When you look at the ocean that covers 71% of our planet, does it spark your curiosity? Less than 20% of these waters have ever been explored, leaving their canyons, underground volcanoes, mountain ranges, and even new sealife to be discovered by future explorers. What about Earth itself? It is nearly 8,000 miles in diameter, yet it is just one of billions of planets in the universe. Are there other forms of life waiting for us in some distant galaxy? Are there really planets made of diamond? Urban Koi, an internationally acclaimed creative director and photographer, has always been an adventurous woman who is driven to find these answers. She sees every path that disappears around a bend as a thrilling chance to embrace life and be a student of the universe. I sat down to talk to Koi about her life philosophy and to hear more about the next step on her journey: becoming an astronaut.
An aircraft pilot and certified scuba diver, Koi exhibits a curiosity and sense of adventure that are infectious. As I introduce myself, I bring up her photo of a spectacular octopus sprawled over a rusted barrel at the bottom of a dark ocean. Koi sits with me, looking at the creature and smiling at the memory. “I was scuba diving 70 feet below in the ocean in a tropical region last year,” she recalls. “This small—yet incredibly intelligent and playful—octopus performed a majestic dance as it floated toward me. I made sure to respect its space and just marveled at the alien-like creature. It was magical.”
Koi, as you can tell, is a gifted photographer, and she is known for directing and creating visual stories that interlace the realms of health, travel, and space through a unique artistic lens rooted in her philosophy of life-long learning and discovery.
“Guided by the mysteries of the universe, I seek to illuminate the hidden magic and capture intricate details that celebrate the extraordinary diversity on Earth and beyond,” Koi says. “I have been mesmerized by photography ever since I was four years old when I dissected a vintage film camera. I was so curious that I opened it up to unmask its anatomy. To a child, it was like a puzzle to decode.”
Koi is completely self-taught. As she grew older, she learned more about the intricacies of light, including how it traveled through lenses, reflected off mirrors, and exposed the light-sensitive emulsion in photography. “The more I experimented with the camera, the more I became captivated by the infinite art I could create. I became a photographer to forever immortalize the beauty of our fascinating world.”
The age of Tumblr and Instagram brought opportunities for Koi to share her photography on a wider scale, and she eventually cultivated an international audience of 250K+ that was drawn to her signature style of visual storytelling and to her blend of art and science. “Being able to connect with other people who appreciate the wonders of our world led to dream opportunities,” she explains. “World-renowned brands contacted me to direct and photograph special creative campaigns with my unique lens.”
Koi’s skills were noticed by NASA, who selected her as an independent photographer to document and bring awareness to the space exploration missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
“It was an incredible honor—a dream come true,” she says. “I was granted clearance to go behind the scenes at NASA’s rocket factory to photograph the engineering process of the Space Launch System, Orion Spacecraft, Pegasus, and Vertical Assembly Center. I have always had a passion for space, so to be at NASA and document the assembly of such brilliant space technology right before my eyes in real time was an experience of a lifetime.”
Her curiosity extends to education, as Koi is pursuing her Master of Science in Space Systems Engineering and Doctor of Aerospace Medicine. “I am on a journey to become an astronaut and see where it takes me,” she confirms. “I am driven to learn more about what exists beyond our planet and the future of humanity. My journey is long and arduous. However, I have great determination to be a leader in the healthcare and space industries.”
Today, Koi has trademarked her philosophy: Student of the Universe®. “Wherever life takes me, I am perpetually wide-eyed and curious as a student of the universe,” she says. “Life is an odyssey of eternal learning, with infinite mysteries waiting to be unraveled. Never stop asking questions and finding the answers for yourself.”
Urban Koi is an internationally acclaimed creative director and photographer whose photos of the curiosities of the oceans, our world, and the universe have captivated thousands on Instagram. As a co-leader on the Board of Creatives of 100cameras, she works to empower youth across the world who have had challenging experiences and to teach them to become change-makers through photography. Koi is the creative director and designer of “A Worldwide Lens: Perspectives from Youth,” the first-ever worldwide photobook from 100cameras, uplifting programs in 28 communities around the globe.
For more of Koi’s photography and journey as a future astronaut, please visit: