Platon Sees a Hero in Stephen Hawking for Wired UK
Stephen Hawking lives at the juncture of flesh and technology, both because his entire career as a theoretical physicist and cosmologist has been about exploring the limits of the human condition, but also because it is through a complex series of technologies that he remains alive and communicating. ALS has stolen most movement from him, relegating him to a motorized wheelchair, and allowing him the usage of only a single cheek muscle to manipulate a communication system. The 76-year-old scientist was the subject of Wired UK’s 100th issue cover, and SAT with Platon for the photograph.
Platon met Hawking at his personal office at the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Cambridge University, England. “The professor was brought in by a team of medical nurses and a technical adviser. I was asked to leave the room so they could have some privacy to prepare him for my sitting - and prepared he was,” explains Platon. “He has a powerful presence. Silent. Motionless. Yet, 200% alive. This man radiates charisma - his eyes burn with fire.” Those of us who aren’t in contact with Hawking on a daily basis, and are isolated from the differently abled among us, often lower our expectation of life signs from those who experience life differently from how we do. That’s a mistake. As Platon’s experience and images prove, just because we can’t empathize with an experience, or see the expression of it, doesn’t mean it’s not as rich and full as our own.
Hawking’s limitations in his chair could potentially also limit his ability to express himself in other ways – like fashion – but he was on point for his session with Platon. “He rocked a dapper tweed jacket with a silk cravat, which elegantly covered up all the plastic tubes entering his fragile body,” says Platon. “He was engulfed by a mechanical throne-like wheel chair, in my opinion it only added to this man’s stature.” He even donned a pair of sunglasses at one point in response to the photography lights, and upon doing so adopted what Platon calls “rock star swagger,” making him into a kind of “a badass super hero.”
We must all constantly reshape how we think of achievement and contributions, and what they look like. Even as Hawking ages and his body betrays him, his work becomes ever more relevant and we must continue to listen to this living icon.