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Tag Archives: Spencer Platt
Cairo is one of the most beautiful cities Spencer Platt has ever seen.
The stunning architecture and lovely light — combined with layers of ancient history — make it “sublime,” the 1989 Staples graduate says.
A staff photographer for Getty Images, he loved capturing images of ordinary Egyptians going about their daily lives.
But he was there, a couple of weeks ago, to cover the political upheaval. Between the demands of providing dramatic shots of riots and strife, and the suspicions and tensions of the people he met, Cairo was an extremely difficult assignment.
Then again, Spencer is used to that. It’s his job.
He photographed the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006 (and won the World Press Photo of the Year award for his shot of grinning Lebanese girls in front of a devastated building). He also worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Congo and Indonesia.
On September 11, 2001, Spencer was an eyewitness to the World Trade Center attacks. His harrowing photo of smoke and flames billowing from south tower seconds after the 2nd plane hit is one of the iconic images of that day.
“9/11 changed everything,” Spencer says. “It was such an awful event, but it led to a huge resurgence in my profession. We went from news organizations pulling back on coverage, to being dispatched all over the world.”
Three weeks ago, he arrived in Beirut to cover the flood of Syrian refugees. He had barely settled in when his editor called. The Egyptian government had announced a 48-hour deadline to the Muslim Brotherhood. Spencer took the 1st plane to Cairo.
Despite the city’s beauty, he says, the assignment was “not rewarding.” As he walked around the city he felt mistrust, tension and hostility.
“I try to show not just fighting, but daily life,” he says. “But it was incredibly difficult to shoot that. I got threats. I got in arguments. People kept asking me for my camera.”
Pro-Morsi people thought he — one of the few Westerners there — was a spy.
The temperature was 110 in the shade. Cairo, he says, was “really combustible.”
Spencer did not feel that his life was in danger. But he was involved in physical altercations. And at the end of each day, he says, “it was tough to feel upbeat.”
Democracy is “not alive and well” in Egypt, Spencer says. “I don’t see good things there.”
That saddens him. “The people are very, very good. They’re beautiful, with a lot to offer.”
He is proud of photos like those he took of an African family. He showed their hesitation and fear, as they watched protests from afar.
Working in a tense situation like Egypt is always a challenge, and not just because of danger. Spencer files a couple of times a day — 30 or 40 images — and editors want “headline” shots of protests. At the same time, Spencer tries to “go beyond that. I want to show the lives behind the demonstrations.”
And, he admits, “I’m just parachuting in. I have a rudimentary knowledge of Egyptian history and politics.”
Riding to the airport at dawn, for a 7 a.m. flight home, he watched with fascination as Cairo awoke.
“It was very poetic,” Spencer says. “The families, the light, the architecture — it’s the most beautiful city I’ve seen in the Middle East and North Africa. Despite the garbage and decay, it’s very picturesque.”
So what’s after Egypt?
“I just covered Anthony Weiner and the mayoral race,” Spencer laughs. “No comment.”
But whatever he shoots, his passport and satellite phone are always near.
“That’s the way I like it,” he says. “My specialty is breaking news. I’m sure something else will emerge — unfortunately — in the near future.”
Westport is justly proud of our trio of world-famous photojournalists: Lynsey Addario, Tyler Hicks and Spencer Platt. All are Staples graduates from the 1980s.
Last week, both Lynsey (the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and a 2009 Pulitzer Prize) and Tyler (who shared that 2009 Pulitzer for International Reporting) have had gripping photos in the New York Times, from Afghanistan and Haiti.
Now check out the February 21 edition of Time magazine. Lynsey has contributed an insightful photo-essay on medical evaluation units in Afghanistan.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Famous Photographers School made Westport proud. Five decades later, 3 home-grown photojournalists are doing the same.
Veteran’s Day is a holiday that Westport hardly celebrates. More like “hurriedly observes” — if that.
Next Wednesday, things change.
This Veteran’s Day, the Westport Country Playhouse and Westport Arts Center team up to honor our vets. Noted actor Brian Dennehy hosts a Playhouse presentation of “Letters Home” — a dramatic production of actual letters written by US troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the Playhouse lobby, the WAC will install an exhibition. “Daily Exchanges: US Soldiers in Iraq — The Ordinary in Images” features photographs and videos depicting the everyday life of troops serving in war.
Staples grad Spencer Platt — a world-renowned photojournalist – will be represented in the exhibit.
A reception and guided tour of the art exhibit begins at 6 p.m. next Wednesday, followed by “Letters Home” at 7.
A panel discussion follows the play. Afterward, curator Terri Smith and artist/veteran Paul Kaiser will comment on the exhibition.
(Tickets to “Letters Home” are $15 for the general public, $10 for veterans. Call 203-227-4177, or click here. For more information on the exhibition, call 203-222-7070, or click here. The art exhibition will also be on display in the Playhouse lobby on Thurs., Nov. 12 from 1-6 p.m., and Fri., Nov. 13 from noon-6 p.m.)
Westport — long known as an artists’ colony — has been home to photographers too. For a few years, we were even the site of the Famous Photographers’ School.
Today, though, is our true photographic heyday. Three of the top photojournalists in the world hail from Westport. All attended Staples in the 1980s.
American Photo Magazine’s current issue includes — in a story on small-town newspapers — this amazing trio: Tyler Hicks, Spencer Platt and Lynsey Addario.
Hicks and Platt both started their professional careers not in Westport, but at the small Troy (Ohio) Daily News. Hicks moved quickly to the New York Times, where since 2001 he has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Platt now works for Getty Images. He photographed the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006 (and won the World Press Photo of the Year award for his shot of grinning Lebanese girls in front of a devastated building). He also worked in Iraq, Liberia, Congo and Indonesia.
Addario — another prize-winner — is a noted Times photographer herself.
The American Photo Magazine piece examines the role small-town newspapers play in a photographer’s career — and what those photos mean to a community. In the internet age, photographers lament the loss of a reliable, professional outlet for their work.
Platt says of his early days: “We awoke each morning excitedly going through the paper to see how big our images appeared. Front page, a photo spread, a bad crop, 6 columns, color, black and white. We were either mortified or euphoric.”
He recalls covering his 1st tragedy: a car accident outside of Troy. He photographed a grieving mother.
In the years since, he says, he has covered wars and disasters throughout the world. But the 1 person he will never forget is “that young man spread out in the field under a beautiful blue sky. It was my introduction to the news.”