texasmonthly.com: Was this your first convention?
Platon: No, I went to the one a few years back, with Patrick Buchanan, but I didn’t have much access; I wasn’t able to go to all of the floors and was shut out of a lot of the events. So this was my first time truly to experience it.
texasmonthly.com: And you went to both conventions this year?
P: Yeah, I attended both. And they changed my life.
texasmonthly.com: How so?
P: With portraiture I never have to fight for my pictures. I have people in my studio. There are no time constraints. It’s no pressure. On the floor, there were people pushing me, telling me I couldn’t stand there, couldn’t shoot there, that seat’s for handicapped. I was fighting crowds, ducking, getting knocked around. At first I was very shy and got pushed around, but by the end of it, I knew I had to get the shot, so I stood up for myself. I had to be very strong-willed—moving people, doing whatever it took to get the shot. It was so different from my portrait work.
texasmonthly.com: Which convention did you like better?
P: Which one did I like better? Hmm, they were so different. The Democratic convention was very free and open and more like a celebration; the journalists were right there with the delegates, right in the mix of it. With the Republicans, it was very strict; there was a severe distinction between the delegates and the journalists. We could not go certain places. Everything was policed, and they controlled everything, like they were expecting something really negative to happen. There were definitely different feelings among the conventions.
texasmonthly.com: Did you have a game plan before you went in on what you wanted to get accomplished?
P: We had put together a list of key figures we wanted to get, but it was full of surprises. We got lucky and had celebrities just show up, and we got to shoot them—Bono, Michael Moore, and Hillary Clinton. But we knew what we wanted to get done and went for it. And Texas Monthly is more connected, politically, than any other magazine that I have been commissioned for. We had access to all the big players, and it was nuts. I was running around. Your people would tell me that I had to get to the eleventh floor, the ninth suite in five minutes, and I’d meet Sam who would introduce me to John who would take me into the suite. It was like James Bond, especially when I got to meet Karl Rove—you know, going into the interior of the fortress. Spooky.
texasmonthly.com: You are famous for the genuineness of your portraits, along with your use of the wide-angle lens. Did you use that for these conventions?
P: Just a bit—for some of the bigger players. I have never experienced anything like this before, though. It was a different world. Because I’m short, I could really get in there, so for a lot of my pictures, I wanted to get the chaos, the mess that was the convention. A lot of my shots are from the ground looking up on the people as they are enclosed by a swarm of journalists. I wanted to capture that, and I think we really did. A lot of the other guys just wanted a frame of a specific person, but I really wanted to show the emotions of the chaos.
texasmonthly.com: What do you think of American politics?
P: I have always had a love affair with American politics ever since John F. Kennedy Jr. moved me over here to work for his magazine, George. I have always been absolutely fascinated by it, how theatrical it is. There is such a fine line between politics and showbiz in this country, and the conventions embody that.
Being from England, I was at a total advantage from the other guys. I could get away with so much more. Like with my portraits, I really try to break down the walls and make the person feel comfortable. It’s really hard for me to detach from my subjects. So that’s what I did here; I was in the crowd singing, cheering, and waving flags and just being a part of it. I get away with it, being foreign, like using slang and relating on a humanistic level rather than a “yes, sir, no, sir” kind of thing. That way, they are feeling less intimidated by the camera and I get better shots.
texasmonthly.com: What was the craziest thing that happened?
P: I actually got arrested. It was at the Democratic National Convention. Apparently, a man had snuck in with phony photographer credentials, and he was on a terrorist list. I matched the description. So these big security guards put me in the corner, all closed up, and kept me there until they found the other guy. Then they just patted me on the back and let me go. But it was okay because during the rest of the convention, any time they’d see me, I’d get the special treatment—they’d give me bear hugs—and they’d let me scoot past people. So it turned out pretty well, and now I have a story to tell.