We like to work with the best. It’s kind of our thing. Introducing Peter Prato, who shot the portraits for Design Disruptors. Originally from Pennsylvania and now based in San Francisco, it’s not just Peter’s beautiful portraits that has us intrigued…

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Describe your work aesthetic and practice?

It’s a great question to be asked because it makes you think about whether or not you’re making real decisions about what kind of voice you want to have. This continues to be a challenge for me as I strip away the things I don’t like in my work and further develop the aesthetic that represents what I want to say. So, that goes in the direction of describing my practice.

More specifically, though, I’m looking for a conversation in my work. Whether it’s making a portrait or working with architecture firms; I want my time spent making an image to result in a better understanding of a space, of a person, of what went into making those things, what they are and how they exist in the world.

As for aesthetic, I’m interested in storytelling. The documentary work I’ve shot is an attempt both at telling the story of how people live and how I’ve seen that. I don’t believe that I’m not impacting the scene, but I do think it’s important to make people comfortable enough for them to begin to forget about the camera. That’s part of the story, too, I think. That a photographer was able to get close.

Where portraiture is involved, I can see my work moving in a more cinematic direction, and I’m learning more about lighting and directing every day.

I just finished reading “On The Move: A Life,” by Oliver Sacks. I just started reading “Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceipt, Imperial Folly, and The Making of The Modern Middle East,” by Scott Anderson.

Peter Prato | ELLE Decoration SA

Peter Prato | ELLE Decoration SA

Peter Prato | ELLE Decoration SA

Your studio space is…

Almost always on location. I’ve been shooting out of a friend’s studio in the Dogpatch in San Francisco but most of that has been practice for the work on location. My office space, which I share with a few independent companies, is where I go to manage the business and unlock some of my mind. Being surrounded by 3D printers and people prototyping responsive structures is a good way to get out of one’s head.

How do you balance personal and commercial work? How are they connected?

This is something I’m thinking a lot about these days as both are playing an important role in my life. The realisation last year was that any commercial work I take has to play a role in developing my ability to communicate. Not just with images, but as someone who’s trying to run a business. Commercial work has taught me volumes about negotiating contracts, licensing agreements, and, basically, the kind of professional I want to be, which is another way of saying that I want to be reasonable, but I’m not going to be a pushover.

I’m not just representing myself. I’m representing anyone that wants to make a career of photography. Not everyone respects that. I also take commercial work because it pays well and I live in San Francisco, which isn’t known for being inexpensive. That, plus a desire to invest in new equipment, adds up. The balance is achieved by taking what I learn, who I meet, and what I earn from the commercial work and applying it to personal work, whether it be collaborating with someone I’ve hired or investing in a new piece of equipment.
Peter Prato | ELLE Decoration SA

If you reach a point where you feel like you’re not having any fun go on a road trip with a couple of disposable 35mm cameras. Joy is a better motivator than frustration.

Who is a major influence on your work?

Jake Stangels work has been an influence for several years. Not just his photography, but his approach, too. I’m a big fan of his transparency in talking about the business of photography, his motivations, that kind of thing. He comes across as a real person who’s not all that concerned about being cool. His use of natural light is wonderful, too. In addition, Ian Allen has been a huge influence over the last year. He’s a phenomenal photographer and one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. He’s also an encyclopedia when it comes to both the technical side of photography and whiskey, which is one of my favorite combinations in a person. Alex Prager and Jeff Wall are big influences, too.

Advice for young aspiring photographers?

Take at least two accounting classes and practice as much as possible.
Most memorable project?

I spent a few days documenting a clinic for The John Dau Foundation in Southern Sudan a couple of months before it took its independence and became South Sudan. We chartered a flight out of the Wilson Airport in Nairobi and I was given a chance to fly the plane for a while, which I then almost took into Ugandan air space. After we landed in the desert the pilot bid farewell and took off. It’s the farthest I’ve ever been from home in every single way. The clinic was in Duk Payuel. I spent time with some of The Lost Boys, which, if you know anything about them and their history, you also know they’ve seen the worst humanity has to offer.

We sat together in typical plastic patio furniture and drank beers by twilight and told stories about our happiest moments in life.

The man sitting next to me told us a story about being chased by the mujahideen, who were going to shoot him. His only option was to jump into a river but he couldn’t swim, so he knew he’d drown. He jumped anyway. The happiest moment of his life, he said, wasn’t getting away. It was finding out that he could swim. He had no idea. When you meet people like this, that have experienced true horror, and they’re still able to laugh, to joke; it stays with you.

Peter Prato | ELLE Decoration SA
Peter Prato | ELLE Decoration SA

Peter Prato | ELLE Decoration SA

What is your all-time favourite trend?

Realising that we need to take care of this planet if we want to live on it is near the top. Also, the trend toward equity among human beings is something I think needs to be supported and fought for, everywhere, in the smartest and most deliberate ways possible. Anger isn’t always the best route, but it’s worth getting angry about women not being given the same basic opportunities as men, as long as that anger is used to build something better. In short, a trend toward no discrimination would be at the top of my list. Less would be a good start.

Peter Prato | ELLE Decoration SA


You can follow this international photographer on Instagram here, or follow him on Twitter where he often shares his thoughts on political and humanitarian issues. He also shot the portraits for the Design Disruptors feature in the Trends Issue.


The official 2016 Trends Issue of ELLE Decoration South Africa is on shelves now, at your nearest magazine retailer. Enjoy DECO’s exclusive decor, design, lifestyle and fashion report for the year ahead. Everything from architecture to scents, this is your comprehensive guide to make informed and confident decisions. Pick up your copy today and tell us what you think on Twitter @Elle_Deco, sharing your #TrendIssue #DECO