Platon in the Congo: Faces of Horror, Faces of Hope
"I’m not really a photographer at all," Platon tells us at the beginning of an episode of Netflix's Abstract that follows his process and career as a photographer. "The camera is nothing more than a tool. Communication. Simplicity. Shapes on a page. What’s important is the story, the message, the feeling, the connection. How do you make this reach people? It’s a combination of graphic simplicity and the power of spirit and soul." Platon never had a plan of getting in front of a camera to tell his own story but when he saw the opportunity of being in front of 90million viewers, he knew he could use it to tell a different story. That story is the story of Dr Denis Mukwege, a man in the Democratic Republic of Congo who has made his life's work the health of women who have been sexually assaulted. He was the focus of a story Platon photographed for Time Magazine, a trip that Platon brought Netflix along for.
"Rape has almost always been a part of armed conflict, but in Congo’s civil wars, it was a strategy," the Time Magazine feature story, penned by Aryn Baker tells us. When Platon was preparing his team for the delicate and challenging work ahead of them, he put it slightly differently: "Rape is cheaper than bullets." And that's why these women found themselves at Panzi Hospital, the center in Bukavu where Mukwege does his work.
“I went there expecting to be traumatized,” Platon told Time Magazine. “Instead I found incredible stories of courage.”
The circumstances that brings patients are each more horrific than the last, where sexually based crimes are not limited to adults, or even children, but extends to family members and even infants. The combination of reasons that permit these crimes to continue is cultural and systemic and until law enforcement in the Congo is able to enforce any real punishment, it will continue. Until that happens the leadership must come from the survivors themselves.
"I never expected to find this joy and strength at Panzi. I went expecting to see broken people, and I did, but what I also saw is that people can overcome that,” Platon tells Time. “The women I photographed are the most inspiring people I have ever met in my life. I started to focus on their courage and heroism, and the idea of overcoming adversity.”