Volume 75, Number 45 | March 29 -April 04 2006

Platon Photo

Catching up with Soho photographer Platon

By Aileen Torres

Fifteen years ago, while still a student at St. Martin’s School of Art in London, British Vogue named Platon (he’s known professionally by his first name) the “best up-and-coming photographer.” Fifteen years later, the artist, who now lives with his wife in Soho, is still photographing celebrities, models, and documentary subjects for major magazines. His debut book, “Platon’s Republic” (Phaidon, $59.95), features more than 120 portraits of America’s contemporary icons of power, including the Bill Clinton “crotch shot”— a picture that earned him a lot of notoriety when it appeared on the cover of Esquire in 2000.

The Villager: When did you move to New York? Why Soho?

Platon: ’98. I love the flavor of Soho, the architectural language.

What do you think about New York’s current place in the art world?

I’m not sure New York is the center of the world for art. I feel the last wave in art was the Sensation show from the Saatchi Collection in London—Damien Hirst, Jenny Saville, Tracey Emin.

What are the best things you’ve seen/been to lately?

“Sweeney Todd.” It was fantastic! The most amazing production. The set is beautifully done. The music is incredible. I’m a big fan of Film Forum, too. I saw “The Conformist.” It blew me away! The costumes, the sensuality, the lighting…. And the film “Heart of Gold” moved me to tears.

I shot him [Neil Young] because of that film for the cover of Rolling Stone. I’m a huge Neil Young fan. And I loved the Pixar exhibit [at MoMA]. I was there with all the little kiddies, and I got quite a buzz out of that.

What’s on your cultural radar this week?

“The Threepenny Opera” at Studio 54 [previews began last Friday]. I was a musician in England, and I really know that score. The Don Siegel festival at Film Forum. Those gritty ’60s and ’70s movies have inspired a lot of my work.

Why /how did you get into celebrity photography?

I never made an effort to photograph celebrities. I was a portrait photographer. I suppose that’s why people started giving me jobs. In time, I was presented with people who are famous. It was certainly a buzz, but I never think of myself as a celebrity photographer. The biggest danger is the photographer getting celebrity disease and becoming a celebrity himself.

How do you compare documentary work to celeb photography?

The processes are very different. For documentary work, you become part of the scenery— [you] dance around the subject and get in their face without stopping them from doing what they’re doing. I just got back from photographing infantry troops going off to Iraq [for Rolling Stone]. There’s a period of 14 weeks when these kids are turned into killing machines. I loved it because I was in another world — not the celebrity world — with just me and my Leicas. I have to earn my respect all over again.

What are your most memorable assignments?

The Clinton experience [for Esquire]. There’s also Dustin Hoffman. [During that assignment, Hoffman spoke with Platon’s mother over the phone. Her husband had died recently, and Hoffman sent flowers to her the next day.]

Who are your influences?

My father, who was an architect, is probably my biggest influence. I love Le Corbusier and how he approached his architecture. An architect thinks of a lifetime. A good house gets better with age, gains integrity. A good photograph does the same thing.

Where do you go for inspiration in this city?

The Deitch gallery. That’s my saving grace.

What are you working on now?

The soldiers [piece for Rolling Stone], a new campaign for Motorola and Vol. 2 of “Platon’s Republic.”

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