Daily Picture Show

Oprah, The Beatles And Brad Pitt: A Photographer's 60-Year Retrospective

Few photographers can say they've had the privilege of photographing The Beatles. Even fewer can say that they had the opportunity, but didn't want to. In January of 1964, photographer Harry Benson was packed and ready to leave for Africa on a news assignment. The night before his flight, his editor called and assigned him to photograph "a relatively unknown pop group" in Paris instead. Fortunately, Benson had no choice. "Unbeknownst to me at the time," he writes, "that was my lucky day." That unknown pop group became one of the most popular in history.

  • Benson was assigned to photograph The Beatles before they made it huge. "I turned on the television in my room and saw Cassius Clay yelling. ... And I thought that would make a good picture, so I suggested to The Beatles that we go meet Clay." The Beatles with Cassius Clay, Miami, 1964
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    Benson was assigned to photograph The Beatles before they made it huge. "I turned on the television in my room and saw Cassius Clay yelling. ... And I thought that would make a good picture, so I suggested to The Beatles that we go meet Clay." The Beatles with Cassius Clay, Miami, 1964
    All photos by Harry Benson
  • Barbra Streisand, Central Park Concert, New York City, 1967
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    Barbra Streisand, Central Park Concert, New York City, 1967
  • Benson met Bill Clinton when he was still governor of Arkansas. Here, Clinton "was having a lighthearted moment as he caught a football tossed by one of his staff." President William J. Clinton, the White House, 1993
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    Benson met Bill Clinton when he was still governor of Arkansas. Here, Clinton "was having a lighthearted moment as he caught a football tossed by one of his staff." President William J. Clinton, the White House, 1993
  • "When we met for this photograph to be taken," Benson writes, "I found him to be affable and easygoing." Mickey Rourke,  Santa Monica, Calif., 1995
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    "When we met for this photograph to be taken," Benson writes, "I found him to be affable and easygoing." Mickey Rourke, Santa Monica, Calif., 1995
  • Benson photographed Farrah Fawcett after she had risen to fame with the television hit Charlie's Angels. "She knew exactly how she wanted to look and she looked great. ... It was beginning to get dark and starting to rain. I asked her to stop at the phone booth on the corner of my block." Farrah Fawcett, New York City, 1981
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    Benson photographed Farrah Fawcett after she had risen to fame with the television hit Charlie's Angels. "She knew exactly how she wanted to look and she looked great. ... It was beginning to get dark and starting to rain. I asked her to stop at the phone booth on the corner of my block." Farrah Fawcett, New York City, 1981
  • Francis Bacon, New York City, 1975
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    Francis Bacon, New York City, 1975
  • "The award-winning talk show host and philanthropist was running every morning before taping The Oprah Winfrey Show and was in great shape," Benson writes. Oprah, Chicago, 1996
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    "The award-winning talk show host and philanthropist was running every morning before taping The Oprah Winfrey Show and was in great shape," Benson writes. Oprah, Chicago, 1996
  • "When I got to know members of the Irish Republican Army, they told me that if you saw children you wouldn't see any trouble, bombing, or shooting; but if there were no children around: beware." Young Girl and British Soldier, Belfast,  Ireland, 1969
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    "When I got to know members of the Irish Republican Army, they told me that if you saw children you wouldn't see any trouble, bombing, or shooting; but if there were no children around: beware." Young Girl and British Soldier, Belfast, Ireland, 1969
  • Benson photographed James Brown in Augusta, Ga., in 1979. "He told me he would show me 'his town'. ... He would stop the car when he saw someone sitting in their yard, run up, do the split, yell out, 'I feel good,' and jump back in the car and drive off." James Brown, Augusta, Ga., 1979
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    Benson photographed James Brown in Augusta, Ga., in 1979. "He told me he would show me 'his town'. ... He would stop the car when he saw someone sitting in their yard, run up, do the split, yell out, 'I feel good,' and jump back in the car and drive off." James Brown, Augusta, Ga., 1979
  • "On assignment for French Vogue to photograph an entire Christmas issue with a fantasy pirate theme, Roman Polanski, actress Nastassja Kinski, and I traveled to the Seychelles Islands, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been." Roman Polanski, Seychelles Islands, 1976
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    "On assignment for French Vogue to photograph an entire Christmas issue with a fantasy pirate theme, Roman Polanski, actress Nastassja Kinski, and I traveled to the Seychelles Islands, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been." Roman Polanski, Seychelles Islands, 1976
  • "James Meredith was the first black to enroll in the University of Mississippi. When Mississippi's governor, Ross Barnett, and an angry mob barred his entrance, Meredith became the focal point for the civil rights movement." James Meredith March near Canton, Miss., 1966
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    "James Meredith was the first black to enroll in the University of Mississippi. When Mississippi's governor, Ross Barnett, and an angry mob barred his entrance, Meredith became the focal point for the civil rights movement." James Meredith March near Canton, Miss., 1966
  • "Sitting in her trailer ... she hadn't changed at all since I first photographed her over 15 years earlier." Sophia Loren, Rome, 1984
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    "Sitting in her trailer ... she hadn't changed at all since I first photographed her over 15 years earlier." Sophia Loren, Rome, 1984

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This story, and dozens more, can be found in Benson's new photography retrospective, Harry Benson: Photographs. Having photographed for nearly six decades, the Scottish-born Benson has seen a lot — and shared his experiences with the public. He has captured candid moments of ordinary people, wartime tragedy, civil unrest, celebrities and politicians behind the scenes. Now in his 70s, he has lived to see his work in major publications like Life, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker; on gallery walls, and now in a fifth book.

The photos take us through the second half of this past century. John Loring writes in the introduction:

From the frivolous 50s and swinging 60s, to the excessive 70s, opulent 80s, and self-obsessed 90s, and on into the post 9/11, war-torn world of the at once murky and frenetic dawn of the 21st century, Benson has proved himself a man for all seasons — adaptable and prepared for every extreme.
Harry Benson: Photographs

Harry Benson: Photographs (courtesy of powerHouse books) hide caption

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He's a man for all seasons — and has a way of making people reveal themselves. While Benson was photographing James Brown in Georgia in 1979, Brown drove the photographer around town. "He would stop the car when he saw someone sitting in their yard," Benson writes, "run up, do the splits, yell out, 'I feel good,' and jump back in the car and drive off." It's moments like these that fill his book.

And he's still photographing. This year he has already captured President Obama at the White House and Brad Pitt in New Orleans. "To me," are his first words in the introduction, "photojournalism is freedom."

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