Platon's Portraits of Power Photographer Platon saw a golden opportunity and seized it. In September, over a five-day period, The New Yorker staff photographer camped out at the United Nations and lured the world's most powerful men and women to pose for him. The result is an impressive display called Portraits of Power.
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Platon's Portraits of Power

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Platon's Portraits of Power

Platon's Portraits of Power

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This past September, when world leaders descended on New York City for the U.N. General Assembly meetings, a photographer saw the moment as an opportunity. He set up a studio just outside the vast General Assembly Hall and tried to convince the most powerful and busiest people in the world to sit for a portrait.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

That photographer must have great powers of persuasion because he captured quite an impressive portfolio. The photographer goes by one name, Platon. He's on staff with the New Yorker magazine and that's where his photos appear in the current issue. The feature is called "Portraits of Power."

And Platon joins us now to talk about some of those shots.

Welcome to the program.

PLATON (Photographer, New Yorker Magazine): Thank you for having me. It's good to be here.

NORRIS: Platon, was it hard to get all of these world leaders to pose for your camera? I guess, is posed even the right verb? Was it difficult to actually get them to take time out of their busy schedules and stop in front of your camera?

PLATON: I've learned over the years, you can't really ask favors from people. You have to get people to get inspired by a project. Eventually, I got myself into the very privileged position of being able to set up my studio in a spot where no other photographer has ever been allowed in the United Nations' history. It's right outside the steps of the General Assembly green room, and each head of state had to pass me to go onto the stage and pass me when they came off the stage. So I got two shots - a photo shoot.

NORRIS: Two shots to try to get them to stop at your camera.

PLATON: Yeah, that's right.

NORRIS: What was it that you said to them?

PLATON: I learned so much from people at the United Nations and I watched their body language. And I realized that after a while, if you become very graceful, confident, warm and direct people with your mannerisms - with you arms, with your gestures - I found a lot of heads of state, as I held out my hand, they would shake my hand and I would just naturally guide them to my studio.

NORRIS: Well, I'm going to try that. Let's see if I have any luck.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PLATON: It works wonders, believe me.

NORRIS: Shake a hand and say come with me.

PLATON: Charm gets you everywhere.

NORRIS: Let's talk about some of the pictures. The feature begins with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And in this picture, you seem to see something really interesting in his eyes.

Mr. PLATON: Now, Ahmadinejad was a bizarre experience. I mean, he's a very short man. He has this strange spirit, almost like a childlike spirit. He giggles�

NORRIS: He giggles?

Mr. PLATON: Yeah. He was like a giggling young boy. But there's this massive entourage around him that is not childlike at all. It's really hardcore, rather intimidating, to say the least. But I was fascinated by his sort of almost na�ve spirit that came out of his face, and that's what I tried to capture.

NORRIS: What is Jacob Zuma laughing about?

Mr. PLATON: Probably laughing at me. You see, when I'm photographing these people, it's worse than going to the dentist for them. So I'm often yelling at the top of my voice: Look at the camera. It looks fantastic. Stay there. Don't move. So I'm really bullying them, pushing them around, but I'm doing it with nothing but enthusiasm. So they can't really get offended by it. They're a little confused by it, for sure, because no one really ever talks to a head of state in this sort of outrageous fashion.

NORRIS: So Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, is laughing at you.

Mr. PLATON: He's definitely laughing at me, yeah.

NORRIS: So, how many pictures did you have a chance to take of each of these world leaders before you found the one that really captured their soul?

Mr. PLATON: It varied. Some sitters gave me 15, 20 minutes. Other people wouldn't pose at all. Sarkozy was so rude to me and aggressive. It was a total shock to my system. I reached out my hand to shake his hand, and he sort of looked at my hand and refused to shake it. And then he looked at my studio set up and he said: (Foreign language spoken). And he walked off waving his hands in the air, shouting out loud: (Foreign language spoken).

NORRIS: Which of these is your favorite photo?

Mr. PLATON: I think I like Gaddafi because he's covered in these beautiful robes. And the experience of photographing him was the most menacing experience of my life. He moves in slow motion. And he sat for me at the same time that Obama's people and all his Secret Service were right next to me.

So it was a bit of a showdown between Gaddafi and the White House, and I was used as the sort of, you know, I was the toy in the middle. And he has hardly any eyes. It's like dark slits. So you can't tell what he's really thinking.

NORRIS: Well, congratulations on this. It was a very interesting exercise.

Thank you so much for spending time with us.

Mr. PLATON: Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: Platon is a staff photographer for the New Yorker magazine. He was talking to us about a feature in the current issue called "Portraits of Power." And you can see some of his portraits at our Web site. That's npr.org.

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