Researched by Roberta Pastore
ALESSANDRO PRATO ATKO
I was born in a little town on the French border called Ventimiglia in 1969. After several trips for business reasons I moved to Imperia where I have been employed since as a technician. Although no one in the family was familiar with photography, I got passionate about it by chance in the 90’s. After a long hiatus the passion re-emerged and at the end of 2013 and I did look out to the social world; in 2014 I opened a daily diary on Tumblr from where I did come across the first personal satisfactions and new stimuli.
Going back in time how was your passion for photography born? What was your first camera?
To answer you I have to make a leap to 1991. During my military service in the dormitories there was a guy that documented those days with a camera. Honestly I didn’t understand his dedication, but I fascinated , although it was not yet a real passion, I think that the seed of photography has planted in me in those days. In December of 1992, my mother asked me which was my wish for Christmas; without thinking I replied “A camera! ” I got a Nikon F401X. I started taking my first photographs regardless of their type; family, friends, landscapes; often the results were disappointing and, in my city, the chances of comparison were almost non-existent. At those times, unfortunately, the opportunities to gather information and study Photography were not as accessible as today and my finances were not so flourishing; slowly, and unconsciously, I stopped taking photos in 1995. In 2008 I started to travel with regularity and I bought a compact digital camera. I took pics without pretensions, photographs to show to family and friends. At the beginning it was thrilling but soon it got boring so I decided to buy a digital SLR that allowed me more control in taking pictures. Shot after shot the passion resurfaced, grew up and strengthened. I began buying books, studying systematically the work of great photographers with obsessive frequency; I began to surf the net in search of authors of which I had only heard the name, information about the photographic technique, hours and hours of study, if I had had the same dedication during my school career, today, probably, I would be a nuclear astrophysicist.
Considering your works, which ones marked your entrance in the world of real photography?
Once a man said “If you can smell the street then is SP “. Surfing the net we can read nonsensical talk with which people identify the Masters; at first glance those are only words used to give one a tone, but then you come across something where those words echo something in you, revealing a most intimate meaning. The shooting about the “street women” was impulsive and it was the first time I felt that “smell”; the sitting woman, with her look and posture, goes beyond the theatricality of the scene.
How do you manage colour and B&W?
The question does not arise when you shoot in film, but when you enter in the digital world things can get complicated: you run the risk of focusing on some preconceived ideas without considering other possibilities. I confess that was true for me; at the beginning the B&W was a “must” as long as I came across the work of Saul Leiter, Joel Meyerowitz, Alex Webb, Matt Stuart and many others amazing photographers. I have changed my preconceptions and today I don’t think that colour is an element of distraction, even if I think many photographers take refuge in the B&W conversion in an attempt to transform a photo devoid of content in an impacting one. Volumes, shapes and converging lines, silhouettes, street portraits, surreal scenes, high-contrast scenes, basically pushed me to shoot in B&W, but of course there are exceptions in which the colour is an essential ingredient and, without it, the photo does not make sense, or the salient features of the subject would not be highlighted. I think it’s always a matter of balance and harmony; during my photo-walks it often happens that my interpretation of the scene is suggested by the scene itself.
Which kind of camera do you use?
In my kit there are two Fuji that I use daily, a D600 that I carry with me in my travels as second body, two Olympus OM-1 loaded with B&W films at different sensitivity, a Nikon FM2 and of course my first love, the F401x. I like to work with prime lenses, ranging between 28 and 50 mm and from time to time I don’t mind using a disposable camera. I would love one day to achieve a little dream add to my kit a Leica M6 and a Plaubel Makina W67, GAS affected ? I hope not! I love to challenge myself!
What determines if a photo is a “good one” or not?
To find the right answer, to be applied as a mathematical formula to each photograph, it would be like winning the Montecarlo’s Jackpot. Jokingly I talked about a mathematical formula . Subject, context, energy, action and interaction, ambiguity, abstraction and surrealism, atmosphere, are some of the variables of such formula; the right mixture of all these elements, or some of them, may result in a “good photo”. I think that a “good photo” should have, first of all, a universal language. Among the fans of Street Photography it is often referred the crucial nature of the Decisive Moment, but is it not as crucial the moment when the photographer performs its editing? Observing your own work with the necessary detachment is, in my opinion, the first step that determines whether a photo is a good one and not a beautiful one. Good Photography is not a fleeting moment, it captures your attention for more than a few seconds, it hits you in the stomach by stimulating genuine emotions, it has a pinch of salt that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, it renews its strength every time you see it. The Good Photo is the one that you probably would like to print and hang on a wall.
When you are shooting, do you have an image in your mind? Do you build the final photo before shooting it or are your images also a result of a post-production phase?
Usually I watch the light; if it’s cloudy or raining I put in the bag the film cameras and flash, but if it is a sunny day I choose the mirrorless camera. Without expectations I go out for my photo-walk, I rely myself on the case and on my mood. I live in a small town and often my walks become cyclical and tedious; nevertheless, it’s a great workout for the spirit of observation, and more than once I was pleasantly impressed by the surprises that the street has given me. When I work on a project, however, I focus my energies where I hope to find the useful conditions for the project itself. I shoot exclusively in Raw and therefore the post production is a required step; even if I consider myself an “undisciplined maverick”, over time I gave myself a few rules and strangely I follow them! Avoid cropping or, exceptionally, limit it to the minimum; avoid manipulations which alter the content of the image, remain as faithful as possible to the nature of the image. In my workflow the photos are edited so that they can be printed respecting the original colour space destination; the excess of saturation, clarity, vibrancy, sharpness, break the harmony; I think that overdoing, sometimes, transform a good photo into a bad one. For films the process is similar; after the developing phase I scan the negative and, if necessary, I apply a little curve that simulates the darkroom’s “dodge and burning” process.
What training did you follow? Who inspired you?
I’m a self-taught amateur; as I said, the network has been a great source of information and inspiration. If I think how all started, I smile. I was with some friends in Genoa to watch an exhibition and take a walk in the historical centre. Some of them started taking pictures of people; my spirit of competition drove me to emulate them, but like a slap in the face, I realized that I was not responsive , that I was thinking too much, that my SLR had not a good setting: a disaster!! I decided to search and buy a book that could help me. “Street Photography” by Alex Coghe was the first response to my needs; that was followed by many others. I began to store the first names and study the works of the masters: Weegee, Winogrand, Gilden, Leiter, Robert Frank, Parr, Webb, Meyerowitz, Moriyama, Doisneau, Erwitt, Friedlander, Koudelka, Scianna, Gardin, Salgado … In 2015 I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop with Joel Meyerowitz, amazing and unforgettable days , from that day my flickering thoughts have consolidated and my photographic vocabulary has been enriched. I honestly don’t know if there is one photographer who has inspired me more than the others, but certainly the works of the great masters, together with those of many friends I’ve met online, have profoundly changed and influenced my way of doing photography.
What is photography to you? And what should not be instead?
The Photography for me is like a record where satisfaction and frustration play their tunes regardless all other things. Photography is a part of my life, pure passion. A never ending journey that allowed me to have extraordinary experiences; the photography should not be a cliché, a sort of competition between people, a manifestation of the ego. Photography is freedom of expression; it is an applause to the subjectivity of the individual.
What is the photo that struck you the most of a great historical photographer?
The photographic heritage is so vast that I find very difficult to identify one that caught me; in the Scianna’s “Religious Celebrations of Sicily” the child’s posture pointing to the sky, linked to the woman’s face, hits my emotional cords every time. “Wake” in the Koudelka’s Gypsies and ” The Bus” from Trent Park are other pics that I love. The Hedda Hopper portrait of Weegee is a pic that I love in a particular way… maybe because I recognize in it my attitude.
What is your favourite technique?
I think that the technique that every photographer adopts is closely related to his attitude; my shooting is very physical, I like close distance and “face-to-face” is a recurrent happening. There are no secrets in my way of working; camera in manual-mode, zone focusing, point and shoot; lately I don’t mind the use of flash. I don’t seek the wow effect, but a personal light control, and a surreal atmosphere from which my subject pops out. I lied maybe I’ve a little secret. You never know which music I am listen during my walks!
Why do street photography?
As I said all started by chance, a challenge to myself; in the beginning the goal was not to make Street but to dominate the photographic medium. Then I stopped and I looked and I thought , without being aware of it, I was a witness of the everyday, I started to gain awareness, to free my imagination, to give room to emotions, to perceive the energy, and those small details who had no relevance now took on an unexpected meaning. Today we take thousands and thousands of photographs: what I wonder is whether all this work will produce some effect on future generations. Maybe it is utopian, but I love to think that this work can offer the same emotions that our predecessors have offered us.
What is your best shot and what does represent for you?
It’s easier for me to identify the worst one; I think that for every photographer it is difficult to answer this question, and, when he does, he normally chooses a shot that doesn’t have the popularity of others. Obviously I have some pictures that I particularly like, first for the picture itself but above all for what it reminds me; “The nuns at the café”: a wonderful day with two dear friends; “The silhouettes in the tunnel”: the solution to a pic that I’ve studied for a long time; “The clothes in the sun”: Joel Meyerowitz and the rules of the case. Which is the best one? Honestly I don’t know. I hope there are many others behind the corner, and I hope to be able to catch them.
What is your relationship with the street and the people who are in your shots?
Generally, I have a resolute approach; I always follow my instincts, my mood and the perception that I have of the surrounding environment; I don’t interact with my subjects, but sometimes people ask me ” Why? “. In these situations, a peaceful dialogue is triggered after which you realize how many people like to tell about themselves. Sometimes people laugh amused, sometimes they ignore you. Sometimes one collects some bad words in the bag, who has not?
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