Get to know ... Spencer Platt, photojournalist featured in new art center exhibit
WESTPORT — For the past two decades, award-winning photojournalist Spencer Platt has traveled the world capturing images to go alongside the biggest headline of the day. Now, Platt is returning to his native Westport for his first-ever solo exhibition.
Curated by longtime San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker, the exhibit, “Fractured,” is on view at the Westport Arts Center until March 2.
“All of those same things that a fine art photographer would spend days thinking about, he’s able to capture in the moment. To me, there’s a level of genius there that hasn’t been celebrated,” Amanda Innes, executive director of the arts center, said of Platt’s work.
When Innes first approached Platt a year ago about hosting an exhibition of his work, Platt, 48, said he was reticent because, as a news photographer, he doesn’t consider himself an artist and prefers to keep the emphasis on the stories and people he photographs. Even more, Platt gawked at the task of sifting through the many thousands of photos he has taken over 20 years as a staff photographer for Getty Images.
“As someone who’s always on the move in the news business, I can’t really take more than 30 or 40 minutes behind a computer. I start to go mad,” Platt said.
After some thought, Platt realized the amazing opportunity to show his work. He did a rough edit of his work that was then dwindled down by Baker to about 30 of Platt’s best photos from places as close as Naugatuck and as far as Baghdad.
With an unceasingly observant eye, Platt’s photos find the small, human moments embedded in large cities and overwhelming conflicts.
For example, the exhibitions centerpiece photo, “A Woman Documents,” depicts a woman standing on a hill in Gaza taking a photo of the burning land in front of her with her cellphone. More famously, Platt’s 2006 World Press Photo of the Year photo shows a group of seemingly wealthy Lebanese women driving through Beirut following a cease-fire in the city.
While his energy and eye have led him to career success, Platt said it didn’t translate well to school in Westport, where he spent his childhood skateboarding and exploring New York City with his best friend and fellow photojournalist Tyler Hicks.
“Some of our friends were talking about going to Ivy League schools, but it just wasn’t on our radar. We were really enjoying life and having a great time,” Platt said.
The pair’s strategy appeared to work. Platt and Hicks, along with fellow Staples High School alumna Lynsey Addario, have become some of the most prominent photojournalists of their generation.
When they were about 16, Platt said Hicks started documenting everything they did with a camera. While Platt was originally drawn to writing and earned a degree in English from Clark University, he later caught the photojournalism bug as well.
Always adventurous, Platt and Hicks traveled together to Haiti when they were 17. They were told by many the trip was foolish because the country, in 1991, was violent. The pair went anyway, took photos, and came out changed, Platt said.
“It was an eye-opening experience for both of us. We never really spoke about it, but I think when we came out of that story we both knew that this is probably our calling and what we were going to do,” Platt said.
Platt got his first newspaper gig as an intern for Hicks at a paper in Ohio, and then went on to work at other small- and medium-sized papers in Elmira, N.Y., and Worcester, Mass., among other places.
Although he loved the newspaper business, Platt felt bored after seven years. With encouragement from his mom, he took a 10-day leave from the Elmira paper to photograph in Albania, which, in 1995, was consumed in revolution and opening up to the world following communist rule.
Platt came home with a photos and a story that ran in many of Gannett’s papers and set him on a course to cover larger international events. He then freelanced before getting a full-time job with the then-new Getty Images. He moved in with his girlfriend and now wife, fellow Westport native and documentary filmmaker Erica Sashin, in New York City, where they still live now with their young daughter.
Sept. 11, 2001, Platt shot Getty’s first big international photo that ran in hundreds of publications across the country: a photo of the second plane coming into the Twin Towers.
“For someone in the news business, it’s just black-and-white, night and day; the world that I was working under on 9/10 and then after 9/11,” Platt said. For the next decade he was on the road 24/7 traveling to Afghanistan and Iraq, among other countries.
Since the start of President Donald Trump’s administration, Platt said his work has been more domestic focused. Included in the exhibition is a photo he took last year of a white supremacists rally in Georgia. This week, Platt is headed to the U.S. Mexico border.
The arts center exhibition provides a look back at the last 20 years of global news, but as the world changes, Platt’s work will continue to capture what happens next.
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