Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rarely grants interviews as extensive as the two-hour exclusive TIME secured last week. For portrait photographer Peter Hapak, who shot the cover of this week’s magazine, getting a lengthy photo session is just as unusual.
“I had a very fortunate session with him,” Hapak tells TIME. “I had a full hour with him, which is very unusual because most of the time I only have 10 minutes for a portrait session. For portraiture it’s very important to make your subject forget that you’re here, that somebody’s watching him. It was enough time for him to get comfortable.”
The shoot was the culmination of a three-day visit to New Delhi. “On the second day, we were granted access to the Prime Minister’s residency,” says Hapak. “We made a complete scout. We were able to go through his office, his lounges and his garden, where he spends a lot of his time when he’s alone.”
On the day of the shoot, Hapak, who has shot more than 15 covers for TIME, spent 30 minutes shooting Modi’s portrait for this week’s cover. “I was shooting a wide range against different backgrounds,” he says. “After the cover shoot, he took a walk outside, and I told him to do what he would usually do if I weren’t there. It was only the two of us. He was giving me a lot, which is what also defines a good portrait. The subject feels so comfortable that he can open up in his private moments. I was trying to see the things that we don’t see. How is it living? How is it spending his time alone?”
Peter Hapak is a contract photographer for TIME.