The Craziest Guy in the Room: A Portrait of Gaddafi by Platon

Portrait of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, by Platon
Platon—The New Yorker
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Three inches from one of the most notorious dictators in history, the photographer Platon focused tightly on the black eyes glaring at him through his lens. “There was nothing in them,” he said. “It’s like his soul had been scooped out of his head and taken away.”

The result, a dark and menacing portrait of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, appears on the cover of TIME this week. Platon captured the cold stare of the dictator in 2009 during the U.N. General Assembly while shooting a portfolio of world leaders for the New Yorker magazine.

Gaddafi, surrounded by a sea of female bodyguards, approached Platon, who had a small studio set up next to the stage. President Obama had just begun his speech and oddly, Platon said, this was when Gaddafi wanted to be photographed.

“It was scary,” Platon says. “He’s walking slowly towards me, like some kind of King. It was hellraising.”

Platon motioned towards the chair and Gaddafi stopped, considered it for a moment, and then nonchalantly sat down. “Everything was in slow motion, you could hear a bloody pin drop,” says Platon. “I’m whispering to him, ‘chin up,’ guiding him with my fingers. I’m so close it’s ridiculous.

“He was wearing this beautiful chocolate robe and his crazy wild hair is tamed by this sort of black pork pie hat,” Platon said. “And his eyes are just black slits, really hard to read anything. He’s either the smartest guy in the room or he’s the craziest guy in the room. It’s intimidating.”

Platon, who has photographed his share of daunting subjects that include Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Gaddafi was different. “He was vacant. There was no emotion, there was no spirit. It was void of something. When you come face to face with that it’s overwhelming, and that’s what I was trying to get in the picture.”

After the shoot, Platon said, “He put his hand on his heart to say thank you, and I did the same. And then, elegantly, he walked away.”

Platon then caught a glimpse of Gaddafi’s speech. “It was written in red crayon, in giant letters, like a six-year-old kid would write it. And it was written on about twenty pieces of tatty paper torn out of a book, in Arabic. It felt like notes of a madman.”

An earlier version of this story was posted at Global Spin.

Related Topics: , , , , ,

Latest Posts

New York, New York. United States.October 17th 2014.#Dysturb New York.

Guerrillas in the Streets: The Dysturb Photo Collective Comes to NYC

Dysturb, a collective of photographers, takes to New York City's streets to bring photojournalism directly to the crowd

Read More
CARNIVORE’S DILEMMA PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated November 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof. No copying, distribution or archiving permitted. Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited. REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM. Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing. Mandatory usage requirements:1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image © Brian Finke/National Geographic2. Show the November cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image - you do not have to show the cover3. Provide a prominent link to: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/meat/4. Mention that the images are from "the November issue of National Geographic magazine”Beef is big in Texas. Last year in the state, ten times as many calves were born, 3.85 million, as human babies.At the Big Texan in Amarillo—which offers free rides in a longhorn limo—you get your 72-ounce steak for free ifyou finish it in under an hour, along with the shrimp cocktail, the baked potato, the salad, and the roll.

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 20, 2014

Courtesy Ginger Miller

#TIMEvets: Share Your Stories and Photos of Inspiring Veterans

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 17,510 other followers