Platon Meets Edward Snowden's "Snowbot"
The last time Platon connected with Edward Snowden it took the photographer a year to track him down. Through veritable international espionage they met the whistleblower in Moscow and it was the first time the world had seen Snowden since he went on the run. But the world has changed a little bit since then. Snowden now controls a fully operational robot, outfitted with cameras, microphones, and screens allowing him to go anywhere and interact with anyone. That robot rolled up to Platon’s door to get its portrait taken for the cover of New York Magazine, and once again just a door separated Platon and Snowden. “I opened the studio door and this robot comes in, wheels itself in with Snowden’s face on the front of it and it was just great to connect with him again,” says Platon. “He operates it all from his hideout in Moscow. He’s got a whole ground control. So it signifies something very interesting, which is as a man who is not free, now he has been liberated once again through technology.” Snowden has been in hiding since 2013 but now he’s able to get out again, at least in this small way.
In the world of photography, still life and portraiture are two very different disciplines and are approached differently. But this robot with an actual human face blurs the line between these two types of photography and Platon had to find the middle ground. “The robot is a very clinical thing and it has sort of implications, it reminded me of Hal in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ it also reminded me a bit of ‘1984,’” says Platon. “And yet there’s this moment of humanity coming through the computer screen… He was totally engaged with me once again, so it was a moment of deep human connection and it was also a moment of this clinical technology as well. It all fuses together.” Platon and Snowden fell right back into the relationship that they forged in Moscow more than a year ago, working together once again to find the honest image they were responsible for creating and sending out into the world.
Snowden finding a relative freedom through operating this machine begs questions that will be answered in the coming years. How does this change what freedom is? Can the authorities stop this? Who else will have access to these kinds of technology? And do we want them to? When tomorrow comes, we will see more and more like this and we’ll all have to figure out how we want to deal with it. For now, Platon got a glimpse of that future when Snowden’s “Snowbot” was leaving. “One of my neighbors came out to take the garbage out after the shoot and they saw the Snowbot leaving the studio and they raised their eyes as if ‘another crazy day in the life of Platon,’” he says, laughing. “But it was a really great closure that I had to go through the mill to find him. It took me a year. And then this time the pendulum swings and he comes to me.” The Snowbot represents a totally new way of thinking about criminality and freedom, but what that means for all of us has yet to be decided.