Feature: Yuli Sato

Her Wild Imagination
Often sifting through massive books of her negatives, Yuli Sato celebrates a tradition of photographic physicality.

Having lived in Yellowknife, Calgary, Victoria and now Montreal, Yuli Sato has arrived at her full-blown adoration with photography. Leaving high school in British Columbia and coming to Montreal for her degree in photography was not an unnatural move for Sato, “In high school I was extremely exposed to photography; we had a really good dark room at school which I fully took advantage of.”

Sato’s “extracurricular activity” was fully encouraged by a supportive home composed of a photographer father, Aboriginal art enthusiast mother and an artistic sister.  Photo-taking was always a large part of childhood for this fifth-year Concordia University student, and she finds photo archiving to be a worthwhile cause. “I have always loved going through my parents’ photos from when they were young as well as my own. As a kid I hated how my Dad was always shoving a camera in my face, but now when I think about my future, that’s exactly what I want my kids to have.”

Yuli Sato aims to document moments of spontaneity and beauty in an unconventional sense. “It’s those little moments that really get to me, like the ability to turn something mundane into something reflective of the complete opposite,” she explains. Her aesthetic style is flowing, infused with prominent light sources and extensively diverse in genre. Ranging from fashion books to travel archiving to concert documentation, we question how she is able to keep up with her wild imagination. Sato notes, “I look at photography as a gateway to meet people, who tend to branch out into so many fields like fashion and music.” Some might call her a people person, and Sato doesn’t disagree in the slightest.

Travelling has always been a huge part of the photographer’s childhood moving from province to province, and is naturally prominent in her work. Having visually documented her travels to destinations such as Maine, Vermont and NYC, Sato finds fascination in seeing and interacting with “complete strangers in a place that is extremely foreign.” The worry of forgetting moments constantly infests her thoughts, and the way a photograph can spark a memory and recover a feeling is her photographic fuel.

Her work could be described as romantic and nostalgic, but Yuli Sato believes she recently arrived at somewhat of a plateau: her work is too “soft.” Sick of hearing about how “dreamy” her work is, she decided to “work with a sharper camera to force [herself] out of that comfortable space [she’s] carved.” Struggling in her earlier years at Concordia, Sato was intimidated by critique. “I wasn’t sure how to take the criticism at first, but I feel like I’ve opened up a lot more now,” she says. Testing out the waters has pushed her to create more diversity in her work by using crisper colours and harsher outlines within her landscape, portraiture and fashion tests.

Reminiscing on her work, Sato reflects on some of her personal favourites to date. Yuli Sato has been featured in countless publications such as the Tarantula Sisters Zine, Worn Fashion Journal and Frankie Magazine as well as has shown in many Montreal exhibitions over her years. Her freelance fashion story titled “Sisters” from 2011 really caught my eye. “With this story, I followed the notions of adolescence, fiction and girlhood. That concept reflected my fear of growing up and losing innocence,” she explains. The result was a timeless depiction of fictional characters that lived in their own innocent worlds.

Yuli Sato’s inspirations root from varying sources that affect her images thematically and conceptually. Whilst browsing Flikr, Sato finds herself to be quite the clicking fiend. Rarely does she come across something that is worth breaking that fast-paced routine. “When I stop, it is because the photograph has that something. Whether light, colour, composition or subject matter, it doesn’t have to be symbolic or deep, it just has to have an element of wonder and relation.”

Noting that she appreciates fellow photographers such as Hellen Van Meene and Ryan McGinley, Sato confesses that bizarre moments during her travels are the most influential. When she doesn’t have her bigger camera on hand, she resorts to taking Blackberry snapshots of strangers and crowds in unfamiliar settings. Sato explains, “I love to fool around with low quality, distorted images and I find myself zooming in on people in the background, some of which are making eye contact with the camera.”

As she is currently finishing up her degree at Concordia, Yuli Sato has many realistic and idealistic plans for the future, but photography remains constant. “I graduate this winter and plan to make as much money as I need to travel all over Europe and Iceland to take pictures. And that’s the end of it. I don’t know how logical that is, but that’s my happy beginning.”