Aya Okawa

Photographer, Visual Anthropologist
The Systems That Shape Us
Location: San Francisco, California.
Nationality: American
Biography: Aya Okawa is an award-winning aerial and environmental photographer and visual anthropologist who enjoys shooting landscape transformation, abstract patterns, and documenting the interaction of natural and human systems. Aya's work has been... MORE
Public Story
The Systems That Shape Us
Copyright Aya Okawa 2023
Updated Feb 2022
Topics Aerial, Agriculture, Capitalism, Climate Change, Community, Conservation, Culture, Documentary, Editorial, Education, Environment, Essays, Food, Globalization, Photography, Spotlight, World
A fine art series of images, photographed around the world from a small plane, that explore the systems that shape our modern lives, societies and economies.
We may tune out - or stop noticing - the infrastructure and systems that most deeply shape our lives as individuals and society.

As we go about our daily routines, do we consider the structures in place that put power in our electrical sockets, food in our grocery stores, plastic in our consumables, or salts in our batteries?

As a photographer & visual anthropologist, when I started flying in small planes I was struck by how tiny our all-important lives actually looked from above, when moments ago the concerns of the terrestrial life had seemed so all encompassing. Flying above my own town, I was duly shocked by how little I actually knew about the area that I had lived in for years - I drove around and explored on foot (or so I thought) - only to realize that all it took to keep something out of my field of vision & understanding was something as insignificant as a 6 foot tall fence, a gate, or even none of the above in many cases. From above, I could see massive caverns gauged into the earth by bulldozers, vast stretches of electrical lines and transformer stations, landfills sprawling across hilltops, junkyards, and industrial plants alongside water sources. None of this had I ever noticed, or given much thought to.

I became fascinated by capturing and studying images of the infrastructure around my community, and those of communities globally - visually investigating the infrastructure that we may not heed in our everyday lives, and exploring the human-made systems that define the foundations of our societies, cultures and economies. In this visual exploration, I also found a mesmerizing beauty in the patterns that emerged - in both the human-made & natural ecosystems, and my goal is to share this sense of awe and curiosity with others through this series. These photos were made in cities throughout the United States, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, & Belgium.

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Also by Aya Okawa —


The Last Shinto Shrine on Maui

Aya Okawa / Maui

Musical Instrument Master Workshop

Aya Okawa / San Pablo, CA

Human Intervention: Waterscapes

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Tsunami Survivor Protecting Vulnerable Sea Turtles

Aya Okawa / Galbokka, Sri Lanka

Gold Rush Ghost Town

Aya Okawa / bridgeport, ca
The Systems That Shape Us by Aya Okawa
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