Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Platon: The Power of the Portrait



Just like the previously featured photographer, today's post is all about beautiful portraits and close-ups. While Chuck Close's daguerreotypes are much more well-known in the art world, the photographs in this post have enjoyed commercial success in America and around the world, having graced numerous publications and magazines. These are the powerful and beautiful portraits of the photographer Platon.


These famous and not so famous faces emerge from an all-white, black or neutral background with a solitary overhead light illuminating the subject. The portraits are incredibly detailed, yet aren't overly complicated. This simple yet effective set-up wouldn't be that compelling if it weren't for that extra smirk, smile or frown drawn out of the subject by Platon.


Although his most well known photographs are close-ups, some of his images are quite successful when they are taken with a wide angle lens. Take for instance the above photograph of the classical pianist Lang Lang.
The low angle as well as the position of Lang Lang's hands on the keyboard add another dimension to the portrait without it being distracting.

Most of his more recognizable photographs however are taken with a telephoto lens which zooms in on the subjects face. These pictures, which draw you into the subject's face, give you a different perspective on the person being photographed, even if it happens to be of a famous personality, such as this portrait of comedian Tina Fey.


This simple technique works quite well for Platon as he isn't interested in the flashy lighting schemes or elaborate set-ups used by other photographers. Instead, he is more interested in the person in front of the photograph and how he or she can give something truly unique to the portrait sitting. Most of the time, Platon finds himself focusing more on how to interact with his subject rather than the lighting set-up he uses.

As he mentioned in a video interview, the photography part of his job only accounts for three percent of the process, the rest is devoted to drawing out the sitter's character.


Platon is currently a staff photographer for The New Yorker, although his portfolio of clients includes other publications including Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine and GQ. He has also done numerous advertising works for many prominent brands.

He achieved great fame (or notoriety) when he photographed President Bill Clinton for Esquire Magazine. The photo, which you can see at the end of this article, was thought to convey symbolisms of the former president's scandalous past. Platon responded that these were just a coincidence and nothing more.



Since then, Platon has photographed celebrities, musicians and politicians on different assignments. Probably his most ambitious project to date is his Portraits of Power. In September of 2009 while most of the world's presidents, prime ministers and dictators gathered at the United Nations in New York, Platon set-up a make shift studio in order to capture the faces of the world's most powerful men and women.

The results are as mesmerizing and captivating as the subjects themselves, only that they are presented in a whole new light. Some of these portraits can be found on The New Yorker's website, along with some delightful commentary from Platon himself. If you have a few minutes to spare, you won't be disappointed with the pictures and the stories that go with them. You can also find all of the portraits he made in this series in the recently released book Power: Portraits of World Leaders.


Not all of Platon's photo shoots have been so straightforward. For this particular portrait of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suk Yi for a Time Magazine cover story, the photographer recounts his ordeal akin to a spy movie in order to get a few rolls of film of the country's symbol of democracy. The story can be seen on the Time website.

Even for the portrait of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who was Time Magazine 2007 Person of the Year, Platon had to endure a bleak winter, stone cold Russian security, and many hours of uncertainty just to get a few minutes with the former Russian President who had never sat for a formal portrait session before. The result however was probably more rewarding than the photographer had though as Putin's portrait won the first prize of the World Press Photo's 2007 Portraits category. Watch this video interview to get a better idea of the highs and lows of the entire photo session.


These pictures of celebrities and politicians work very well because they don't glorify the subject in the usual way that they are used to. Instead, Platon deliberately pulls away the mask of celebrity in order to reveal the person within. This was his intention with his Portraits of Power both during and after the photo shoot. It's no wonder then that viewers are compelled to look at these photographs time and time again.


Platon also did a number of features on lesser known subjects and stories. For instance, in 2007, he did a series of photographs on Burmese refugees now living in Thailand. He documented these different exiled people, all of whom had undergone different hardships under the present Burmese regime. Above, Par Taw, a land mine victim, poses for a photograph.


In 2008, he documented the men and women who served in the US military, specifically those who were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photograph above is that of Iraqi veteran Sergeant John McKay's son. He has also done a piece on the US civil rights movement, also for The New Yorker. 


Some people have criticized Platon's style as being rather monotonous, but there is no doubt that each photograph, taken in individually, is compelling in itself. Aside from being a great photographer, Platon is also a wonderful story teller; be sure to check out his interviews on his website as well as those listed above. His first collection of images can be found in Platon's Republic. His series of portraits of world leaders is available as Power: Portraits of World Leaders. More high resolution images on the PBS website.


49 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

Beautiful pictures especially Putin and Willie Nelson.

Astronomy Pirate said...

These are powerful photos of some of the most important people in current world history. I love how they rip away the known portfolio for a close up that shows some truth. And the stories with the World Leaders are sometimes amusing.

Dejch said...

amazing and intresting potraits as always!

AllenTesch said...

The Willie Nelson is awesome.

BenF199105 said...

That Putin picture is awesome, people's eyes stand out so much in these kind of photos! Thanks for sharing :)

Thanks for follow back :D

benf199105.blogspot.com

BigMike said...

I got as total crush on Tina Fey

Intraman said...

waw clinton and willie nelson's pictures are amazing

Blk Jesus said...

these are really good pictures

Moobeat said...

great pics

Daniel said...

a little bit of photoshop?

bb31 said...

love this post for willie nelson!

jamiesaur said...

amazing photos

Dave said...

Those pics are excellent. Bill Clinton looks really happy lol.

Speedy Ed said...

:O wow , now thats a closeup :P

Jacob said...

Whoa... Amazing facial expressions!

Elliot said...

these are some excellent pictures, keep it up.

+follow http://ellectrics.blogspot.com/

duffboi said...

I like the tina fey and willie nelson pictures a lot. Good photos all around tho.

Fang said...

The portrait of the old man hugging his guitar is simply beautiful. Love it.

Banacek said...

Beautiful pictures although the little Marine is a bit disturbing.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Love these portraits. My favorite is the one of Prince.

elexerdelex said...

wow... the landmine victim is really sad :(

THUNDERCAT said...

Beautiful! I love the textures and depth each icon's skin on the portrates! Prince is my favorite by far! Just freaking lovely!

Zander said...

Great bloggin, friend!

Finn Phoenix said...

Very interesting style.

ed said...

hes great at photographing famous ppl

D4 said...

It's simple. I can see why it's criticized, but it works very well.

A Heel in Mint said...

Beautiful pictures. Simple yet interesting.

Biff Tanner said...

This post is both intriguing and fascinating, keep up the great work.

//Cheer§

Malkavian said...

Hell yeah, Clinton is sitting in a fashion as ready to being served, If you know what i mean...

jblogger45 said...

great stuff

HiFi said...

Whoa, fantastic photographs. And powerful subjects!

thenitefalls said...

Love the high detail on Willie Nelson

Pago said...

Really great details on these photos. They're practically paintings.

Zander said...

Good read, have a great weekend!

Trolske said...

I never knew that portraits could be THIS awesome!

Triper said...

Wow, great pictures, almost live!

Moobeat said...

very cool

Esun said...

i had to laugh at the clinton one :D

Sean said...

This is awesome! Can't wait for more posts

Jaccstev said...

Those are indeed amazing shots!

Jack said...

Dayme son, that guy with no hands is depressing :( but your photos spark my emotions so they are clearly sucessful. Congratulations!

r.alsharif said...

Truly amazing!

Alphabeta said...

Amazing portrait photographer.

Laughing Vault said...

putin is coolest president ever

chillmastor said...

Awesome portraits.

schultzz said...

i dont like portrait picture. i think there are more artistic ways to take pictures of faces.

Electric Addict said...

bubble of light background adds a lot of depth, looks great!

Sean said...

Very impressive shots.

MRanthrope said...

Ahmadinejad looks surprisingly cuddly in his portrait! haha

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