Sunday, October 11, 2009

“Mr. President, Will You Show Me the Love?”

London-born photographer Platon made a playful, and triumphant return to the Eddie Adams Workshop as Saturday's final speaker. He was carried to the podium wearing a pork-pie hat by the esteemed photo editors MaryAnne Golan and Scott Thode. “I’m always amazed to be invited back after last year’s atrocities,” Platon said. He also noted this week’s passing of the influential magazine photographer Irving Penn, telling students, “Of course, losing someone that great means passing the torch onto you guys.”

He then shared images from throughout his career, shooting celebrities and politicians, from Barack Obama and George W. Bush to Willie Nelson stoned and Pamela Anderson draped in a U.S. flag. He recounted photographing Michelle Obama and his mortified apology after asking the new First Lady to “bare her soul.” She was fine with it. “She kissed me on the cheek, and she said, ‘I’m just Michelle.’”

Platon described meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin: “He was quite nice. We talked about the Beatles. He said his favorite song was ‘Yesterday.’ And I gave him a cuddle.” As his brooding image of actor Christopher Walken filled the screen, Platon recalled, “He was weeeird!” Walken was the only celebrity ever to arrive an hour early (and alone) for a shoot, and then went through Platon’s cabinets. Dustin Hoffman sent the photographer’s mother flowers on her birthday, Prince handed him a Jehovah’s Witnesses pamphlet, and P. Diddy demanded Platon turn off a classic Miles Davis CD so that he could primp in the mirror to one of his own.

One particularly noteworthy assignment was a session with President Bill Clinton for the cover of Esquire. It was to be Clinton’s final editorial portrait sitting in office. Their meeting would be in a New Jersey hotel, cleared out for the occasion, and Platon wore his father’s 1974 suit. Esquire requested a simple, undistorted head-shot for the cover.

After enduring the inevitable security measures, and the spectacle of Secret Service agents giving play-by-play for Clinton's every step, the pictures went as planned. Platon reached for the wide-angle lens the magazine warned him not to use, turning to his assistants, as he recounted at the Barn: “Lads, will you pass me the ‘portrait lens’ – double code.”

He lifted the camera once more and asked Clinton, “Mr. President, will you show me the love?”

The resulting image, which Esquire put on the cover, had the president's crotch in the center of the frame. Many saw Phallic symbolism in the way his chair hung below him in the picture, as if reflecting Clinton’s recent troubles with the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal and impeachment trial. “He was a rock and roll president, and I was a new bred of portrait photographer," Platon said. "Putting us together was dangerous.”

Larry king called the photo “disgusting” and brought investigative journalist Bob Woodward on CNN to analyze the insidious image. Platon’s reputation was secure.

Steve Appleford

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