I ran into Aaron in Hakuba last February as he was taking photos for a Korua Shapes team Japan trip. Even though we only spent two days together, we hit it off straight away, instantly getting into tech discussions of snowboards, and of course, camera gear. He’s pretty handy with a pen too, as you can see lower down with the designs he draws on snowboards. A pretty rad guy all round, find out a little about what makes him tick in this: the Aaron Schwartz interview.
Hey Aaron, how about you introduce yourself to start off?
Sure, my name is Aaron Schwartz! I like drawing and taking pictures, and somehow found a way to make a living from it. I’m originally from North Vancouver, but have been living and working in Laax, Switzerland for the past few years. My main focus is graphic design, specifically lettering and illustration, but often work in branding and editorial design as well. As for photography, I mostly shoot snowboarding in the winter, but generally enjoy taking pictures of pretty much anything really – people, places, live music, landscapes, you name it!
Aaron, at work and at play
This is your first trip to Japan. How has it been? Any standout moments so far?
Yes, this is my first trip here. I’m really excited that it’s on these terms because shooting with Nicholas so far has been great, and now getting to travel somewhere far away with him and focus on creating content for Korua Shapes is an awesome experience. We spent the first two weeks hiking around a few different zones around Asahidake and Tokachidake in Hokkaido, which was amazing. I live in a resort town in Switzerland, so I’m very much used to just hopping on the gondola in the morning and maybe hiking a bit from the chair. Stepping out of the camper in the morning, strapping on snowshoes and just heading into the woods is a totally different experience and lifestyle. After a week of hiking I actually had difficulty getting off the chairlift the first few runs. Nicholas still gives me a hard time for that, haha. Generally speaking, pretty much every day has been a highlight in my eyes. Everywhere we’ve been so far I’ve met new people who have all been so kind and welcoming. We’re in Hakuba now, and unfortunately the weather and snow conditions are a bit shaky, but it’s been great to be here and check out the scene. I’d be very happy to come back and explore more of this amazing country next year. For now, we still have two days of Tokyo to enjoy before we fly home, which I’m excited for as well!
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten here? Have you found anything awesome that you wished they sold back home?
I think the weirdest thing I ate was fried stingray at a restaurant in Higashikawa. I wasn’t particularly fond of it to be honest, ha ha! I would definitely love to have delicious wasabi pork rice triangles at the local convenience store here in Laax. Those were great snacks for the mountain!
Has your shooting experience here in Japan been different to shooting in Europe? Have you had to adjust your routine in any way?
It’s been very different, but I don’t think I changed much about my routine.The main difference in Japan was that we shot a lot in the forest and less in the high alpine, like we do in Europe. There was also more snow, deeper than I’ve experienced it back home, so hiking around trying to find better angles was more strenuous. But it was great, I can’t wait to do it again next year!
How long have you been shooting?
Somewhere around 15 years I think! Geez, time flies.
What made you pick up a camera in the first place?
I bought an Olympus analog body in High School and started taking pictures at the all-ages punk shows around Vancouver. That was my beginning. A few of my friends were way into it and went on to study photography, so I always learned a lot from them as well as just figuring it out for myself.
What was the process that brought you from your first camera to where you are now?
I think it’s the same now as it was initially when I started taking pictures. I just always enjoyed documenting what was going on around me, my friends skateboarding, playing music, hanging out, and so on. I don’t think there’s been a specific process I followed or went through to get me to where I am now. I just kept trying to improve, kept it fun, and steadily upgraded my gear to match my needs.
Do you have a mentor or did you have one in the past?
I don’t have or never really had a mentor. One of my best friends, Eric Thompson, is the one I learnt the most from. He’s the boss!
What is your ideal subject matter for photos? Action or portraits or landscapes or still life? Who is easy to shoot? Do you have anyone person with whom it’s easy to crank out bangers?
In the winter it’s definitely action, lifestyle and landscapes in and around snowboarding that interests me the most. Nicholas Wolken and James Niederberger are always fun to shoot with. And they have great style, so it makes my job easier.
Natural light or flash, or both? Why?
Natural light all the way. I’m not sure why, but I never learnt how to properly use flashes. But it also didn’t interest me very much. I like the idea of trying to find good light for a specific shot, instead of placing it somewhere.
Do you have any ongoing projects you could tell us about?
Last year Nicolas Müller and I auctioned off a custom hand-drawn Burton Malolo that he had kindly given me to use as a blank canvas, with partial proceeds donated to the Atlantic Rainforest Institution. This year we are doing something similar, but with a Burton T7 Prototype that Nicolas tested before Burton sent the final board into production. It will up for auction on eBay in the not so distant future. Proceeds will most likely be going to the Atlantic Rainforest Institution again, as well as a local charity called the Greenstyle Foundation. The quote that is drawn on the board reads “That’s what it’s all about, just having fun! And there’s nobody that can tell you how you’re having the most fun. You gotta find it out for yourself…” – Wise words by a wise man.
How can people find out more about you on the internet?
My online portfolio is www.aaronschwartz.ca / Instagram and Twitter is @akaschwartz / And I often post things on my blog, akaschwartz.tumblr.com
Any shout outs?
Thanks Marc and Japan Grabs! Thanks to Nicholas Wolken, Stephan Maurer and Jerry Niedermayer at Korua Shapes for taking me on this Japan trip. And thanks to my girlfriend Fabienne and my family for all their support.