Even without this advantage, one gets the sense that Platon would have carved out his own artistic niche, and while he may have had a beer or two, "while most students were vomiting in the streets, I was working around the clock," he laughs. This dedication is combined with a certain air of independence. "I never assisted for anybody," he says. "I felt from an early age that I shouldn't be carrying anyone else's lights, I've got to spend all my time developing my own point of view. Although I suffered initially because I'd never been in a professional environment and didn't particularly know how to behave, I felt I was much more advanced in my creative opinions. The problem a lot of assistants have trying to bridge the gap to being a pro is they know so much about different lighting techniques but they don't really know what to do with them. They never had time to themselves to work out a creative point of view. I put all my energies into doing my homework. I learned the history of fashion photography, the history of art. I'm so glad I did, because when my back is against the wall I have a big resource to fall back on."
He started in fashion and portraits when he left college in '92 and was instantly working full time. In his varied U.K. career he shot portraits for Arena, The Face and I.D.; Levi's campaigns for Bartle Bogle Hegarty; and he shot and even art directed fashion campaigns for Moschino for several years. Eventually, he was "introduced," as he puts it, to America by the late John Kennedy Jr., who invited him to shoot for the premier issue of George, which turned into a steady gig. "John wanted a bit of grit, instead of the more-professional, glossy American photographers. This was the most amazing introduction to American culture and politics. It's been a roller coaster since then, but it took me a good year to find my feet here. But now I've found my rhythm and I'm absolutely loving it."
Platon, repped by David Maloney at the Art Department (Art-dept.com) appears to be a veritable whirlwind on several photographic fronts. He has enough celebrity portraits to make a book, and indeed, one is in the offing. His editorial work includes a much acclaimed Esquire cover story on Bill Clinton, one of a host of politicians who've sat for him. He shoots mainly in medium format, but he also roams the world doing documentary work on Leicas, and this, too, will be the subject of a book. "I've always been inspired by Magnum photographers who want to expose themselves to the world and tell a story about what's really going on," he says. "What you need to do with advertising is keep it fueled with new ideas, since what you're often essentially doing is tapping into your previous experience. If you don't keep pouring new ideas into your work through personal work, you burn out really fast."
On the ad front, Platon has shot for Timex, Tanqueray, Kenneth Cole, Rayban and many others, but his pre-Motorola favorite is the Nike Apparel/Wieden & Kennedy "Seamless" campaign, which posed athletes if as they were in the studio when they were actually on location. "It took every ounce of my experience to pull that together," Platon recalls. "The agency wanted to almost send up studio fashion photography. I refused to take the easy way and send someone out to shoot backgrounds and do it on the computer. It wouldn't have had the same integrity. So we decided to rig up a studio setup on a mountaintop or on a skyscraper or whatever. It was just insane. We had a convoy of 10 trucks, it was quite nerve-racking."
Motorola is a studio campaign, of course, with digital backgrounds, but its success begins with the use of real people. "I'm very interested these days in trying to create a new set of cultural heroes," Platon says. "I'm a proponent of real-people casting, and I only use models when my back's against the wall. I love working with people who've got something unusual, something not really polished, but with so much bite to it. That's a big part of Motorola; people don't want to see glossy models all the time, they want to celebrate everyday people. We're trying to prove they can look aspirational and that different cultures can look wonderful in advertising - there's still not enough of it."
Platon is quick to acknowledge his creative debt to Ogilvy CD Bill Oberlander. "When someone places their faith in you, you do your best work. For Motorola, we wanted something Pop, almost a contemporary Warhol thing." With some 60 ads already completed, "we've got a wonderful rhythm going now," Platon enthuses. As for the preponderance of unusual angles, which often met with resistance in the past, "I always tell the client, 'When people are flipping through the magazine they're going to stop at this ad and stick it on their wall - it's got to be that arresting.' I've become fascinated with trying to show people in a different way, and it's never a derogatory thing, it's showing them larger than life. Now I'm being booked for it; on ad jobs they want the crazy stuff. It's very refreshing. On the latest Motorola ads, we're going nuts. I'm rigging up scaffolding, shooting from above, sideways, below. Just to find a new way of telling the story."