There were to be no “gotcha” moments during Platon’s photo shoot with Rick Perry, the Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate, who appears on the cover of this week’s issue of TIME. Which is not to say the photographer didn’t strive for the revelatory.
“I want your soul,” he told Perry. “Give it to me.”
Ever the politician, Perry pushed back: “Well, you can’t have that.”
Platon responded, “You don’t realize it. But I’ve already got it.”
The playful exchange set the tone for the entire sitting between Platon and Perry, which took place on September 13 in Miami, one day after a GOP debate sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express. From his inflammatory remarks on Social Security to his HPV mandate, Perry took punches from nearly all his opponents on stage that night, which led Platon to ask the Governor how he deals with failure.
“He told me that from the time he was six, he’d been using this metaphor of riding a horse—probably because he’s from Texas—that when you get knocked off, you get back on,” Platon said. “He said it with this very relaxed smile, and I thought, ‘That’s it?'”
Many now consider Perry to be the frontrunner to capture the nomination in the 2012 Republican primary. But Platon says he tried to capture “a human picture, not a political one.” To that end, the photographer and subject talked more about music and pop culture than policy and politics. Platon, a lifelong Beatles fan, asked the Governor to name his favorite song by the band. “Perry told me it was ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ so I wasn’t sure if he just knew the greatest hits, or if he was a real Beatles fan,” Platon said. “So I tested him a bit, and he knew George Harrison had written it. He knew it was on Abbey Road. He even told me which track on the album it was.”
Of his cover image, Platon says it represents a man fully committed to his beliefs, both personal and political. “You can criticize or agree with Perry’s policies, but in that moment on the cover, he’s 100 percent committed to what he’s talking about,” he said. “You can see belief in his eyes. It’s a magical thing that happens in a shoot. I always strive for it, but I don’t always get it.”
That last sentence would be considered an understatement by anyone but the photographer himself. With images published in magazines from the New Yorker to Rolling Stone, Platon is one of the most accomplished contemporary portrait photographers.
And on Thursday evening, some of Platon’s most famous images will be sold at the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York City to benefit Human Rights Watch, an organization the photographer has worked with for the past year and a half. From photographing Burmese refugees to setting up a portrait studio in the middle of Cairo’s Tahrir Square amid the Egyptian revolution, Platon says he tries to humanize the statistics reported by Human Rights Watch. “My job is that of a storyteller. It’s not that 800 people were killed. It’s who those 800 people were—they had families, they had children. They were children themselves in some cases.”
The images for sale and on display are culled from Power, Platon’s book of portraits of world leaders. “It’s a kind of an ironic situation—selling images of the powerful to try to empower the powerless,” he said, before quickly adding, “But it’s all the same. No one’s more important than anyone else. That’s one thing I’ve been trying to show.”