What Photographers Can Learn from Platon
Platon won’t adjust the F stop because he doesn’t want to miss that look in your eye. “Before I shoot, I’m not thinking how to get a good picture,” he says. “I’m thinking what can I learn from this person? Every time.”
A veteran of Rolling Stone, the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, and the Sunday Times Magazine, Planton stars in his own titular episode of Netflix’s Abstract series. “A Platon portrait is about lighting, it’s about the person’s eyes, about the graphic nature of how he positions the camera – sometimes it’s from below. […] It is about getting the soul,” explains Kira Pollack, Director of Photography for TIME.
Heralded for his unique style by industry experts, clients, and fans, this short documentary explores the non-technical aspects of Platon’s portraiture. “He communicates something deep inside somebody. That’s his art,” says George Lois, former Esquire Art Director. Platon captures a look, a pause, a window.
But how exactly does it get it? To start, Platon researches his subject extensively beforehand. He talks Beatles with Putin, sacrifice with Colin Powell. “I’m not really a photographer at all,” he says. “What’s important is the story – the message, the feeling, the connection.” It’s talking. It’s listening.
Born to an English mother and Greek father, he moved back to the UK from Greece at 8 years old, where he wasn’t “just an immigrant, but a bloody immigrant.” Branded as an outsider, Platon was beaten to a pulp as a teenager. With broken ribs, teeth, and nose, he began to explore the universality of pain, of alienation. “I [knew] what it [was] to hurt. That is a door to something I never had before. That is empathy.”
From his work with Human Rights Watch in Burma to an Undocumented Migrant series, Platon evokes sympathy for suffering and the human condition. “The only thing you can do is focus on dignity, passion, and humility,” he says. While working, he speaks softly, as if slow draw the soul from its home. Engaging with rape survivors in the Congo, he tells his crew, “just remember, we’re a bunch of guys,” then offers to speak to the women in groups of two or three.
Of course, he also knows when to break through. “Awesome!” he yells at Colin Powell, a few minutes into their shoot. He likes to shout something “right in their face” near the start, to kick down any remaining walls of guarded intimacy.
Ultimately, Platon’s style could be described as simply ‘personal.’ Expensive cameras and endless accessories are helpful, but they don’t make art. The artist does. “Taking a picture is very technical,” Platon says, “but 99.9% is spent on this connection.”