Platon and Elisabeth Biondi Talk Service at Milk Gallery
By Malcolm D. Anderson
A stalled procession of eager individuals spilled out the door and into an evening heavy with humidity on Thursday, June 23rd, behaving respectfully at the behest of a tuxedo brandishing a three-point pocket square.
The glass doors of the Milk Gallery were propped open at 7:25 P.M., gracing the patient and sweaty with central air, Platon’s Service, and an intimate setting for an artist talk with the world-renowned Brit and Elisabeth Biondi, the former Visuals Editor of The New Yorker.
The audience was rewarded with unadulterated presence and emotional connection for over two hours. Platon guided the quiet rows through a presentation of nearly 70 photographs spanning time, place and culture, empowering each image with the story of those framed or the lengths necessary to earn the unmatched authenticity he captures.
The very first image Platon flashed onto the white wall adjacent the small stage was of a 28-year-old homeless woman in Moscow named Lyolya. Her story set the mood for the entire night, a human tone consistently found throughout the body of Platon’s work.
Platon recalled that if Lyolya were to wish for anything in the world, she would wish the photographer happiness. Platon replied with the hope she would not waste her wish on him, a wish she deserved more than any, but she stopped him:
“I’m not wasting a wish, because I humbly believe if I’m kind to somebody, one day, somebody will be kind to me. Be kind to me, and tell the world my story and always speak truth into power.”
He proceeded to tell story after story, from Gaddafi to Spielberg, Snowden to Beckham, Zuckerberg to Pacino, the latter reportedly saying “Son, have you felt the woes of life? No? It’s coming.” It was a journey through power in search of leadership, which segued seamlessly into a narrated investigation behind his latest project.
Service is the compilation of work beginning in 2008 after Platon succeeded Richard Avedon as the staff photographer for the New Yorker. The new series and photo exhibit presents a double sided story: preparing and departing for war and returning from war. After eight years, Service was released with intention and impact, contending to be more apposite in 2016 than it would have been in 2008.
Once finished with his visual diary, Platon sat with Elisabeth Biondi, satisfying her questions with colorful stories and clever articulation until the duo yielded the remaining time to questions from the crowd.
Despite the impressive company he has photographed—A-listers, world leaders, revolutionaries and more—Platon finds no lasting fulfilment or sense of achievement in merely shooting these people of influence.
“There is no success. Success is irrelevant. It’s all about the story. It’s all about what can we learn, what can I learn about the complicated situation I’m put into and how do I deliver that in an appropriate way and try to inspire people to think of themselves as stakeholders in that story.”
The unprecedented challenge of saturation in media and photography has diminished the collective attention span to a fraction of a second, an affliction Platon works to combat.
He finds purpose in producing images and stories which stop the population from getting lost in the numbing womb of information overload, immersing them instead in the world outside their blue screens.
“My job is to try to cut through that noise [so] we stop and we pause and we think about ourselves, times a million, and perhaps we’re not innocent bystanders, we’re involved with [the] story. If it’s human rights, or politics or civil rights, chances are we are all stakeholders in it.”
An earnest man of stature and compassion, the power of Platon’s photography resides in the genuine emotion, whether it be vulnerability—like the Muslim mother embracing the headstone of her son who perished in the war, considered the most influential image of the 2008 election season—or power—like the portrait of Putin which landed on the cover of TIME but then became a symbol for those protesting the absolute power of the Russian president.
This emotion is key for making the difference he continues to pursue in his projects. And he believes the younger generation will right the ship from sliding sideways into moral abyss, as every generation has in the past, once connected to the story of human rights.
“I am starting to find really younger people in their early 20’s who are not so sedated by this sea of information and they seem to be very compelled to get back into feeling that they are responsible stakeholders in this too. . And that’s an amazing thing. And I’ve always hoped that society would readjust itself”
In only two hours, this sharply dressed man with his quick wit and disarming patois convinced a small audience of his convictions, revealing the genuine desire for a more compassionate and understanding world which burns the fire behind his stare. To spend two minutes conversing with Platon is to not only be seen with attention but heard and understood, an attitude everyone could benefit from practicing.
Article © Malcolm D. Anderson
Images © Cole Giordano courtesy of Milk Gallery