AYA TIFFANY SATO

 
Photo Credit: iana Rothery

Photo Credit: iana Rothery

 

AYA TIFFANY SATO

PHOTOGRAPHY / GRAPHIC DESIGN

SEATTLE, WA

 

Where are you from, where are you now, and what keeps you around?

This question of where I'm from is always hard for me to answer. Short version, I'm from Seattle. Long version, I call Vail, Colorado my hometown. My most formative years were spent there. I've lived in 13 different cities (plus moves within those cities) in 6 states. The majority of those moves happened before our family landed in Mukilteo, Washington in 2000. I lived in Cleveland, Ohio for a year and a half after college and moved back to the Seattle area at the end of 2008. I currently live in Seattle and I'm staying here until I get priced out. I've been renting my house in the Beacon Hill neighborhood for the past 5 years, praying that rent doesn't catch up to its surrounding rental properties.

When did you first know you wanted to get involved in photography and what made you decide to make it part of your identity?

In the summer of 2003, our family took a road trip to San Francisco so I could check out an art college (I didn't end up attending, way too expensive). I brought our family digital camera. A clunky 1.3 mega pixel camera that came free with our family PC. I took terrible artsy photos all over the city and loved it. Soon after, I started attending local shows and took terrible band photos. I posted them on my Livejournal and got a lot of encouraging feedback so I kept with it.  At the end of my senior year of high school, I gave CDs of photos I had taken over the year to my friends. Being able to share those memories with my friends kept me shooting. Thanks to digital photography, Photoshop 7, and Livejournal, taking photos on a regular basis and sharing it online shaped a lot of my career. I went to college for graphic design but I incorporated photography whenever I could. I graduated college during the recession so I gave up trying to find a graphic design job after a couple years and settled for a unfulfilling day job, concentrating on photography on my spare time. Since I had very little formal training in photography, my career options were limited to freelancing, mostly shooting bands and trying to convince people to let me shoot their wedding when I had no experience. Turned out okay, thankfully.

What is your favorite setup for both digital and film photography?

My go-to digital setup is a Nikon D750 with a 50mm f/1.4 lens and a Nikon D610 with a 20mm f/1.8. I really like the smaller full frame DSLRs since I usually shoot with 2 cameras. Only having prime lenses forces me to be creative or move when a shot isn't working for me. 

My favorite film setup is a Hasselblad 500c/m with a 80mm f/2.8 and a Polaroid SX-70. They are very different cameras with two distinct looks.


I find that getting started on a new project can be daunting, how do you go about approaching a photo shoot? Is there a check list you run through? are there any albums or other artist you draw inspiration from to help you figure things out?

I can't count how many times I've shown up to shoot a show without memory cards when I didn't make a mental checklist. My checklist is usually making sure I have all the gear I need, fully charged battery, memory cards, address and directions to where the shoot will be, and proper attire. For weddings, it is much more extensive and takes a lot more communication and planning with the client. For conceptual and editorial shoots, it looks different from shoot to shoot, but I usually write down or sketch some ideas, collect images and color palettes, and find a song or two that reflect the mood I'm aiming for. 

I've been shooting live bands for 14 years and weddings for 8 years but still run into challenges. I wouldn't say getting started is daunting anymore, but keeping momentum is something I struggle with every year. I tend to burn out from shooting by the end of wedding season since I am shooting almost every weekend for 3 months straight.

I actively work on personal projects and take breaks to avoid these burnouts. I look at a lot of other artists' work when I'm trying to refresh my perspective. My favorite artist is Paul Klee, a Swiss-German from the early 1900's. He worked in many different medias and styles, was a great writer, and musically gifted. The Diaries of Paul Klee 1898-1918 sits next to my desk and if nice to read an entry or two in between long periods of staring at my computer.

Have you found that there are perks to being in your field of art?

I'm overjoyed that something I capture can bring back fond memories for other people as well as for myself.

How about frustrations?

Running a photography business is brutally expensive. Gear, hardware, software, repairs, backups, film, processing, etc. I get anxiety when pricing my services because I want quality photos to be accessible, yet I need to cover my expenses. Growing up with poor immigrant parents, I've seen how hard people work for little money. I strive to be conscious of that. People have definitely taken advantage of my willingness to do things for free or for little money, but people that respond in gratitude outweigh those negative experiences.

Are there any projects that you are particularly proud of?

I have been stoked about the weddings I've shot this year. I've been really happy to be getting clients that fit my vibe. Outside of photography, I am currently in a group art show. The focus of the show is about past intimate relationships. I created a few mixed media pieces. It was difficult to emotionally process as I was making my pieces, but felt proud to be able to articulate my feelings visually.

How do you feel about the photography community in Seattle, is there anything you want to praise or change about it?

I was briefly a part of the Seattle wedding photography community but found it wasn't for me. I have friends that are awesome photographers, so they are my photography community. My core community in Seattle is mostly filled with musicians, which I feel the most at home with.

What can you be found doing when you are not behind a camera?

Alongside photography, I am also an illustrator and mixed media artist. I've recently been enjoying working in ceramics and playing my flute with the RC-2 Loop Station pedal. I really like drinking beer and making pizza at home or drinking beer and traveling.

You have worked with some pretty cool bands, Who are you some of your favorites to work with?

I learned about the music industry, how to deal with record labels and media, and how to shoot bands by taking photos for The Fall of Troy. I started photographing them in 2003 and I was forced to learn fast. Tiny venues, crap lighting, lots of hair, and fast movement. I've been shooting for them for over a decade and they are still fun.

The Hoot HootsWild Powwers, and Turian are my favorite local Seattle bands to shoot live. 

In the past, I really loved shooting for Decibel Festival. It was an electronic music festival based around a bunch of different venues in Seattle. 

Are there any new projects that you are working on? if so, could you tell us a little about them?

I've got a few coming up. I will be photographing the Fall of Troy for half of their tour dates in September. Should be interesting and a much-needed break from my wedding season. I'm also excited to be working on artwork for Andrew Nyte's solo album. I have been working on a book for a little bit now, but haven't made any deadlines for myself. It will likely be an ongoing project for the next few years or so.

Time for the favorites

Favorite restaurant?

The Burgundian - Not only do I enjoy their food, their tap list is always awesome.

Favorite local(Seattle)artist at the moment?

Musician, Briana Marela - Although technically Olympia. I first saw her perform while I was shooting for Decibel Festival in 2015. She just released her new album, Call It Love.

Visual Artist, Ella Ordona - I relate to a lot of Ella's work and appreciate her deeply as a human.

Favorite not so local artist?

Musician, Big Spider's Back - North Carolina based electronic producer.

Visual Artist, Ray Morimura - Incredible Japanese woodblock printmaker.

Favorite place to visit?

Anywhere with good beer and friends.

Least favorite place to visit?

The dentist. I have weak enamel and have been on prescription toothpaste since having adult teeth. I am almost guaranteed cavities each visit.

Five favorite albums?

Selected Ambient Works 85-92 - Aphex Twin

Geogaddi - Boards of Canada

Port Rhombus EP - Squarepusher

Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons - Blonde Redhead

Designing of a Nervous Breakdown - The Anniversary

Favorite TV show?

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Favorite slice of pizza?

I am a huge fan of the pizzas I've been making at home.

Favorite animal?

Red Panda

Favorite game?

I hate board games. Card games are sometimes okay. Can watching hockey count?

Favorite invention from the 19th century? 

Probably the camera obscura? Kind of related but in 1810, The Theory of Color by Goethe was published. Fun fact I know because I have a 1810 tattoo.

last words?

Thanks EJ! 

LINKS:

www.ayatsato.com