Books – Exposure by lens

2011-06-18 14:18

Agreat photographer can capture myriad aspects of a man’s – or woman’s – character in a portrait.

Platon is one such photographer and his latest book, Power , demonstrates his own significant power of ­observation and his ability to translate that into an image.

This 200-page book is a ­collection of more than 100 ­portraits of world leaders, most of them taken over a period of a few days at the United ­Nations.

The photographer had but a few minutes only with some of his subjects, which makes the results all the more startling.

As a woman, one of the most noticeable elements of this book of portraits is the dearth of female representation, something that does not get a ­mention in David Remnick’s sharply intuitive introduction.

Remnick is Platon’s boss, the editor of The New Yorker magazine, and his description of Muammar Gaddafi’s portrait as “surreal, grotesque, as if he’s been transported from a barstool in Star Wars”, made me guffaw because it’s so spot-on.

For the rest, Platon goes beyond the political façade, beyond the public face the politician wants him to see by using exactly the kind of portrait a leader would sit for as a ruse.

So, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi looks sly, George W Bush looks like a hillbilly, Vladimir Putin looks so scary he’s liable to give CIA operatives nightmares and our own Jacob Zuma, alas, looks like a buffoon.

What all of the pictures have in common, though, is that they are mesmerising; allowing the viewer a glimpse of the hidden.

But many of them are truly beautiful too, such as the ­portrait of Evo Morales of ­Bolivia and that of Haiti’s President Rene Preval, and then there’s the slightly nutty look of Hungary’s Gordon ­Bajnai.

At the back of the book is a potted history of each leader photographed, which is not meant to be comprehensive but simply a broad brushstroke of the person.

Illustrated by Zuma’s somewhat limited mini-biography, which begins with his cattle-herding start, stating that he’s popular with the poor and “survived significant legal issues to be elected president of the country in 2009”.

Power is not a document of record, rather it is a study of that most alluring and elusive of things – power.

Platon’s lens attempts to strip the powerful of the awe-making pomp that keeps each leader’s real character in the shadows and exposes them to the glare of full access.

That he is successful is clear by the way the book draws the reader in constantly to gaze again at the faces of those who run the world.

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