How photographer Platon gets up close to capture a person’s truth


PLATON: A portrait, to me, is about closeness,
it’s about truth. Sometimes, someone’s fame, 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? The first American president I ever came into
contact with was Bill Clinton. The magazine said, we want a nice dignified
head shot. I thought to myself, look, I’m never going
to be in front of another president ever again anyway, so I might as well do the picture
that I was born to do. I shouted out, “Mr. President, will you show
me the love?” And there was silence in the room. I think his chief of staff leaned forward
and said, “Mr. President, whatever you do, do not show him the love.” But Clinton then says: “Shut up. Shut up. I know what he means.” He puts his hands on his knees, and gives
me that Clinton charisma. It became an icon of controversy, dubbing
it as the crotch shot, that it’s all about sex, that the tie is actually an arrow, that
the face is smiling, saying, I got away with the biggest sex scandal ever. It wasn’t about any of those things. It was about charisma. He’s a rock ‘n’ roll president. I was led into Mark Zuckerberg’s office where
we were going to do the picture. His neck was tense. His eyes were wide open, and he almost resisted
every opportunity I made to connect with him. And then I said to him, you know, you have
succeeded more than any other person I have ever met on the planet, but you must have
failed along the way. And when you fail, how do you cope with failure? He looked at me, and he said: “There is no
failure. I just love what I do.” And so, I said, “Show me,” and everything
changed. It’s extraordinary what a simple question
can do that connects with his value system. With Putin, I think that was the first moment
I ever had to deal with this sense of intimidation. He walks in with this giant entourage that
makes P. Diddy look like Mickey Mouse. I nervously said: “Mr. President, it’s a great
honor to be in your fine country. I have a question for you. Before we take the picture, I want you to
know that I’m an Englishman, and I love the Beatles. And I would like to know if you like the Beatles.” He says, “I love the Beatles.” I said, “Oh, my God, I didn’t know you spoke
English.” He said, “I speak perfect English.” I said, “Well, who’s your favorite Beatle?” And he said, “Paul.” “Wow. What’s your favorite song. Is it ‘Back in the USSR’?” He said, “No, it’s ‘Yesterday.’ Think about it.” I ended up an inch-and-a-half away from his
nose. And that’s how I got the truth. This is the cold face of power in Russia. I worked with Donald Trump quite a while ago,
but even back then, there was this chaos and madness that surrounded him. I remember saying to him: “Donald, how do
you weather the storm? It’s madness around you wherever you go, whatever
you do, whatever you say. There’s this sort of frenetic energy.” Suddenly, this quiet calm came over him, and
he said, “I am the storm.” All this sort of frenetic, crazy energy and
sense of chaos is very easy for Donald to navigate through that, because he created
it. And it’s actually us that can’t cope with
it. My name is Platon, and this is my Brief But
Spectacular take on speaking truth to power. JUDY WOODRUFF: Wow. And you can find additional Brief But Spectacular
episodes on our Web site, pbs.org/newshour/brief.

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