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Three Things I Learnt From Abstract: The Art of Design – Episode 7

Ever since I started watching this series, this is the one episode that I have been really looking forward to. It did not disappoint.

The episode is about Planton Antoniou, a British portrait photographer currently practicing in New York. To call him a portrait photographer though, would be a massive understatement. Soul photographer seems to be a more apt way to describe him.

If you’ve seen his work, you’ll remember him. Next time you see a Platon print, you’ll know it’s a Platon print. He is simply an incredible contemporary photographer.

His subjects include some of the most powerful people our generation – people like Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Mohammad Gaddafi (about whom Planton said, “Gaddafi wasn’t just posing for me – he was posing for America”).

“Gaddafi wasn’t just posing for me – he was posing for America”

 

His subjects are not just the most powerful on the planet but also the most vulnerable – from undocumented immigrants in the United States to the victims of sexual assault in Congo.

Here are three things I picked up from this episode.

A camera is just a tool.

The camera is just a means to an end. What is a lot more important than the tool is the story, the message, the feeling, and the connection.

True to this message, Platon still shoots film and he does not allow his tools to dominate is creative process or get in the way of it. He wants to focus on the story of the subjects. He wants a connection with them. The camera gets in the way of that.

He believes that when shooting digital, it’s easy to lose connection with the subject if you are constantly looking at the screen after taking each photograph.

One big takeaway for me from this was that now I’ve turned off automatic image review on my camera. I will now focus on making and sustaining the connection with my subjects – without letting the camera getting in the way.

All the work is about something deeper.

Perhaps this has been my biggest learning about photography in the last year or two. Photography that elicits a response in the viewer, including that of Platon, is about something deeper than the subject matter.

Planton goes deep with his subjects. He does not let their stature become a barrier to making a connection with them. He admits that he’s not thinking, “how can I get a good picture?” – instead he’s thinking, “what can I learn from this person?”.

When photographing his subjects, he is also often interviewing them, talking to them, asking them about their experiences, their lives. With Putin, he spoke about his love for the Beatles.

Platon’s portraits are about something deeper than their subjects. They are about power, intimidation (in cases of Gaddafi and Putin).

They are also about loss and vulnerability. They go beyond the facade to the truth of the subjects. As he comments in the episode, “screw looking great, suave and sophisticated. I want some truth”.

Provocateur

Perhaps this one is slightly similar to going deeper but Planton almost takes pride in being a provocateur through his work. He’s not simply taking photographs. He is taking a stand. He is making a statement. He’s having an opinion.

I believe that when our photographs fail to make an impact on us or others, it is rarely the fault of the camera or the lens. It’s often when an image fails, it fails because it doesn’t communicate anything to the viewer – and possibly the root of this is that the photographer didn’t know what she wanted to communicate.

Platon knows what he wants to communicate through his photographs. If he doesn’t know then he’s working with the subject to get to where he finds out what he wants to communicate. The story he wants to tell. The stand he wants to take. He knows that only if the image means something to him that it may have a chance of meaning something to others.


This post is part of a series. You can read about the other episodes by clicking the links below.

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 6: Paula Scher

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 5: Ralph Gilles

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 4: Bjarke Ingels

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 3: Es Devlin

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 2: Tinker Hatfield

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 1: Christoph Niemann


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