Emma Presents: Platon

Unit 5 1.1

Born in 1968, Platon Antoniou (or Platon, as he’s known) did an MA in photography at The Royal College of Art. Initially inspired by the work of Irving Penn and David Bailey, Platon’s own style is both simple and bold. He says he can’t cope with complication. Platon has a photo-journalistic edge and looks for truth in his work: authentic images versus the superficial. He shoots on film using a flash meter and is an ambassador for Hasselblad.

 

In 1992, aged just 23 and still a student at the Royal College of Art, Platon was named in British Vogue’s talent contest as the Best Up and Coming Photographer of the Year. Unsurprisingly, this led to countless editorial jobs, including Arena, The Face and Vogue. In 1995, the late John Kennedy Jnr signed him up to snap American bigwigs for the political mag, George, fuelling a lasting interest in politics, especially American (he lives in the USA). He’s snapped more than 100 world leaders; including Clinton; Bush; Obama and Putin (the latter – a cover for Time Magazine – won the World Press Photo 2008 award).  The Putin shoot apparently reduced a stressed-out Platon to tears; his account of the whole shebang can be found here on The Guardian website.

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© Platon

He’s also noted for his series of “Service” images depicting U.S. military personnel both during training before deployment and on their return from Iraq. Of it he says:

“We focused on America’s role militarily, and slowly, it morphed into this idea of service — it became less about war and was more about the human story behind the war. We wanted to avoid politics. We had this idea not to photograph anyone famous. This is really about ordinary men and women and families who all give great service. It was certainly an emotional roller coaster and it pushed me so far. That showed the human side of war.”

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© Platon

Not everyone made it home and Platon’s groundbreaking photograph of the grieving mother of Kareem Rashad, a Muslim-American who had died in service, was said to have influenced the USA election; prompting Republican Colin Powell to denounce his own party’s Islamaphobia and back Barack Obama for President. Platon talks about the impact of his photo essay here.

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© Platon

He is the founder of The People’s Portfolio, a nonprofit organization that, via his multi-media story-telling, documents humanitarian efforts from around the globe. It “aspires to create a visual language that breaks barriers, expands dignity, fights discrimination, and enlists the public to support human rights for all”.

As he puts it, I have been part of the process that makes heroes out of celebrities for a long time and I have found that something is fundamentally shifting in the values of our society. It is time to celebrate a new set of cultural heroes: those that inspire us with their courage, move us with their integrity and their compassion for fellow men and women. If these are the principles that we wish to instill within our society, then we must shine a light on the leaders that best exemplify this core value system.

I find his work completely arresting in its simplicity. There’s no big production here – especially with the tight headshots – but you’re still drawn straight into the image; you cannot look away.

All in all, an incredible photographer and, by the sound of things, a thoroughly decent chap who, in spite of his success, remains totally grounded and focused on using his talent to best effect. (All images on this page are his copyright so, hopefully, he won’t sue me for using them in homage to him.)

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