Tim Cook used to lead Apple from the shadows – in the months following Steve Jobs’ death, he eschewed the main stage, putting forth his deputies to unveil the companies new products or answer journalists’ calls.
In recent months and years, however, Cook has been forced into the limelight. In 2014, at a time when the country was in the mist of intense debate about LGBT rights, he came out as a gay man in a Businessweek column. “If hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy,” he wrote.
Now, Cook is once again taking a public stand – this time in the contentious privacy versus security debate, as Apple is challenging a court order to unlock San Bernadino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.
Cook, who spoke to TIME, is on the cover of this week’s issue. Los Angeles-based photographer Michele Asselin shot the series of portraits shown here.
TIME chose Asselin for this assignment because “her beautiful, dusky aesthetic would add a weight and seriousness to what could otherwise be an ordinary business portrait,” says senior photo editor Myles Little. “By using dramatic shadow and light, she was able to hint at the issues facing Apple, and our nation: the merits of privacy versus the demand for safety.”
Before meeting with Cook, Asselin hit the books – researching the man and the icon. “I think Tim Cook is such an interesting person in an interesting place at an interesting moment in the history of our country,” she says. “I was trying to think of him in very iconic terms, to reflect his integrity but also the dilemma that he’s facing today.”
During the shoot, which took place in Cook’s offices at One Infinity Loop, Apple’s CEO was “calm and comfortable,” says Asselin. “I didn’t have to explain my full vision. He was willing to be directed and very comfortable in his own stand.”
Michele Asselin is a Los Angeles-based portrait and editorial photographer.
Myles Little is a senior photo editor at TIME.