—A wonderful insight into the work of the renowned portrait photographer, Platon
It’s no surprise that Netflix comes out with some really solid shows. I think they’ve proved that time and again (think Stranger Things, Chef’s Table etc. etc.). So naturally when there’s a new, buzzy docu-series on design/art – “Abstract – The Art of Design” – I was curious to give it a watch.
I went through the list of “artists” and I saw that episode 7 was about Photography. You bet that was the first one that I clicked through. It features the renowned portrait photographer Platon. Renowned as in he’s-shot-some-seriously-high-profile-people-including-many-heads-of-states kind of renowned.
I’ll be the first to admit – I didn’t really know about him. I’ve seen his work in magazines, but had never really looked him up. So for me, it was a rather fresh perspective and insight into the man and specifically, his art and his passion.
Can I just say at the very outset that I LOVED, LOVED this episode. I haven’t seen the rest of the series, so I really don’t know how the rest of them stack up, but this one, it’s solid gold!
I’ll let the more technically inclined people argue it out whether photography qualifies as design (my quick two cents – design it may be not, art it definitely is!) but I loved the whole journey that they showcased about Platon – how he started, his inspirations, his early work, and how he got into the world of high profile portrait photography.
A few things that stood out from the episode for me were:
“The camera is nothing more than a tool. Communication, simplicity, shapes on a page. What’s important is the story, the message, the feeling, the connection. How do you make this reach people?”
Amen to that. I’m a hobbyist photographer,and my interest in photography has evolved over time. I started out as one of those people who ask “What camera / gear did you use to shoot that?”, but have now “followed” – and to an extent practised – photography enough to know that it’s a pretty irrelevant question. You could take the most technically correct photography using really fancy, high-end gear, but if it does provoke an emotion, a connection, it remains just that – a technical piece of work, rendered without much feeling.
The sense of provocation when Platon mentions to Colin Powell that Gaddafi as well as Putin sat on the same wooden box that he’s sitting on.
This releases an ever-so-slight jump in Powell’s eyes, and Platon is quick to capture that. On the whole, I love that the episode started with the Powell assignment and ends with the final picture of Powell. It completes the storytelling and highlights the mastery of Platon’s work. Also, you realise that being a professional photographer is not just about getting the shot. There is a significant behind-the-scenes work that renders the final image at its evocative and expressive best.
The impact of shooting the women in Congo.
It’s an emotional subject for anyone. Sexually abused women. To photograph them up close and “get into their space” must feel like a huge responsibility, and Platon conveys that. In the way he instructs his team about being sensitive when interacting with the women, and the way he feels the need to connect with one woman in particular, and the dogged pursuit of selecting the correct photograph which would convey to the audience what he saw in person – in all of that, you can see how he connects on a personal level with the project. He is not just a photographer, he is putting the story of these women out into the world, and he accepts that responsibility with humility.
On family and parenthood.
We see Platon springing back to life in the company of friends and family during his time in Greece. And then again, towards the very end of the episode, there is this bit about his wife and his two kids. His reflection on parenthood is equally poignant – “It’s funny because I’m actually the one who freezes time, so I know how precious every moment is. And I’m trying to squeeze it so dry every second.”
Becoming great at your work takes time and practice.
This is not directly said anytime during the episode, but as Platon takes you along his journey, you pretty much realise that he did not go “viral” one fine day. He worked hard at building his portfolio, often returning to his roots to get back that spark of inspiration and to work through a photographer’s block. He used a deep, personal experience (of being an immigrant from Greece and being beaten up in a random incident in London) and harnessed his emotions from it to connect even more deeply with his passion. It is that personal connection with his subjects that he seeks to convey to his audience, and he even talks about why his homework is critical before any project.
All this to say, what looks like easy success today usually has months and months, if not years, of hard work behind it. Success, and long-term success at that, does not come overnight, and you have to keeping pushing yourself to get better.
If you’re a fan of photography, I’d highly recommend that you see this episode from the docu-series. I’m rather curious to watch the rest of the episodes now.
Have you seen the show yet? Any specific episode that you would recommend?