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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Platon: Master Of The Portrait Of Power

Artistic, charming and apolitical, Platon has captured intense and revealing photographs of world leaders. The photographer refrains from passing judgment on these subjects—he invites the viewer to do it.

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In the book, Power (Chronicle Books, 2011), Platon shows a remarkable collection of portraits of the world's most powerful individuals. Platon is decidedly nonjudgmental in his photographic treatment of each person. Instead of imbuing the image with a preconceived moral assessment, he attempts to show the politicians in a particular moment in the hopes of revealing an aspect of their personality and how they personify power.

In his latest book, Power: Portraits of World Leaders (Chronicle Books), New York-based British photographer Platon gets up close and personal with more than 100 famous and infamous past and present heads of state. The resulting portraits are respectful, insightful and presented without judgment. He leaves that to the viewer and to history.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Rather than run from one country capital to another to create this hallmark project, most of the world leaders came to him…in a sense. Over a 12-month period, statesmen and stateswomen sat and stood for Platon in a makeshift studio he assembled at the United Nations. Platon says that one of the most difficult things for him was not to be intimidated by the power behind his sitters—not easy when you have a president or prime minister a few feet from you.

Born in London in 1968, Platon was raised in the Greek islands by his English mother, an art historian, and Greek father, an architect. In the mid-'70s, the family returned to London. After receiving his bachelor's degree with honors in graphic design from Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design, he earned a master's in photography and fine art at the Royal College of Art. This depth in the arts comes through in Platon's work. He's of the school that good taste comes from a studied awareness of the arts, past and present—music, sculpture, theater and any of the fine arts.

Platon left London in 1998 after spending several years working for the late John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s cutting-edge magazine, George. Since then, Platon has shot portrait and documentary work for publications including Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, TIME and The New Yorker. His advertising credits include Credit Suisse, Exxon Mobil, Diesel, The Wall Street Journal, Nike, Levi's, Rolex, Ray-Ban, Tanqueray and Issey Miyake. In 2004, Phaidon Press published the photographer's early portraits in Platon's Republic.

Like any great portraitist, Platon is able to quickly establish a connection with his subjects, which allows the viewer, through his pictures, to glimpse into the subject, whether a prince or a pauper. Windows to the soul have never been clearer.

DPP: Who came up with the idea for your book, Power?

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Platon: It started off as a crazy notion that occurred to me at the beginning of what we now call "The Great Recession." It became apparent that there are very few problems a country can solve in isolation anymore, that countries have to start working together in a new and unprecedented way—almost forming something like a global administration. Imagine if there were, who would be at the table of power?

We're presented with our world leaders under a shroud of branding, marketing and propaganda. So I thought, under these strained times, we should see our leaders as human beings, up close and personal. And then we should take all these individual character studies and bring them together to show a group dynamic. What happens as a communal spirit when they're all put together?

DPP: How did you transform this idea into a tangible body of work?

Platon: I contacted David Remnick, editor at The New Yorker, who loved the idea. I'm on contract for the magazine. Visual Editor Elisabeth Biondi advised me very cleverly that I couldn't go around the world photographing every world leader because it would cost millions of dollars—but most of them did come to the United Nations. It became a perfect metaphor because of the idea of everyone coming together to try to fix the state that we're in. The UN is the only forum in the world where world leaders meet on this scale. After 67 meetings with the UN, they granted me unprecedented historic access.


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