Things We Learned, or Think We Learned, from the New Yorker Portraits of World Leaders

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12/01/2009 2:07 PM |


The current issue of the New Yorker has just about the barest table of contents I’ve ever seen in the magazine—holiday closing schedule and all that—but it’s not shorter than usual, anchored as it is by 20-plus pages of photos, straight profile head shots in color and black and white, of most major world leaders, taken by staff photographer Platon earlier this fall, at the most recent meeting of the UN General Assembly.

You really need to see them full-sized in print to appreciate, say, the full majesty of Silvio Berlusconi’s botox, and the details of Victor Yuschenko’s dioxin-damaged pores, but in their online form they’re presented as a gallery with the photographer’s commentary.

The length of his commentaries is roughly commensurate to the status of his subjects (Mahmoud Abbas gets 40 seconds; Heinz Fischer, the president of Austria, gets 20, and it’s about his hair), and they’re mostly anecdotes and aesthetic reflections—not politicized, in other words, but (like the project itself), hardly apolitical. It’s fascinating to hear the way aesthetics seem to suggest, or stand in for, ethical and political judgements—like the two very different kinds of awe Platon expresses for the hunted-looking Paul Kagame and the uniquely grotesque Robert Mugabe.

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