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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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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
DPP: Were most of the shoots scheduled in advance?

Platon:The New Yorker wrote hundreds of letters to missions to try to get them on board. In the end, only two world leaders—from Mexico and Brazil—agreed in advance to be photographed. Everybody else said either no, maybe or didn't respond. So it turned into an old-fashioned street hustle. I was on the ground at the UN mingling and persuading, and slowly the project gained traction. After a while, it became a private club that they all wanted to be a member of. I had world leaders questioning, "Why haven't I been asked?" At one point there were four or five in a line waiting to be photographed. They were all chatting as if they were waiting for a bus.

DPP: Where did you set up?

Platon: It's important to note that these were not all done at the UN. I already had photographed Obama, Putin, Hu Jintao and George W. Bush. I did a lot of the key ones in private sittings, but the bulk of them were done at the UN. We set up a tiny studio about 10 feet away from where each head of state addresses the General Assembly. When you watch the speeches on TV, they're in front of a wall of green marble. I was behind that wall in what's like a corridor before they step into the green room, where they prepare for their speech. They had to pass me twice, so I had two chances to get them.

DPP:  What was your lighting setup in this relatively tight space?

Platon: Very simple. One Profoto strobe with a shoot-through umbrella and a standard paper backdrop. It's all how you use it that counts. My whole ethic is very simple. At this level, there's no time to mess around with lighting. Hugo Chávez gave me three seconds. I shoot Fuji and Kodak negative film in a Hasselblad film camera, which we scan using an Isomet drum scanner. It's pretty straightforward, my stuff.

DPP: So it's all about capturing the decisive moment and connecting with the subject.

Platon: I lay myself completely bare, and the sitter then reacts to that, and that's what I'm capturing. It's very intense. I don't use a tripod. I'm handholding my Hasselblad with a 120mm lens on it. I'm very close to their faces with this macro lens. With Putin, I was a couple of inches from his nose. Same with Ahmadinejad. It's not a comfortable space. It's the kind of space where amazing things happen. Nobody else approaches these heads of state with this body language. It creates an incredible energy.

DPP: It's amazing that their handlers let you get so close.

Platon: All their advisers are watching what I'm doing, and everyone is asking themselves, "Should we be allowing this to happen?" Even the world leaders are looking at me, thinking, "Hold on a minute, I've never done this before." But that's what creates the power in the image. That's what breaks down the facade that they've created.

They've consciously built this aura around themselves as part of their authority, and I think because we're all struggling in the world, we're all very insecure right now. We need to look into their eyes to see what's the character of the person behind the brand, behind the policies. People have been buying brands for too long without asking questions. It's clear to me that it hasn't worked. You've bought the car. You've bought the house. You've bought the flat-screen TV. Did it make you happy? You bought the message from the advertising company. You bought the message from the political campaign that there's hope, that change is coming.


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