What Makes A Great Photographer? Humility, Curiosity, and Creativity: Exclusive Fstoppers Interview With Platon

In conversation with Platon, we spoke about finding the best image, competing with other photographers, and what photography is all about. His answers were among the most moving ones I could imagine.  

A Particular Human Feeling Is What Separates Good From the Very Best Photographs

Selecting that one image from the contact sheet is a painful process of creativity. You have to open up your mind, intellect, and heart. Platon is not thinking in a technical way when taking or editing pictures. What he is looking for is a magical moment that he gets from the moment. The best way to describe this is to compare it with other art forms. It is hard to say technically why one is better than the other, but there is something emotional about it. 

©Photography by Platon

Anyone Has the Power to Create the Next Most Powerful Image in History

Platon believes that no one is supreme. Supremacy and establishment are an illusion.

Don’t look at someone like me as the establishment that you can’t reach. I’m nothing. I’m just a messenger. I came from nothing as a photographer. I was an art student once and I looked at people like Avedon, Newton. I asked myself, how can I be like them? Truth is, I can’t. That time is gone. You can do something in your own way for the future. 

Platon says that an image of your mother or someone close to you can become the next greatest picture in the world simply because you as a photographer had a connection with that person. It is the connection that everyone sees themselves in. Dorothea Lange's image is a great example of that. The mother she photographed was not famous or powerful, but Lange found a connection that spoke to millions. What is that magical thing that she found?

©Photography by Platon

Platon’s message to anyone reading this is to acknowledge that you have great power as a photographer. With it comes great responsibility. Enjoy it. Apply your talent, and enjoy your talent. Your job shouldn’t be to learn a technique in Photoshop, you have to know it but it’s not the end game. The technique is like learning to walk, to eat. Photographers should aim to get someplace beyond. What is relevant is what the image makes you feel.

Right now, it is interesting how right now there are more photographers on the planet than there have ever been before. Everyone is a photographer. 

Yet, Platon argues that people should not spend time photographing their dinner or trying to impress others on social media. None of us are that cool. Platon calls people to use their photographic skills to be transformative, healing society, readdressing the balance of power, freedom of speech, respectful speech. Instead of judging someone, I will be curious and ask questions and I might learn someone.

Know the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Competition

When Platon was younger, there was a healthy competition among photographers. All photographers were aware of what everyone was doing. Part of Platon's youth was pushing himself and each other to raise the bar. It’s the ever-so-relatable moment of admiration for someone’s work that leads you to push yourself forward. It is a positive thing when you can channel that competitive nature into making better art. When it becomes negative is when jealousy, insecurity, and self-doubt take over optimism. Healthy competition is a good thing if it pushes you to be better, but if you are looking at other work and saying “I wish I was given that job” it is unhealthy. It’s a downward spiral the moment you stop listening to your own instincts as a photographer and creative force.

I would encourage everyone to not look at what’s going on around them unless they’re looking to learn lessons about how to do things.  

Picasso said that if there is something to steal, he will steal it. For Platon, what that means is searching for solutions, being hungry for answers. Oasis looked at The Beatles. They took some tricks that The Beatles did and applied to their work. The Beatles did it too. They looked at other musicians and stole things from them. This is the creative process, which is good.

©Photography by Platon

What is bad is when you stop listening to your heart. The moment your agenda slips and you spend your time thinking how everyone else is successful, you enter a downward spiral. You cannot do that, you cannot allow your time to be spent being jealous of other people’s success. It’s the most dangerous place. It’s very hard to avoid that. Platon admits he went through that too. He used to look at other people’s work and envy. Staying focused on what you truly want requires immense self-discipline. If something inspired you creatively: look at it, learn from it, take from it what you need to take, absorb from it what you need to absorb, twist it, bash it about, make it yours. Do something extraordinary with it.

Stop your moaning, self-pity, channel those powerful emotions into something positive which is you creating something yourself. The moment you start thinking like that you move faster.

It took Platon a long time to learn this. But he wanted to figure out answers to move forward, not backward. He admits that nowadays he rarely looks at other people’s work because he is so busy pushing himself to be more creative.

I Asked Platon if the Halo Around His Images Is Real, He Gave One of the Most Interesting Answers Ever

When there is no solution, you are forced to look for answers. Platon says that it is unlikely that you will be able to replicate exactly what he does. But what you will be able to do is create something better. This is progress. When he started looking at photography at the age of 19, he looked at Irving Penn. Platon had no idea how he made his platinum prints, he didn’t understand his process. Platon never assisted a photographer, so he had no idea how photography is actually made. He used to look at books and ask himself “how the hell he did that?”. How did the photographer get the light to be so contrasted, how did they capture this soulful moment, where is the light even coming from? Platon was never taught how to do it.

The magic for Platon was to find answers on his own. He never got to the point where Avedon was. He got somewhere else. It is really interesting, as it becomes Platon not ripping off Irving Penn, but it becomes Platon being Platon. He would encourage people searching for answers to appreciate that through this search they will end up somewhere beautiful. Through this search, they will discover something better.

©Photography by Platon

Curiosity is a magical thing. The nature of curiosity is that you’re never satisfied. Art is the constant search for a solution. We’ve been taught that success is when you get there. But that is not what it is. Success is getting there and having fun along the way. There is a romance in not being successful.

At the End, What Is It All About? 

It is not about having a Porsche, it is about pushing your talent and changing history because people see themselves in your story. That’s a magical thing.

©Photography by Platon

To Platon, this is a mindset. This mindset is always there, all you have to do is tap into it. If you can tap into it, you are on a superhighway of creativity. If you lose your concentration and worry about stuff on Instagram, people’s dinners, cancel culture, you are thrown out of that frequency. If you are humble, curious, optimistic about life, and you want to know the answers, you can calm yourself down and tap into that frequency. With this mindset, anyone can take the most important picture in history, if you are observant enough. That frequency is for everyone, it is free.

You have an immense opportunity right in front of you. The question is, are you going to push yourself to tap into your own creative powers and stop looking at everyone else and start to realize that you can do something extraordinary yourself?

Use photography for something positive. Bring people to the right side of history.

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6 Comments

jim hughes's picture

Great portraits. Unpretentious but so powerful. That's a real talent that can't be easily explained.

Mike Ditz's picture

Cool that you got to interview him.

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

And I was expecting a discussion withe the philosopher... What a clickbait !
Jokes aside, I like what is said about the healthy and unhealthy competition in photography. I started photography before the social media existed. And I started trying to copy famous photographers, not to take their place, but to find a place among them by finding my own.

Joe Bodego's picture

Oh Please!!! were these white supremacists great photographers? (https://www.vox.com/22417191/national-geographic-racial-reckoning)

Jan Holler's picture

Thank you, Illya, for this intimate article. I like these portraits very much. They are bold and very expressive. Fantastic work!

John Kimwell Laluma's picture

The wisdom in this article is insane!