Behind the Lens

Triumph. Scandal. Redemption. Resolve. Here are the leaders who personify the promise - and peril - of the business world in 2006.

By Ellen Florian Kratz, Fortune writer

(Fortune Magazine) -- Photographs of powerful people usually include the trappings: Private jets. Wood-paneled boardrooms. Sky-high apartments. Chauffeur-driven limousines. But for the pictures of Fortune's most powerful people in 2006, we wanted to show their authority in its rawest form. So we focused on the people themselves, shooting them against a plain background in simple black and white. "Stripping the photographs bare made it more powerful, not less powerful," says photography editor Greg Pond, who conceived the idea. "Had we done John Thain at the stock exchange and Rupert Murdoch at his apartment, they wouldn't have stood out."

To capture the essence of the people who made things happen in 2006, Fortune turned to master photographer Albert Watson, who is known for his intensity and precision - necessary qualities when you're dealing with time-pressured subjects. "The most important thing was to be prepared for each person," he says. Watson spent nearly five hours testing the lights for Katsuaki Watanabe" s shoot at a hotel in San Antonio, only to be foiled at the first click of the camera.

Coffee machines and other devices that had been plugged in just before Watanabe arrived caused, well, a power failure. Fortunately Watanabe was patient. And he didn't have to wait too long: Electricity was up and running within five minutes. Warren Buffett showed up to his shoot 45 minutes early. "He was the most laid-back of all," says Watson. "He was happy to enjoy his coffee while Bill and Melinda Gates got ready." When Watson asked the Gateses to hold hands, Buffett joked that he liked holding hands with Bill too.

Sometimes great achievement comes in a rumpled package. When YouTube's Steve Chen arrived at a studio in San Francisco wearing wrinkled jeans and a bag slung over his shoulder, Watson's agent and wife, Liz Watson, wondered aloud if she was in the presence of a bicycle messenger or a mogul. (He laughed.) In others, the power is palpable. "Condoleezza Rice is very gracious but at the same time very strong," says Watson. "You definitely felt the iron fist."

Corralling the people who make the business world go round is no easy feat. Associate picture editor Alix Colow volunteered for the project the moment she heard about it and has been overseeing this remarkable collection of photos since June. "It's a document of these people, a sophisticated mug shot," she says. "It's such a great way to tell the story."

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