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Life & Work with Petra Ford

Today we’d like to introduce you to Petra Ford.

Hi Petra, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I’ve had an interest in photography since I got my first camera in kindergarten (a Kodak Instamatic!), and growing up, I was always my family’s unofficial photographer/documenter of our daily life. I took the two photography classes that my high school offered, but it never occurred to me to pursue photography any further, and I went on to get my bachelor’s degree in communication arts. A few years later, in 2007 and shortly after the birth of my son, I decided to take a photography class at a local junior college just to get out of the house and do something non-baby related.

My previous interest in photography ended up turning into a full-blown love affair, and I began spending all my free time in the school’s darkroom and digital photo lab—and, of course, shooting. I had my first solo show the next year, featuring a collection of my street photography.

As I continued to take photo courses, I undertook a year-long self-portrait project. Making 365 self-portraits (without any studio lighting or equipment) really pushed me creatively and also taught me how to think outside the box and work with whatever lighting situation there happened to be. The next year I began building my fashion photography portfolio (after investing in some studio lights!) and was lucky enough to do so with the support and collaboration of many fashion industry connections that I had made while working as a model.

In 2016, I stumbled into the world of interior photography and was surprised to discover that my interest in photography went beyond shooting people. A month-long photo assignment in Copenhagen—one of the design capitals of the world—cinched my newfound obsession with interior photography.

My favorite projects are those that incorporate both people as well as architecture and interior design.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Somehow, yes, it’s been a pretty smooth road! Over the course of the past 15 years, I’ve been fortunate to turn a hobby into a career, and my initial client base of friends and friends of friends has evolved to include many well-known national and international brands and publications. And being able to work in cities throughout the Americas and Europe has been a great perk for someone who loves to travel! Like many, my business took a hit when the pandemic struck—this has probably been the most unexpected and unwelcome challenge I’ve faced.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others? What achievements are you most proud of?
I have two different websites—one focuses on my work in interior and lifestyle photography, and the other site showcases my fashion photography, portraiture, and street photography. Being included in Architectural Digest’s roundup of “50 AD-Approved Photographers for Your Next Interior Shoot,” seeing my fashion work in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, and winning the Editor’s Prize—awarded by Charles Osgood of the Chicago Tribune—for one of my street photographs have all been super proud moments in my career.

Street photography was my first love, and I find that much of my other work is influenced by this genre, either overtly or subtly. I enjoy capturing moments that, though they may actually be carefully planned, have an air of candidness to them. (In interior photography, this may translate as a casually made bed, an unexpected framing, or a person or pet moving through the background.) I also love incorporating the urban environment into my photography, using architecture, signage, and passersby not only as a backdrop but as key players in a scene. For me, the most delightful aspect of photography is that, unlike a painting or other artistic representation of life, a photograph is an actual frozen moment in time. I’ve come to appreciate the world so much more, knowing that I’m surrounded by flashes of beauty, humor, and irony. Though these moments often go unnoticed when I don’t have my camera with me, the world seems to come alive when I’m behind the lens. To be able to find and freeze an interesting moment of movement, expression, or interaction and tell a story is such a satisfying thrill.

If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago with my two younger brothers and a Siamese cat who was my best friend. Much as I am today, I was a cat-loving, book-loving half-nerd who loved to skate (figure skating then, roller skating now), watch classic TV and films, and take pictures. I’ve always been a nostalgic soul and being a fly on the wall and a quiet observer has been a tendency I’ve had my whole life—being drawn to documenting life around me and preserving moments now seems like an obvious path to have taken.

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