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Photographer Who Shot Putin, Clinton, Trump, and Zuckerberg Details How He Approached Each Shoot

Photographer Platon has photographed a significant number of major players in both the world of politics and music. In this four-minute video from PBS NewsHour, he talks through the experience of working with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as well as Presidents Trump, Clinton, and Putin, and how he made each of them relax for the photo.

He begins by recalling his initial attempt at humor on set with Bill Clinton falling flat. Platon had declared, “Mr. Clinton, will you show me the love?” to which he says he was greeted by a room of silence. Eventually, the pair came up with the final shot, a photo that was angled in a particular way that led many to suggest it was sexually suggestive, and referenced Clinton’s sex scandal.

“A portrait to me is about closeness; it’s about truth,” said Platon. “Sometimes, someone’s fame and power and success actually becomes a prison, and the person knows better than anybody that they can’t live up to that ideal. My job is not to be disrespectful, but to be authentic; to say, ‘Who are you really?’”

As for Zuckerberg, Platon says he was initially quite stiff. Following a brief conversation about success and failure, he started opening up, and after Zuckerberg remarked that he loves what he does for a living, Platon said he invited him to “show [him]” on camera. This was when the shot happened.

Find out what Platon had to say about his other subjects in the full video above. View Platon’s work on his official website.

Lead image by Slon Dot Pics via Pexels.

[via PBS]

Jack Alexander's picture

A 28-year-old self-taught photographer, Jack Alexander specialises in intimate portraits with musicians, actors, and models.

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Of course it's subjective but, I don't like any of these portraits. I see them as being a reflection of the people, he'd already decided they were.

They feel very corporate to me

I've taken hundreds of corporate head shots and I don't get that at all. Not that he should strive for that but corporate head shots should look confident but also approachable. Putin looks like a B movie villain, Zuckerburg looks, well...just bad. I have no words to describe Trump's portrait. :-/ But, just as a point of reference, I really don't like Annie Leibovitz's portraits, which these remind me of.

I think that's a valid comment and also a valid way of approaching taking someone's portrait. But we all as viewers have our own preconceptions regarding subjects like these - as well as "villain" there's a good number of other adjectives that could be used to describe Putin's portrait depending on whatever our individual personal view of him is.

I like Platon's pics a lot, though I wish he'd stop it with the heavy vignette.

I suppose it's valid from the standpoint of promoting your photograph/photography. It's certainly more interesting than what I would have done. In my case, no matter who's paying, I always shoot for the subject although I think I read somewhere that Putin really liked his shot. But then, he really is a villain. :-) I watched a preview to Annie Leibovitz's Master Class on photography and she said, 'A lot of photographer's try to make their subject comfortable. I disagree with that. I try to get them off balance so I can see what they're really like.' or something to that effect. This guy's approach seems a lot like that and, while I understand the reasoning, I think it just makes the subjects look uncomfortable. I do agree with your comment about vignetting, though.

I honestly don't think there's a right or wrong way to go about taking a portrait if the photographer ends up with the picture that *they* wanted, though it does obviously depend on what the shoot is for and how much of a brief they're given. I would imagine all Platon is told by Wired or whoever, is "Go and photograph so and so or us. Cover and inside spread." They're asking him to do the shot because they like his vision, not because they want a shot that's necessarily going to flatter the subject in a conventional way.

There's the famous anecdote about Karsh pissing off Winston Churchill by snatching the cigar out of his hand to get his result for example. David Bailey apparently used to just take the mick out of his subjects. Nadav Kander says virtually nothing to his subject before shooting (I find that very strange) etc etc. It's sometimes how we get to see portraits that are beyond the generic headshots that no-one would give a second look at.

I'd also recommend the documentary about Platon mentioned below. It might change your mind about his methods, especially during a shoot near the end of the programme..

I may watch it but can't imagine it'll change my opinion of the end results which, really, is the only thing that matters. :-)

Ha, no it probably won't. But it's an interesting doc nevertheless.

See also the series "Abstract" on Netflix, which has a one hour segment devoted to Platon.

Incredible stuff.

A photographer projecting their ideas onto their subject is kind of what makes a photographer unique and special. If you just took a xerox of a scene, well, that would be boring as hell, wouldn't it?

We get hired because of our vision, our ideas - the way we see something. Not because we can take a xerox of a "happy, relaxed, approachable" CEO. Boring.

10 bucks says this is going to devolve into some assine argument over the nature of the term "activist," "bias," or "agenda."

I look forward to be proven wrong. Never felt something like that before :)

And just because you think something isn’t asinine doesn’t make it not.

People are blinded by their own point of view and personal desires, which leads to ignorance and an inability to see the truth. Happens a lot here. I’m using previous knowledge to predict events: it’s a common and reasonable practice.

A prediction is not a judgement, unless it’s based on prejudice.

You’re arguing that I have some sort of a bias because I’m using past knowledge to predict future events? That not what is happening at all.

That’s not what having a bias means.

You owe me 10 bucks. Lol, night Bob.

You helped


Of course that's one approach. I always try to get them to "say something" about themselves rather than project what I think about them. Ironically, I don't see your comment reflected in your headshots. ;-)

I love his portraits actually. "Others" may not see it but it's there. A very real (brief) connection with his subject.

What do you mean, "Others"!? ;-)

Really? You see a connection? Maybe with Putin, it's "I'm going to make you my puppy." In the case of Zuckerburg, he looks like he's pulling back. No connection at all. In Trump's case, it's difficult to tell. Deciding to focus on his eyes (or hair?), it's like Platon is trying to tell me something but using a foreign language. I could easily scratch off my last remaining hair trying to figure it out. :-/

For what it's worth, Platon felt he made a connection with Putin: https://fstoppers.com/news/platon-putin-story-behind-image-7930

I read that article before and was remembering it when reading this one. I kinda see that but, really, in Putin's case, he's always wearing a "mask" so I don't know. Maybe. :-)

Good point. With only a few moments and armed guards around you, even the best portrait photographer isn't going to get to the "real" person (whatever that is). Nevertheless, doing your homework and finding something to break the ice were good takeaways from that clip-at least for an ameteur like me.

Nothing wrong with the portraits... but I just prefer Gregory Heisler's style a lot more.

‘photography … should not be blamed for being a branch of interpretative criticism.’ - W. Empson - "Some Aspects of Pastoral." The Planton episode of Netflix' "Abstract" is great. All of his portrait work shown there is shot with a Hasselblad Flex, a 100mm lens, handheld, and the exact same lighting setup. Drum scanned (don't know what film is used). The main subject in the piece is Colin Powell. The way Planton engages with him is fascinating. Very intimate.

curious as to whats his lighting setup - is it just a soft box mounted above the subjects head ?