Platon is best known for his graphic images of celebrities and world leaders shot against white seamless. He applied similar techniques to create the portraits in Service, his new book on active service members, military veterans and their families. (A show of the work will be held at Milk Gallery in New York City from June 22 to July 24.) He’s also employed still life to illustrate life before and after combat: He shows an exploded jeep and blank bullets used in training exercises, a Purple Heart medal bestowed on a wounded veteran, and a pair of prosthetic legs he photographed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. As the title of his book suggests, Platon is interested in people who have served and sacrificed in a variety of ways. He includes images of a veteran in a wheelchair hugged by his wife, a veteran of the first Gulf War posing with his son, and the well known photo of a mother embracing the headstone on her son’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, the crescent carved above his name indicating that he was a Muslim.
Elisabeth Biondi, who edited Platon’s work while she was director of photography at The New Yorker, explains in her introduction that the book began as an assignment to document troops who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq. The assignment took Platon out of the studio, to training facilities, army bases, and other locations where, through lighting, focus or exposure, he would obscure details in the background, keeping the viewer’s attention on his subjects. The technique makes his subjects into emblems signifying defiance, pride, sorrow, anger, resignation.
Fans of Platon’s work will find much to like in this new book. The reproductions emphasize the inky blacks and crisp contrasts in his black-and-white images. The lettering of the title on the book’s cover looks like it was stamped into metal, reminiscent of dog tags. The pages are thick, as if the ink sits heavily on the page. The result is a book that feels both sturdy and raw, a repository for strong emotion. —Holly Stuart Hughes