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BIFB unveils Platon headline show

The 10th Ballarat International Foto Biennale, running from 26 August to 22 October 2023, will be headlined with a major retrospective of work by celebrity portrait and documentary photographer, Platon Antoniou.

Platon self portrait with the late George Lois, June 2012.

The photographer, who’s best known by his first name Platon, has photographed some of the most famous people of the latter 20th and 21st century. The ‘world-first exclusive-to-Ballarat exhibition’, People Power – Platon, will show 120 portraits of ‘the people who shaped our world’.

‘From the cool gaze of Putin to the contortion of Gaddafi, the art and expression of Vivienne Westwood, the influence of Yoko Ono, the dynamism of Prince, the courage of Michelle Obama, the power of Adele, the striking features of Cate Blanchett, the memorable Kevin Rudd and his campaigns, the rebellion of Pussy Riot – Platon’s work is powerful,’ states the BIFB website.

A quick browse through Platon’s website portfolio shows a portrait of just about every well-known US and British politician, along with celebrities – actors, musicians, artists, and athletes.

‘There is power not just in the images we make but also in the narrative. I am looking forward to sharing my stories and those of people who face incredible odds in the world but can still emerge with great compassion and kindness.‘ – Platon

Platon, who was born in Greece and moved to the UK when he was eight, began his career working for British Vogue in the 90s. He eventually moved to New York to work for the late John Kennedy Jr and his political magazine, George.

While in the US, he shot portraiture for some of the biggest magazines such as Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, GQ, and Time, with whom he developed a ‘special relationship’, according to his bio, leading to 20 cover shoots. The most famous being the 2007 Time Magazine’s Person Of The Year cover, featuring Russian president Vladimir Putin. The image won him the World Press Photo Contest top prize.

Photo: Platon.

The story behind the image is, as expected, quite interesting. Platon visited Putin at his Dacha – Russian holiday house – in a gothic forest outside Moscow. There was a tense atmosphere in Putin’s office, with about 20 men watching Platon’s every move. Finally it came time to shoot Putin’s portrait, and Platon was introduced by John Huey, Time Magazine director, as ‘one of the greatest photographers in the world’.

Here is Platon’s account of the event, published in The Guardian.

‘I had had such a stressful week that hearing him say this about me just made me burst into tears. Putin looked at me, saw what a state I was in, and said: “I’ll do it.” I think he felt sorry for me.

‘I shook his hand, recovered a bit, and said to him: “I’m a big Beatles fan. Are you?” I wanted to break down the formality of the situation, and suddenly he started speaking perfect English. “I love the Beatles!” he said. I asked him what his favourite song was, and he said Yesterday. So I put my arm around him and shook his hand again – although I later found out that it is illegal to touch Putin past the wrist. He was cool with that, though. He was fine.’

Platon was allowed to get within an inch of Putin’s face, and photographed the Russian leader in his favourite chair.

‘He is obviously a very challenging character, but everyone has human feelings, and at the end he asked if he could have his picture taken with me. So I asked one of his guards to hold my little snappy camera and I put my arm around him again.’

Putin reportedly liked the photos. Platon even received Christmas cards from him. It wasn’t until the picture was co-opted and re-purposed for anti-Putin images that the Christmas cards stopped coming.

In 2008 Platon signed a multi-year contract with The New Yorker, where he remains a staff photographer.

-The Ballarat International Foto Biennale runs from 26 August to 22 October 2023 in Ballarat, Victoria.

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