Platon: Powerful portraits: what’s in a face?

On 6th July 2011, I was one of the 200 or so people who packed into the lecture theatre at the LSE to attend a lecture by world-renowned portrait photographer Platon, staff photographer at The New Yorker. (If you click this link you can see a multi-media slide show with commentary by Platon).

Platon is a charming and amusing speaker and his anecdotes clearly demonstrate his winning ways with those he photographs.  He’s brave too.   Here are some quotes from his shoots:

“I want your soul” – to Michelle Obama

“Mr President will you show me the love?” – to Bill Clinton, (see the Esquire cover further down).

The list of world leaders and celebrities he has photographed also includes both President Bushes, Putin, Beckham, Schwarzenegger, Kirk Douglas, Al Pacino, Berlusconi. Mohammed Ali, Obama, Dustin Hoffman … and those were just a few of those shown.

What then did I learn?

  • He finds an angle to interest his subject and so ‘makes the moment’.
  • He reveals his weaknesses and so his subjects are prepared to share theirs.
  • He works hard to present ‘honestly’ and so doesn’t want relationships with his subjects.
  • He summarises his work as 98% people skills and psychology , and just 2% photography.
I learnt a lot from Platon about the psychology of portrait work and I hope to be able to put it into practice.  To start me on the right track I must admit I succumbed to buying a signed copy of his new book, Power.
By way of sign off, below is his famous portrait of President Bill Clinton – which made the front cover of Esquire in 2000.

© Esquire / Platon

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