“A good photograph is one that can’t be repeated.” -Harry Benson
The Scottsman, Harry Benson is a photojournalist’s photojournalist. His American journey began when his plans changed from going to Africa to cover a news event to being assigned to photograph musicians in Paris in 1964.
Harry Benson meets The Beatles
“I took myself for a serious journalist and I didn’t want to cover a rock ’n’ roll story,” Benson scoffed. After hearing them play, he had no desire to leave. “I thought, ‘God, I’m on the right story.’” He was in their room at the George V Hotel when the musicians got the news that “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” had hit number 1 in the United States.
Benson photographed their jubilant reaction to the news. His photo titled “The Pillow Fight” (opening photo, top left) was published worldwide. The story of the famous series is revealed in the short documentary from Time.
Beatlemania helped lift the spirits of a very sad America 11 weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Benson traveled with the Fab Four to New York City where they would appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. This trip kicked off the so-called British Invasion of pop music. Benson and the members of the band have remained friends for decades. Benson remembers, “I was so close to not being there.”
He has had more photographs published during his 30 years at Life magazine from 1967-1997 than any other photographer of the time. Benson marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., covered the parade with President Kennedy and French President Charles de Gaulle, he spent time with Michael Jackson at Neverland, photographed the resignation of Richard Nixon, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and 9/11 in New York City in 2001.
Photographing an assassination
Benson covered Robert Kennedy’s 1968 run for the Democratic presidential nomination and was there when Kennedy was shot and killed by Sirhan Sirhan while speaking at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Benson recalls that night, “I was next to Bobby [Kennedy] when he was shot. It was hideous. Part of me wanted to crawl away. I couldn’t … I still wake up in the night and think about it. I even remember the f-stop. It was 1.4.” (Opening photo, bottom row, left to right: Bobby Kennedy speaking at a victory rally just before being shot, Ethel Kennedy, Bobby’s wife reaching out to Benson moments after the gunshot and the mortally wounded Robert Kennedy lying on the hotel floor.)
Portraits of notables
Benson took lots of pictures of The Beatles. Opening photo, clockwise, left to right: One lighthearted scene shows Mohammud Ali pretending to punch a line up of the Fab Four with all of them reacting. He photographed Tina Turner singing with Janis Joplin, the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Kate Moss, Princess Diana, Jackie Kennedy, Spike Lee, James Brown, Dolly Parton and a memorial for John Lennon in 1980.
12 U.S. Presidents
Harry Benson has photographed every president from Eisenhower to Trump during his career. He is the only photographer to have portrayed all of them.
Harry Benson, CBE
Harry Benson was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at a Buckingham Palace ceremony in 2009. He holds an Honorary Fellowship in the Royal Photographic Society was named the NPPA Photographer of the Year twice and honored with a LUCIE Award for Lifetime Achievement (2005) and has had 40 exhibitions of his work. Harry Benson sum up his life this way, “I don’t know what I would have done if I had had to work for a living.”