Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the United Nations, an occasion that drew 68 heads of state or government to the world organization's New York City headquarters. To record the celebration for TIME, Photographer Eddie Adams had the idea of shooting pictures of every visiting dignitary who would sit for him. He arranged with U.N. officials to set up a small studio near the General Assembly. Over four days he prevailed on no fewer than 35 Presidents, Prime Ministers and foreign ministers to pose with their national flags. From this trove, TIME's editors chose 15 portraits to illustrate this week's story on the U.N. observances.
Says Adams of the experience: "We really didn't know if anyone would consent to be photographed, but once the word got around, we got amazing cooperation." For one thing, Adams' sessions never took more than ten minutes. "In fact," he says, "the Prime Ministers of Britain, Italy and China [Margaret Thatcher, Bettino Craxi and Zhao Ziyang] all showed up at the same time, and we took three different sets of portraits in 15 minutes."
To encourage the dignitaries to pose, Adams and his assistants, Picture Researcher Polly Matthews and Photographer's Assistant James Keyser, displayed Polaroid shots of the first sitters just inside the door of the makeshift studio. Time Inc.'s Jeannette Doné, who speaks five languages, escorted officials into the studio and put them at ease with multilingual small talk.
In an organization as diverse as the U.N., some idiosyncrasies were bound to emerge. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra refused to hold his country's blue-and-white national flag (his Sandinistas prefer their own red-and-black banner) and thrust the Nicaraguan colors into his pocket during the shoot. Canada's Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, coming straight from a stem-winding speech before the General Assembly, decided to change into a fresh shirt.
Italy's Craxi, whose governing coalition toppled two weeks ago, rolled up his country's flag "as if," says Adams, "he were none too certain about the future." Britain's Thatcher, surveying the Polaroid shots, dismissed the lot. Said she: "They all look like passport photos." But even the indomitable Maggie would probably agree that Adams' portraits are as eloquent and revealing as any speech given at the U.N. last week.
John A. Meyer