Having created over 60 magazine covers of portraits—everyone from world leaders like Vladimir Putin to entertainment personalities such as Stephen Colbert—Platon has become a household name. In his latest book, the British-Greek photographer has turned his lens on U.S. soldiers, embedding himself in lesser known places beyond the battlefield.
“I’ve experienced all the handlers you can imagine and all the egos and authority and power,” Platon tells TIME. “I wanted to focus on a different kind of power, something more authentic.”
The series, commissioned in 2008, was Platon’s first photo-essay assignment as staff photographer for the New Yorker, which had redoubled its editorial attention to the war in Iraq. At the time, the Presidential elections were nearing final results and criticism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was mounting. The series became not only a tribute to military men and women but a reminder that all are stakeholders in the betterment of this country—something Platon says is relevant now more than ever.
“I never imagined that the ideas kicked around that we all hoped we’d overcome have returned to haunt us again,” Platon says. “With the rhetoric flying around in this current campaign, these pictures are cause to stimulate new respectful debate and help cure society’s amnesia.”
The essay, published now as a book, is a visual diary of U.S. soldiers and their families before and after their tours of duty, following soldiers through graduation at West Point; training in a staged Iraqi village; aboard the USS San Antonio moments before setting sail; and their return home to their loved ones.
The images examine what patriotism means for the families of those who fight: A young man’s t-shirt reads “Iraq veteran against the war”; an African American woman stands proudly in full military regalia; a double-amputee stares directly from his wheelchair; and, in arguably the most important image of the 2008 U.S. presidential election, an American Muslim mother cradles the grave of her soldier son. All in harsh black-and-white.
“It’s uncompromising,” he says. “You can’t gloss it over or find the middle gray. I wanted people to feel the grit, not just in the training but in the love and the loss.”
Platon is a portrait photographer based in New York City. His book, Service, is available now from Prestel. His work will be on exhibition at the Milk Gallery in New York, starting June 22 and kicking off with an artist talk on April 23.
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