Platon, Portraits And Power To The People

Time stood still in November last year as for many the moment they never thought they’d see actually happened as Aung San Suu Kyi walked free. Some weeks later Time stood still again for another moment deemed never to re-occur as the Lady returned to grace the magazine once more. Last night saw internationally renowned portrait photographer Platon and the person who took ‘that’ cover shot present a slideshow of his work to promote his new book “Power” at LSE in London. Interestingly also having begun his career at Central St Martins in London he went on to RCA (that’s where the similarities end for now as I was rejected twice!) and over a 20+ year career has photographed a plethora of celebrities and world leaders often in his unique and renowned style. Wide angled lenses right up close an inch and a half from the face of Gaddafi and Mugabe, like it or not, his work is different, engaging and at times incredibly powerful.

Platon’s cover shot of the Lady on show at his talk in London

But it was often the stories behind the image that proved more compelling as he recounted tales from the Kremlin to the White House in a self depreciating and humourous fashion. Interestingly when you consider all of the people he has photographed, from Obama to Pacino, the only person who he was not permitted to discuss at all was his shoot with David Beckham. Four non-disclosure contracts he was forced to sign saw to that. Licence to roam between facts and fantasy is the right of the storyteller and likewise the right to pass judgement on any alleged ego or self importance that anyone may show in so doing is up to those who choose to look and listen. It is too easy to slate someone in the public eye or in a position like Platon’s for having an ego, however big or small one might think it is or however right or wrong one may be in thinking so either through fact or jealousy. But there are many in this world be they photographers, celebrities, politicians or ordinary people who have their own agendas and are at times deluded by grandeur – I’ve been accused of having an ego for not telling people who I really am or for not showing my face. At times it often seems there’s just no pleasing anyone. I’m not interested in passing judgement publicly on anyone’s character and whilst his trip inside Burma and the resulting frantic car chase may at times seem a little OTT at least he went there (and wants to go back) and it was superb to see him dedicate a large section of his talk to his work with Human Rights Watch on the Thai-Burma border as well as his visit inside to meet with the Lady. An audience who perhaps had come to see the power of Clinton or the beauty of Monica Bellucci were instead stunned into further silence at the horrors of Burma. I got the chance to catch up with him after the event and we chatted about Burma, the Lady and working inside the country amongst other things. He was genuinely deeply humbled by the work that undercover VJs do inside the country and all those whom he had met on the Thai-Burma border. On a personal note it was great to meet him due to a mutual relevance in the work he has recently done for Burma and so many of the people he has met and photographed. He told me something that cast aside any self-doubts I ever had and means more to me than he could ever know (for those thinking my alleged ego is creeping back into the room it was not him saying how much he admired my work or how brilliant it was. Nothing like that. Rather it was something that others had said to him about it). An invitation to meet up with him in New York at the end of the year was laid on the table and that is an opportunity I hope might happen. Who knows, I might finally learn to use lighting.

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