Communication is the Key to Power Portraits

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Last year, inside the walls of a government compound lined with sniper rifles, international portrait photographer Platon found himself in a place he’d never been before – 6 inches from Vladimir Putin’s face, feeling his breath like a gentle onshore breeze. You’d think that his hands and voice must have shaken violently with intimidation as if he’d spent the night outside in Moscow – but then you’d be wrong. Platon didn’t flinch. Why? Because of the Beatles.

Portrait photography is all about getting your subject to open up and be themselves in front of the camera. Just ask the ridiculously successful headshot and portrait photographer Peter “Shabang” Hurley, who dubs himself 90% therapist, 10% photographer. Despite the subject, Platon’s job was no different. The goal was to bring Putin’s true character to life for Time Magazine’s annual Person of the Year Portrait.

Putin entered the heavily-guarded room while Platon was still setting up. In an attempt to break the ice and create a less staid and stressful shooting environment, Platon started up some casual conversation.

“I’m a massive Beatles fan — are you?” asked Platon. Putin’s surprisingly cheery response prompted two more Beatles-related questions and before he knew it, Platon and the president were having a friendly conversation — as if a team of advisors, translators and bodyguards weren’t watching Platon’s every move. “That’s how I got the truth and the truth is: that’s the face of power,” says Platon.

Watch Platon’s interview on CNN here:

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Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.