What Matters: Allan Amato On His Relentless Optimism and Learning How To Savor a Victory

Posted inDesigner Interviews

Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.


Born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe, Allan discovered his love for photography after Hurricane Katrina forced him to re-examine the course of his life. Since then, he has worked with a variety of clientele from Ministry to Neil Gaiman to Terry Gilliam. His lifelong dream is to become an honorary member of Monty Python.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Reading a book, preferably Stephen King. On a balcony, preferably in the French Quarter. With a cup of coffee within reach, preferably hot.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

I used to write short stories when I was 6ish years old about mythical creatures and damsels in distress. The single surviving story in my possession is “How the Oob Got its Tail.” Spoiler—it farts. Voila!

What is your biggest regret?

Not getting to say goodbye to my father before he died.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

I wish I could say meditation or tai chi. Typically it looks something more like catapulting myself back into the moist antechambers of bars and clubs, where I make a desperate tit of myself before retreating to properly consider my predicament. When I had more hair, this misadventure was typically preceded by some new shockingly colored mohawk.

What makes you cry?

Anything that involves the mistreatment of animals.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

About a minute. I always feel like I move on too quickly to the next thing I want to create, though I’m getting better about celebrating. After my first graphic novel was published last year, I allowed myself a 3-day retreat in the mountains to contemplate the win, which kind of let me stay in the moment for longer. 

 Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I’m not sure, but for sure, nothing like a bunch of gossamer angels and an old white dude. I feel like whatever it is, it’s like trying to describe a color that doesn’t exist in our realm of being. It’s quantum, far beyond our capacity to understand.

What do you hate most about yourself?

Every lie I’ve ever told.

What do you love most about yourself?

My relentless optimism. I consider it a survival skill for anyone who makes a living as an artist.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Vietnamese fried chicken at Shank and Bone in San Diego. And any street pizza joint in Manhattan.