URBAN KOI,

NEW YORK

“New York is bursting with inspiration. Perhaps I am a bit odd, but I see a narrative in nearly every nook and cranny. From the grit of the Metro to the weathering of alleyways, I am endlessly inspired by the diverse history and I long to unearth the stories told within the walls.”

We had the honour of speaking to the very talented photographer, director & writer, Urban Koi. Her photography makes you gaze & wonder off into a serene & beautiful universe. “Born by curiosity and wistfulness, her visual stories interlace the enigmatic realms of medicine, space & travel” As it’s described on her website; “Koi has established an international clientele with world-renowned names -such as Apple, Dior & Google- and was selected as an independent photographer for Nasa”.

Where did you come from originally and where do you live now?
I currently reside in New York, but the future is mysterious. Perhaps, I will call my next home: Mars. 

You’re a very talented photographer, but also art director, writer and scientist. Can you tell us a little bit more about the relationship between these different fields?
Thank you—I am humbled and very much appreciate the kind words! Infinite enigmas in science waiting to be deciphered, so I just think of myself as a little student in this mysterious universe, perpetually wide-eyed and curious, as there is always something new to learn or a skill to cultivate. 

On the first impression, photography, writing, and science may appear to be completely unrelated fields that do not intermingle. However, these realms are colourful threads that weave together into a vivid web.

At the lab, I operate microscope imaging technology to chronicle hundreds of immunohistochemistry slides containing various tissues that I prepared, stained, and mounted. Under the microscope, cells can be seen fluorescing in beautiful hues of red, brown, green, and blue, depending on the specific reagent exposures and chemical reactions at the genetic or molecular level. These experiments are executed to investigate behaviours, relationships, and peculiarities between different types of cells. Currently, I study cancer with the aim to establish cancer genetic profiles, discover tumour markers for early detection analysis, and develop chemo-preventive or therapeutic treatments that target tumour-specific pathways, with the main goal: to ameliorate cancer. 

Experimental design shares characteristics of art directing as well—one must direct a team of scientists to conduct experiments or studies aimed at a proposed idea or objective. Science presentations, conference posters, and publications require art design and proficient writing in order to illustrate discoveries, showcase data, and convey hypotheses to the community.

Medicine is one of the most dynamic and complex fields. It begins with: a thirst to devise how and why, honest concern, and genuine compassion. The best physician interlaces scientific theory, empirical evidence, and the art of humanity. Every human is unique and requires individualised attention—not every condition must be treated in the same manner. Thus, eclectic creativity and artful critical thinking are essential to provide the best care for each person. Medicine is an art. 

What does art mean to you?
Art is the language of the universe. It is a dynamic entity that manifests in copious forms.

When did you first get in touch with photography?
My passion for photography was born when I was four years old and I was playing with my parents’ 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.

There seems to be an underlying simplicity and calmness in your photographic work – where does this very particular vision stem from?
New York City is frequently characterised as the ‘city that never sleeps’ and sometimes labelled as a centre of chaos. However, take a deep breath, ground yourself, and feel the rhythm of the city. The way the vines overturn a deserted brick building in Brooklyn; the way the fog lingers, gracing rooftops with a beguiling stillness; the way relentless sunlight slices through the scaffolding, casting obsidian shadows with cryptic riddles; and the way the car horns beep or footsteps pitter-patter on the cobblestone streets—there is beauty in the seemingly mundane.

Food and medicine are recurring themes in your photographs – can you tell us more about this aspect of the work?
I was four years old when I started baking and cooking on my own, as my parents were never present at home, and food became one of my first subjects in photography. I fancied experimenting in the kitchen while documenting each concoction throughout the years. As an aspiring surgeon/physician, I believe that what we ingest is a vital component of our health outcome, so I often make time to hand-make my meals and other fare from scratch.

What role do fashion and design play in your work and life?
The interior design of my studio is extremely minimal and monochromatic, punctuated with white brick and dark wood accents. The open space keeps my mind clear and focused. Regarding fashion, a large portion of my wardrobe is vintage military-inspired or NASA themed. My daily uniform typically consists of a button-down shirt with a bowtie and double-breasted coat or flight bomber with vintage patches, topped off with a wide-brimmed hat or an old-fashioned newsboy cap. 

What photographic equipment do you usually travel with?
I generally travel extremely light, so my companion is usually just my DSLR with a couple of lenses—nothing too fancy. On slower adventures, I will also bring along my old film cameras and several rolls of film. The chief aspect of photography is one’s unique composition and story, not one’s apparatus. 

What is the best memory from one of your photography trips?
I have an intense affinity for astronomy—my secret love-affair, so photographing the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in Iceland for the first time is a breath-taking memory.

What is New York like to work and live as an urban creative?
New York is bursting with inspiration. Perhaps I am a bit odd, but I see life and soul in every nook and cranny. From the grit in the Metro to the weathering alleyways, I am endlessly inspired by the diverse history and I strive to unearth the hidden magic within the streets.

UT Final Five…

Best purchase ever?
Jazz. I found her as a kitten abandoned in a box on the sidewalk and I instantly felt a special connection. I took her home with me and since then, we have become inseparable. When she stretches, her black and white hair pattern resembles piano keys, which is why I named her Jazz. Although she was technically not a ‘purchase,’ she is one of the best things to ever happen to me.

Favourite book?
Since I am a bit of a bookworm, it is too difficult to select just one. The genres that I tend to gravitate towards are mysteries, science-fiction and non-fiction, or anything related to outer space. I am also enraptured by works that embody the tenuous nature of existence.

  • 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

  • The Stranger – Albert Camus

  • The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

  • Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance – Dr. Atul Gawande

Favourite dish?
Squid ink fettuccine with handmade pesto or tagliatelle dressed in fresh tomato sauce, olive oil, and chopped basil.

Next trip?
Where I will travel next is not set in stone—I will allow the natural flow of life lead me.

Insiders tip to New York?
Skip the super touristy attractions. Take a walk and seek out hidden gems—that is when you will truly experience New York.

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