Clear Vision : The Photography of Connie Aramaki

photos by :: Connie Aramaki

words by :: Sean Jewell

Immediately after looking at preview pictures for this photo session from Seattle photographer Connie (Coco) Aramaki I wanted to know the story. I had the fortune to meet Coco at an exhibition for Canon camera, where she explained to me –in no uncertain terms– that is not how she works. I thought for sure there must be a story because the texture in the photos put my mind on the farm. I could smell hay, taste oats, feel the breeze on the pasture. This is the genius of Coco Aramaki.

It’s not important to Coco that she tell you what the photographs are about, she’ll let you make that story up for yourself. Some of you may recognize this place as Slime Dog Speedway, in Stanwood, Washington. It’s where Don Slack has his yearly SlackFest –a celebration of all things honky tonk. Coco came here to work on a photo series about touch, and she captured the texture of the place. This explains why, when looking at the pictures, I was right back in my childhood–buckin’ hay bales and ridin’ shotgun in dad’s old Ford.

At the exhibit I could easily pick out Coco’s work. It’s different from other photographers. She had clearly put herself in some uncomfortable conditions to make sure enough visual information was packed into her photos for me to concoct a story. I imagined the emotions of her subjects. In a previous career I was an electronics technician, not a very good one, since my mind doesn’t always hold every piece in place at once. The best technicians can see (and keep) the big picture while working on the tiniest components. Coco Aramaki is a technician if I’ve ever met one.

I asked Coco a few questions about how she captures the essence of things so well . . .

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AST:  Type of camera/lens?

Coco:  Canon 5DMiii.  Lens used were the fixed 50mm and a 16-35mm.

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Do you have tips on shooting landscapes like this? With field of vision so large, how do you pick an area of focus?  

My focus is always on my subject.  Getting him in the right moment.  The landscape is secondary for me.  When I’m there I decide how much to show and how it will help tell my story versus take away or distract from it.  Of course the landscape is important in this photo story so I just walked the property before I began shooting to see what different colors and textures were there.  I wanted the shots to diversify, but at the same time complement each other.

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There are a few pictures in very low light (in the truck/in the stables). What are your suggestions for shooting in those conditions?  

I love low light situations and I think you just have to embrace it and make it a part of the photograph.  Technically, I go high on my ISO and keep a steady hand.   I also don’t believe that every photograph has to be perfectly exposed and sharp.  I don’t mind out of focused photos or motion blur.  Sometimes that is what makes the photos interesting and unique.

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Are you editing these photos after the fact? How do you choose out of a photo session?

Yes I edit them after but I already know in my head which images are my favorite while I’m shooting.  I keep a mental note to find it while I’m looking thru the images later.  For a photo story like this, I always keep in mind to look for an opening shot, closer, and try to hit everything in between.  Meaning, details, landscapes, mid crop shots, and stills around the location that could possibly add to the story down the road. This particular photo story was extremely easy to shoot.  My subject Trevor (Pendras) [Country Lips] is photogenic and was surprisingly comfortable in front of the camera for having little experience being photographed in this style.  The landscape was beautiful and we did this all in one hour.

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Coco Aramaki has several amazing projects going, from photos of the US across every major interstate, to finding places to publish her recent trip to Cuba. See through her lens on instagram: @cocotakemyphoto

Top Song: Country Lips – “Pretty Pictures”

Bottom Song: Country Lips – “Smells Like The Country”