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

Members of a burial team from the Liberian Red Cross under contract from the Liberian Ministry of Health remove the body of a man, a suspected Ebola victim from a home in Matadi on Sept. 17, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.

See How a Photographer is Covering Ebola’s Deadly Spread

In Liberia, Ebola is known as the "silent killer". For the past six weeks, photographer Daniel Beherulak has been covering the virus' deadly spread for the New York Times – an assignment fraught with danger. Beherulak and the Times' International Picture Editor tell TIME LightBox how they're working to mitigate the risks

Read More
EBOLASTAFFING

Inside the Ebola Crisis: The Images that Moved them Most

A Syrian Kurdish woman wipes her eyes during a dust storm on a hill where she and others stand watching clashes between jihadists of the Islamic State and Kurdish fighters, at Swedi village some 6 miles west of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on Sept. 24, 2014.

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 2, 2014

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 16,813 other followers