I am currently studying as a scientist and an aspiring doctor of medicine as well.

2. Tell us a little bit about your photography career. How did you develop an interest in photography?

My passion in photography was born when I was four years old and I was playing with my parent’s old Ricoh and Konica cameras. I became mesmerised by the mechanisation of the camera and curiously dissected it, unmasking its anatomy. I discovered how light travelled through lenses, reflected off mirrors, and exposed part of the light-sensitive emulsion. Thus, I learned the elements of photography like aperture, shutter speed, and ASA (ISO) through the most classic way—film.

3. What equipment do you prefer to use?

It depends on the style or story I am portraying. If I am travelling and I need to capture fleeting moments, I always shoot with my Canon DSLR. For more personal compositions, I typically photograph with my Asahi Pentax 6×7, known as “Bake Pen” (Monster Pentax) in Japanese, or Nikomat—where shooting is a slow process and every frame must be conducted with careful purpose. My trusty Manfrotto tripod is at my side quite often as well.

4. What inspires you?

I like to refer to myself as a student of the universe. Whether it is through university or becoming entranced in the stories of people I meet and fruitful experiences through my travels, I have this insatiable thirst to learn, create, and tell a story. My greatest inspirations are Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian polymath; and Mae C. Jemison, an engineer, physician, scientist, and the first female African-American NASA astronaut to travel in space. They are incredible examples that you can accomplish anything your heart desires, as long as you strive forward with genuine passion and unrelenting resilience.

5. What makes the good picture stand out from the average?

When I see a striking photo, it is the artist’s unique story or unusual message that noticeably draws attention—a different angle, new perspective, and thought-provoking use of light or color.

6. What does photography mean to you?

There is immense beauty and elegance in the world, even in the ordinary. Photography is time-travelling. It is physical evidence that has been immortalised and the memories contained within the photographs can be relived time and time again.

7. What is the influence of digital technology on your photography?

As technology advanced, bringing light to a new realm of media, I became fascinated with transposition and photo manipulation through a multitude of software. The transformation of picture-taking today transcends beyond the classical definition of photography—a picture simply created with a camera, then made visible and permanent by chemical treatment or stored digitally. However, this just ushers me to appreciate the rarity of film more deeply and it is reflected in my style of photography, which is more traditional, bearing as little alteration as possible—an honest capture of the moment in time in its actuality.

8. Color vs. Black and White. Which one is your favorite one?

Color. Through color, one can utilise different shades and tones to propel their story—including the absence of color. There is a plethora one can work with through color that is largely missing from black and white.

9. What is the most important aspect of a photography website?

Photo quality. Dynamics shift when the images are un-purposely blurry. Images must be presented in the best forms that the artist intended as they are the breadth of a visual website.

10. How did you create your website and how long it took you? Also, what theme are you using?

Since I am a bit of a perfectionist, creating my website took approximately one week. I was also moving my work from other platforms and setting up my domain, so that took some time. I was searching for a pragmatic medium to consolidate all of my photography and writing in one place and stumbled across Squarespace.

11. Has your website helped your business in any way?

In the past, one platform would be best for writing, another would be better for photography—I would have several different platforms and my work would be split among three or more websites. My current website design has been life-changing in aggregating my portfolio and journal seamlessly onto one platform.

12. Is simplicity something that you were looking for when you decided to design your new website?

I am a minimalist, so I was looking for a platform that was simple and uncluttered, allowing both words and images to breathe.

13. I saw on your beautifully designed “about” page that you’ve worked on numerous projects with different brands. Which one was your favorite and why?

One of my favorite projects thus far is a laptop campaign with HP. Although I am quite camera-shy, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and I was featured in a cinematic short, directed by Tatia Pilieva, which played on the big screen in theatres across America as film pre-roll. It was for the new Spectre, which I took with me to Iceland as part of the project to showcase its feather-light weight.

14. Are you using your journal as a content marketing tool? Or is it just a place where you share your thoughts and projects with your audience?

Ever since I learned to read, write and use a camera, I earnestly documented my meandering thoughts, feelings, and musings in an intricate collection of little diaries and journals. My website Journal is a digital haven—a space for my thoughts and reveries. I tend to stray away from anything too commercial or does not truly represent me and my philosophy.

15. How much do you research your subjects (products, people, buildings, nature) before photographing them?

For architecture and travel, I typically do not do much research on my subjects other than the location. I always aim to keep my voice and artistic vision authentic and pure, so that every image you see is an original composition coming from my inner self and never a manifestation of someone else’s vision. I also prefer to learn about the venue or region from first-hand experiences of the locals.

For people, I try to familiarise myself with their background, life, and work. However, I prefer to learn about the individual through conversation in person.

For products, I thoroughly research every brand or company that I photograph for. It is extremely important to me that I only feature or promote products that I genuinely use on a daily basis. Every product you see on my Instagram or website is a product that I have used for some time.

16. What’s your next big adventure?

I am preparing to embark on the next milestone of my journey to become a doctor. I also hope to breathe air in new countries along the way and publish more stories.

If you want to keep an eye on Koi’s work, keep an eye on her website or follow her on Instagram where she posts new photos every week.

Ready to start your own online portfolio? Try Squarespace free for 14 days! When you’re ready to subscribe be sure to use coupon “PETAPIXEL” for 10% off your first domain or website purchase.