What It’s Like Capturing Portraits of the World’s Most Powerful People

British photographer Platon has taken portraits of some of the most famous people in the world, including world leaders like Muammar al Qaddafi and Vladimir Putin. Platon has also captured portraits of many American presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

Speaking with acclaimed journalist Christiane Amanpour for CNN, Platon explains his latest book and what it is like to come into such close contact with figures of global power.

Platon’s portraits have helped define key figures in business, politics, pop culture, science, and sports for the modern generation. His portraits are characterized by their up-close-and-personal approach, with Platon bringing the viewer face-to-face with exceptionally powerful and influential people. His TIME photoshoot of Putin in 2007 is a particularly strong example of Platon’s work. He has previously discussed this portrait session with CNN before.

“It’s a whole process of intimidation when you come into contact with power,” Platon explains to Amanpour. “I was told that [the photoshoot] would be in the halls of the Krelmin,” Platon continues. However, that is not how it happened, as he was led into a forest outside Moscow at gunpoint by a former KGB operative.

“It was really intimidating. You have no idea what’s going on, and I got to the most scary building I’ve ever seen; it was his private residence, his dacha, in the middle of the forest… snipers everywhere. I’m led into the building at gunpoint,” Platon continues.

Despite the theater of intimidation, Platon broke the ice by asking Putin if he liked The Beatles. (LINK) After ordering his advisers and entourage out in Russian, Putin replied in perfect English that he loved The Beatles. After some casual back and forth, with only Putin’s bodyguards remaining, Platon captured his iconic portraits. What a professional.

One thing nearly all of Platon’s most prominent portrait subjects have in common is that they define history “for better or worse,” as Amanpour puts it.

“Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin — Platon has photographed all three. In fact, he’s photographed more than 40 world leaders, including three U.S. presidents,” Amanpour explains. “But it was Trump who surprised him the most.”

“I remember saying to him, ‘Donny, let’s just be human,'” Platon recalls of a portrait session he did with Trump in his Trump Tower boardroom, the famous one from the reality television show The Apprentice.

During the shoot, before Trump was elected president, Platon remembers telling Trump, “Let’s be human together. We’ve all followed your career, no one can doubt it’s an extraordinary career path you’ve had. But there’s always something about you, there’s always an air of tension and controversy about things you say and do in public, and I’m sure it’s intentional on your part. But it feels to me as if you’re in the middle of an emotional storm. I can’t live with that anxiety all the time. As a fellow human being, I’d like to know how you weather the storm.”

“I am the storm,” Trump calmly replied.

“I had those words ringing out in my brain,” Platon tells Amanpour. “Through the election campaign, through his presidency, through his post-presidency, and now we’re in another cycle again. I keep thinking to myself, ‘There’s only one person who can navigate perfectly through the storm,’ and that’s the creator of the storm.”

“These people are very powerful. Formidable. And they’re much smarter than we make them out to be, and they’re not to be underestimated, and I think we always seem to do that,” Platon says.

While the iconic photographer has sent so much of his decades-long career pointing his camera toward the people who hold the most powerful positions in the world, Platon’s newest book, The Defenders, looks closely at the people who often find themselves fighting against world leaders in search of wider-reaching human rights.

One way or another, Platon’s lens is permanently fixed on people making a difference in the world.

Image credits: Featured image via CNN