Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Greatest Living Portrait Photographer

And I must confess, it's not me. Last week I went to a photography lecture at the International Center of Photography. The guest of honor was the celebrated portrait photographer Platon, and as I watched him speak, I felt like a school girl at a Justin Bieber concert (I originally wrote "Beatles concert", but I'm making an effort to appeal to a younger demographic - today's screaming tween is tomorrow's art director). This guy is so cool that I was - quite literally - sitting on the edge of my seat.

My task here is to convey why I was so inspired by this man. I've written about inspiring photographers before, and I'm sure I will again. Being in the room with Platon was thrilling and infuriating at the same moment. I was thrilled by the clarity and honesty of his images, and I was infuriated by the scope of his work. Does he not sleep? Or eat?

Platon's style is very recognizable - intensely intimate and brutally honest close-ups, often black and white. He's well know for portraits of the powerful and celebrated. Now, at the height of his success, he's shifted course. He's using his unique style as currency, turning his lens on unknown heroes and making them celebrities by association. He's decided to use the power of his photography for something greater than his own advancement. He created a stunning series focusing on civil rights heroes, and he is now working to bring attention to victims exiled in Burma.

I understand how competitive the world of portrait photography is, and how difficult it is to create your own unique style. Everything seems to have already been done. What makes Platon so exciting is that he's using a very typical approach to portraiture - straight-on, studio lit - and creating images unlike anything I've ever seen. He's taking the common and making it unique. I've included a few examples of his work below, but they honestly don't do him justice. You need to see them large, projected on a huge wall, in the dark.

And bring some popcorn too - it's better than a movie.