Platon's Salon

An exclusive look at the portrait photographer's creative collective, the Nutopia Forum.

Platon-s-Salon
Platon-s-Salon

On a recent Wednesday night, a small crowd of up-and-coming photographers gathers in a loose semi-circle on couches and folding chairs in the SoHo studio of renowned portrait photographer Platon. The object of their attention is leading photographic agent David Maloney from the Art Department agency, who sits in front of them with his feet propped casually on the rungs of his stool. Platon has coaxed Maloney, his agent and close friend, into sharing with the collected photographers the extensive knowledge he's gained in his 15 years as a top photo agent.

I am one of only a few non-members present, by virtue of a friend, which is how most people end up here. Tonight there are no press releases or brochures -- just people talking.

Welcome to the Nutopia Forum.

In the hyper-competitive New York photo world, where every person is a potential connection or competitor, Platon's Nutopia Forum was conceived as an oasis free from the normal photo scene schmoozing. No one is here to get a card, or get a job, or get ahead. It's a conscious revival of the 17th-century French salon, which resurfaced in 1970s New York only to fade from the scene in recent years.

Platon, best known for his graphic headshots of politicians and celebrities, has an ebullient personality and pure enthusiasm for photography that make the forum a genuine and exciting place for artistic sharing, openness, and exploration.

"Things have gotten so professional [in photography] we've lost the idea of just sharing ideas and views and discussion," Platon explains in his irresistible British lilt. "It's the idea of democracy; we're all the same and there is no hierarchy."

He pays homage to that idea with the term "forum," which comes from the meeting of minds developed by Plato, for whom the half-Greek Platon was named. Also an unabashed Beatles fan, he took "Nutopia" from John Lennon's imaginary country, established in the liner notes of his Mind Games album: "Nutopia has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people."

The forum's seeds were sown several years ago when a couple of Platon's assistants asked him to look over their work. "It was such a fantastic night, we were all so inspired," he says. So he decided to do it again. A few more photographers came, and it grew from there.

As Nutopia has grown more structured over the years, yet Platon has purposely kept membership low. Although Platon says that more than a hundred aspiring photographers have joined the waiting list, the current Nutopia membership hovers around 17 because he fears that more growth would upset the group's delicate economy of support and conversation.

To tell you the truth, Platon is also worried about this very story you are reading. He's worried because the Nutopia Forum is currently a little mom and pop shop -- but with this article, it's going public. He hopes this will expand the forum's resources and reach, but he knows it also has the potential to crack the very foundation it was built on. Nonetheless Platon is excited to introduce the world to his crew of talented, ambitious, young photographers from the worlds of documentary, fashion, editorial, and fine art (Platon is a big proponent of "cross-fertilization"). Click here to launch a gallery of their images.

Nutopia now follows a loose three-pronged cycle of member presentations, education, and portfolio review. Wednesday's meeting falls into the second category.

© Mike McGregor
Portrait of Platon by his former assistant, Mike McGregor.

Over the course of several hours, Maloney divulges grand notions and tedious details about the usually impenetrable world of photo agencies. Platon admonishes everyone to ask any and all questions they have, since they may never get this level of access again. Although finding an agent is far in the future for most of these photographers, they are already eager to know everything from how to make a good first impression to how creative fees are handled.

In the past, Platon has also brought in "distinguished guest," such as Yancey Richardson Gallery director Tracey Norman and Cindy Rivet and Michael Paterson, manager of art buying and art director, respectively, at the advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather. For 2007 Platon has plans to beef up these presentations, tapping his contacts in the business and asking them to give presentations at the forum. Top commercial photographers Christian Witkin and Norman Jean Roy, both Platon's friends and also represented by Maloney, have already signed on.

But the heart and soul of Nutopia will always be the group critiques. Mike McGregor, who was one of the assistants present at the forum's inception, says these nights where everyone shares and discusses their latest work light his creative burners.

"It pushes you because everyone is shooting great stuff," he says. "I've really felt myself grow."

And that is exactly what Platon likes to hear. He believes that "confidence is the base of any form of creativity." But he knows that the ever-accelerating pace of professional photography, especially in a dog-eat-dog place like New York, can eat away at that confidence.

"If you're going to survive in New York, you've got to be a foot soldier and be fighting for your job every day," Platon recognizes. "The danger is that it's taken the fun and inspiration out of a lot of professionals." Platon himself has faced that problem, and the forum is in some ways his own walled garden away from New York's hustle and bustle.

"It's nice to be around young people who aren't tarnished by the business yet," he says. "Photography is very lonely, so I'm building a mini universe around me where I can be happy."

It's no wonder he's so dedicated to protecting the forum's essence -- of humility and equality and excitement. To preserve what is vital about Nutopia, it must not be spread too thin. Luckily, the idea of Nutopia can extend infinitely without being diluted. Let the word of mouth start here.

image
image
Andreas Laszlo Konrath
image
image
Andreas Laszlo Konrath
image
image
image
image
Cailla Quinn
image
image
image
image
Glenn Glasser
image
image
image
image
Grace Doherty
image
image
image
image
Malcolm Beckford
image
image
image
image
Mauricio Quintero
image
image
image
image
Melanie Ross
image
image
image
image
Mike Fernandez
image
image
image
image
Mike Mcgregor
image
image
image
image
Pari Dukovic
image
image
image
image
Sara Macel
image
image
image
image
Sean Carroll
image
image
image
image
Simon Howell
image
image
image
image
Steven Laxton
image
image
image
image
Wesley Rose
Portrait-of-Platon-by-his-former-assistant-Mike-M
Portrait-of-Platon-by-his-former-assistant-Mike-M
Portrait of Platon by his former assistant, Mike McGregor.Mike Mcgregor
ADVERTISEMENT