Kofi Annan (1938 – 2018) by Mark Henley

In 2016, Mark Henley was commissioned to photograph Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997 – 2006. He remembers a curious anecdote about how this candid portrait came about.

“It was a complicated shoot in that his handlers refused any idea of a formal portrait, and time was short, in a bunker room at the Red Cross Museum in Geneva where he was shortly due to give a keynote speech – on photography – at the opening of the Prix Pictet exhibition.

When he arrived we forced him into it, three shots, 30 seconds. He left after the interview, but a few seconds after the door closed behind him, it opened again and there he was, being ushered back in again. They weren’t ready for him, as other VIPs were late, and so then, in this strange suspended period of time – another 20 minutes or so – we talked of other things.

Reflecting on how we kidnapped him for the portrait, he told us that photographers were the true dictators – the only ones to ever get to order the dictators around. So I think of him in that moment, the gentleman with a twinkle in the eye, handing us that anecdote on the photographic/political process, which changed the way I approach portraiture.

I did shoot a few more pictures, but which I never used, as after all, they lacked the tension of that moment when we kidnapped the former head of the United Nations.”

Mark Henley, 2018