arts

These close-up eye portraits belong to the world's most famous -- and infamous -- faces

Published 5th June 2021
Credit: Platon
These close-up eye portraits belong to the world's most famous -- and infamous -- faces
Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN
The photographer Platon has taken high-contrast close-ups of some of the most recognizable faces in the world -- the Obamas, Vladimir Putin, Serena Williams, Elon Musk, Harry Styles -- with many sitting in front of the same simple apple box in front of his camera.
But now the British artist is stripping his portraits down, releasing a new collection of works that each feature only a single iris from the eyes of beloved celebrities, powerful political leaders and controversial figures. Whom the iris belongs to will remain a secret, except to the buyers of the images.
An iris from the series "Eye Love You, Eye Hate You."
An iris from the series "Eye Love You, Eye Hate You." Credit: Platon
A regular photographer for Time and former staffer at the New Yorker, Platon said he holds his judgement at the door during the studio sessions. "I've seen all sides of the spectrum," he said in a video call. "I've looked into Gaddafi's eyes and Putin's eyes. But I've also had intimate moments with Prince and Edward Snowden."
Named for the dichotomy of his subjects, the series "Eye Love You, Eye Hate You," is being released on LGND.art, a platform for purchasing non-fungible token (NFT) artworks. NFTs are a kind of virtual signature that employs blockchain technology to prove ownership of digital assets, and can be used in the sale of digital art, songs and tickets, among other things.
The show will be Platon's first foray into selling his works as NFTs, starting with an initial "drop" of 12 irises on June 6 for $111 each, with 36 irises to be released in total. Collectors won't know whose eye they are purchasing -- though the first sale will include Barack and Michelle Obama, Putin, Mark Zuckerberg, Muammar Gaddafi, Adele and Prince. The purchased digital assets will include a note from Platon revealing the sitter's identity.
Platon is selling the series through the NFT platform LGND.art.
Platon is selling the series through the NFT platform LGND.art. Credit: OWLEY/Bradford Devins/LGND
Platon created the images by re-scanning his film at the highest resolution and then cropping in close on the iris -- though the process requires some editing to fill in parts of the iris obscured by eyelids and lashes. But the hyper-detailed images were made possible by a ritual he has with each shoot, where he starts with an intimate portrait to set the tone.
"I always take a close up picture of everyone. It's the first thing I do in the beginning of every session," he said. "It helps me get to know them. And it helps me settle."

Posing a question

The photographer hopes that the series will serve as more than a guessing game, but an exercise in withholding judgement.
"We've become such a divided global society, that we have shifted our emphasis on humanity away from being curious and towards being judgmental," he said. "I thought, 'what if I took away our capacity to judge somebody, and left you with a question rather than an answer?'" By removing nearly all identifiable features of his sitters, Platon believes viewers may establish a different relationship to the images, not knowing if the eye belongs to someone they agree with or not.
Platon has revisited his older images of celebrities in order to isolate their eyes in each portrait. (Pictured: Mark Zuckerberg)
Platon has revisited his older images of celebrities in order to isolate their eyes in each portrait. (Pictured: Mark Zuckerberg) Credit: Platon
Some choices are intentionally controversial. Though only the first 12 subjects have been confirmed, Platon's short list for subsequent drops, shared over email, tentatively includes Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood producer who was sentenced to 23 years in prison in March 2020 after he was found guilty of a first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape.
"Some people (included) are on the right side of history, and some people are on the wrong side of history, but you don't know who's who," he said. "It leaves you with the (ability to) look beyond the surface and say, 'Who are you really?'
The photographer has intentionally chosen both respected and controversial or divisive public figures in the series. (Pictured: Vladimir Putin)
The photographer has intentionally chosen both respected and controversial or divisive public figures in the series. (Pictured: Vladimir Putin) Credit: Platon
With other portraits, he has much fonder memories, like when Adele was in his studio with her baby after she gave birth in 2012. Platon has included an image of her iris the moment her child unexpectedly reached out to grab her during the shoot.
"When she felt the pressure (of his touch), her face completely transformed in a second," he recalled. "It's the most powerful thing I've ever seen.. I expected to be photographing the greatest musician in the world. And I did do that. But what I also got, actually, which was much more meaningful to me as a human being, is a tender moment of a young mother feeling the touch of her son."
He added: "And that's what's going on in her eye. But, obviously, you don't know that when you see it. But these are the magical things that go on behind the scenes that I feel very privileged to witness."