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.
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 (courtesy of powerHouse books)
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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