Visions of Storytelling: Empowerment Through The Lens | Platon Antoniou

““I’m not a great statistician. I discover my stories from the street, but I’ll tell what little I know from meeting these incredible people“ says photographer Platon Antoniou. His organisation “The People’s Portfolio” uses photography to highlight social and human rights issues around the world. In this video for the World Economic Forum, Antoniou – who also photographs world leaders – tells the stories behind his iconic images.

Watch the full video above or read an extract below

On images from the Border
“”There was this guy and he lived in San Diego. He was married. They had two children, twins, a boy and a girl. They were very poor. It was Valentine’s Day and he wanted to get his wife some flowers. He realised that if he bought a five dollar bunch of flowers, probably his two kids would have to go without food for a day. So what did he do? He went to a local deli and he stole a bouquet of five dollar flowers. They caught him and called the police. The police arrive, look at his papers and discover that he’s undocumented.”

“So they make immediate proceedings to take him to the border to deport him. He didn’t have a chance to call his wife. There was a struggle at the border and he panicked as they handcuffed him, and they tasered him. And they tasered him again and again until he had a stroke. And he died two days later. So, I teamed up with Human Rights Watch and my own foundation “The People’s Portfolio” and we went back to tell some of these stories.”

On Missing Migrants
“From around 2001 the American government changed their policy and they decided to militarise most of the safe places along the border, hoping that the places that were left – the most dangerous places on the planet to cross, because it’s arid, really hot rocky desert – they thought no-one is going to cross through those areas.”

“But what they didn’t understand is that for a lot of people who cross the border illegally, they’re not doing it out of choice. I was told that a desert gets 115 degrees at its worst, and when they go across the border it’s normally in a group of 15- 20 people with a smuggler. And the smuggler tells them to bring just two gallons of water. Now within a few hours in that kind of heat, so many people are completely unprepared and that’s why on average there are about 450 deaths each year going through these difficult areas in the desert.”

“When you die in the desert, you’re essentially a missing person, because unless they find and identify the bodies, your family members don’t know what happened to you. There’s an amazing lady. Her name is Robin Reineke, this is her, and she runs the Missing Migrants Project. Her job is to go through all the bodies that come in and take all the personal belongings that people had on their possession, and try to create a file of information. She then matches that file of info with a missing person’s file to see if she can match it. And then she tries to help the families by bringing a sense of closure to their tragedy.”

On Water as Salvation
“This is Mike Wilson. He’s a Native American of the Tohono O’odham Nation Reserve. This is his land. It’s one of the most deadly places on the planet. He leaves water out for the migrants crossing, so there’s just a chance that it might keep them alive until they reach the border. And I asked him: tell me about what water means to you? And he said “Water is salvation. Water is survival.”

“And then I asked him: How do you know the difference between right and wrong? If you’re doing this, you’re helping people who are committing a crime. And he said: you may ask why are you abetting and aiding criminals. It’s a universal human rights question. I have to choose between two sets of laws – federal immigration laws and a higher moral universal law. I would love to honour and obey the federal immigration law, but people are dying in my desert and I humbly believe in the tradition of hospitality.”


  1. 24paljim on October 29, 2019 at 7:02 am

    What a wonderful man.   Thank you for caring.

  2. karlthetrader on October 29, 2019 at 7:06 am

    what a storyteller – in images and in front of audience, so moving. this is the essence of photography, pure and raw

  3. Fabrizio Batisti on October 29, 2019 at 7:31 am

    Best storytelling in the world for me! Thank you Platon!!

  4. Diego Rao on October 29, 2019 at 7:32 am

    Amazing work and very touching stories. Thank you so much.

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