The Stories Behind Platon's Images Will Move You to Your Core
Last night, Platon spoke to a group of wide-eyed guests at the Milk Gallery about the stories behind his most influential and heart-wrenching photos—photos of the most powerful people on the planet, celebrities, the men and women who agreed to give their lives for this country, and the families that they left behind, all presented in a slideshow.
He comfortably flipped from portrait to portrait, one recognizable face after the next. There was Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Muammar Gaddafi, Vladimir Putin, Tony Blair, Benjamin Netanyahu, Hugo Chavez, and Edward Snowden. The intimate details he shared with us felt like secrets he was disclosing to a close friend—revealing latent truths behind each face. Upon landing on a photo of Donald Trump, his face tilted to the right, Platon said, “I don’t really know what to say about this person.” The room echoed with laughter. “But I do know this. If you look at most of my work, I like people dead-on in front of the camera. I said to Donald, ‘Get your head straight. Look straight into the camera.’ He said, ‘No. This is my best side.’ That means he knows how to play the media.”
There was a portrait of the late Muhammad Ali—wrapped in an American flag, his fist getting up close and personal with the camera—which took up the whole wall and was initially published in The New Yorker in 2011. Apparently while shooting Ali, Platon asked him, “How do you become great?” To which Ali apparently said, “‘If I’m going to really confess something, it wasn’t me that was great.'” “Thats a big deal coming from him,” Platon said. “[Ali] said, ‘What’s interesting is that people saw themselves in my struggle. If you can get people to see themselves in your stories, then you create everything and then you create connection.”
When we finally got to the “Service,” part of the slideshow—that is, the photos that are currently on display at Milk Gallery—the tone of the room became markedly more dismal. We now feared the stories behind Platon’s portraits, the stories of those who gave their lives to this country, or worse, their families. We feared the story behind Platon’s portrait of Jessica Gray, a 26-year-old widow whose husband was killed in Baghdad. “If you’ve been killed in combat,” Platon explained, “the Military sends your belongings back to your family […] in a box. Jessica had received the box, but not yet had the courage to open it.” For her portrait, Platon asked her if she would wear an item of her husband’s clothing from the box. And so they opened it together, and Gray immediately burst into tears. “She said, ‘You don’t understand why I’m crying. I’m crying because I just realized they washed his clothes and I wanted to smell him one more time…’ Do you feel that?” Platon asked the room. And gazing at this photo, it was hard not to.
“I would argue that we all came into this room as different people, defined by our differences,” Platon told the crowd. “[But] for a moment, we all feel the same thing. Maybe you feel compassion for someone that you don’t even know, but that’s the power of storytelling… It helps you see yourself in someone else’s struggle.”
“Service” by Platon will be on display from June 22nd to July 24th in the Milk Gallery. More information can be found here. His photo book of the series is available at the Milk Store. There will also be a book signing event at Milk Gallery on Saturday, July 16th. People can Join Milk Gallery’s Newsletter here for more information.
Photo of Donald Trump by Platon. All other photos taken exclusively for Milk by Cole Giordano.