Alain Pras Photographer

Passionate for model-making and aeronautics since childhood, Alain Pras eagerly devoured his first subscriptions to French aircraft periodicals such as Aviation Magazine and Pilote. As flying model planes was relatively inaccessible at the time, Pras focused his attention on building model trains, if only for the fact that the network of miniature rails could fit more easily inside a family living room.
The pivotal moment of his early career would be when he caught sight of a cover of Pilote featuring a brightly-colored image of the popular French jazz musician Claude Luter standing with a network of New- Orleans style model trains. Pras would continue to refer warmly to this image for years to come, as it marked the moment he decided to pursue a career in model architectural design. After studying the trade and completing his military service, Pras explored a variety of artistic domains, including stone lithography, before beginning to photograph the industrial sites he visited in the early years of his career. In 1977, Pras joined the French train model-maker Jouef, where he created train mockups for the first large exposition at the newly-inaugurated Centre Pompidou in Paris. Titled “The Age of Trains” (Le Temps des gares), Pras’ work was largely hailed by critics, including Le Monde’s André Fermigier, who wrote: “Alain Pras’ extraordinary models reconstitute faithfully and with a poetic truth all the charms of their originals.”

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After this first success, Pras’ work attracted prestigious clients from both France and abroad, including the SNCF (the French national train network), Alstom, Airbus, as well as the French national Army and Navy. With 35 collaborators, the company continued reproducing large- and small-scale industrial prototypes, such as, notably, the eight-meter-long life-size mockup of the nose of a TGV train exhibited at the New York Stock Exchange.

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Throughout these years, Pras continued to tour and photograph the industrial sites, factories and ports through which he passed, developing an aesthetic for what he would later call “Industrial Beauty.” With his 6 x 6 Rolleiflex Twin-lens in hand, he captured breathtaking views of water towers, hydraulic cranes, and signal boxes, favoring the vivid colors and strong lines these manmade constructions often present. Informed in part by early industrial photographers like Germaine Krull or Hilla and Bernd Becher, Pras goes beyond simple architectural documentation in search for, rather, the visual dynamism and haunting beauty inherent in these manmade structures, often with a keen eye for the curious relationship entertained between these worlds and the people who inhabit them. Selling his company in 2009, Alain Pras works in large-format, digital photography, through which he continues to affirm his most pertinent message: Yes, the industrial is beautiful.