All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Interviews

22

Harry Benson: The Music of The Beatles is Still Terrific

Nenad Georgievski By

Sign in to view read count
Harry Benson is a renowned journalistic photographer whose pictures have graced the covers of many magazines and are found in many books, museum collections, galleries. With an unprecedented access to some of the most popular artists of our time including intriguing characters from all walks of life and politicians that have shaped the lives of people, he has recorded some of the most decisive moments of recent history. In a career that spans over six decades, Benson has taken photographs of the Beatles during the band's most important moments of its history and its flight to global and enduring stardom. He has marched with Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement, he was present during the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, he is the only photographer that has taken photographs of 12 US presidents, a plethora of Hollywood actors and sportsmen, including famous recluses such as singer Michael Jackson and chess genius Bobby Fischer, to name but a few. The list goes on endlessly. Simply put he and his trusted camera were at the right place at the right time.

I spoke to Benson about the recently reissued book with photographs about the Beatles by Taschen. Again, with an unprecedented access to the Beatles, he witnessed their success, mischief, friendships, glamour, the famed Ed Sullivan show, the pillow fights, the encounter with Cassius Clay and the hysteria that surrounded them in the shape of Beatlemania. Further, his photographs evidenced their work on the set of A Hard Day's Night and the infamous tour in '66 after Lennon's remark about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. Not only that, during the conversation Benson mentioned that he visited my city of Skopje during the war in former Yugoslavia as he was reporting about the war in Bosnia. Because of his achievements he has received many awards and in 2009 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for service to photography and in 2017 he received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Center of Photography.

All About Jazz: When looking back at your work, there are glossy celebrity portraits and harsh photojournalism in equal measure. From your viewpoint what is the role of the photographer?

Harry Benson: My role was always to photograph what I see and what you see should inform. That is the purpose of my camera and you've got be healthy. That was important. I was not a rock and roll photographer. I took photographs of the Beatles and a few others, but I didn't do many rock and roll stories. Although I did the USA for Africa.

AAJ: But you have an instinct of being present at those moments of historical significance.

HB: Thank you. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's not so good. If you are walking you've got to have your wits about you and don't think too much of your subject's feelings. Think more of your own because I want to have a job. if you do a good job you'll have a job. It's survival. I'm lucky I had a camera to do it. A camera will do what you tell it. It's important not to think too much about your subject like if I'm gonna photograph a president you might start reading things about him. You would have to meet him being natural and not so wound up. That doesn't mean you wouldn't wind up, but it means that you don't want to let them know that you are nervous.

AAJ: Would you agree with me that being lucky actually means being well prepared for any situation that might arise?

HB: Absolutely! You are hoping that you will get this picture you might have in mind or where you are going to take them. The thing about people is that you got to keep them moving. Once you sit them in that chair and you start doing fancy portraits you've lost them. I want to move people around the room and outside so they don't get bored. That's vital. That's very important.

AAJ: A lot of people have welcomed you into their inner circle's inner sanctum (from the Beatles to Bobby Kennedy's family from Bobby Fischer to Michael Jackson). Do you think your very personal approach is why many people like working with you?

HB: I'm quick and that's important. There are people that are like me that are just passing through. If I'm doing it for a good magazine, like Life magazine, you've got to do this to get some publicity because we are keeping the image alive.

AAJ: Well, the photographers are at the forefront of how the public perceives the person/subject.

HB: Yes, we are keeping their image alive. We are presenting them as interesting people. That is why I don't like pictures in studios because studio pictures can be sterile. You can go back five minutes and make it better. And you can go back five months and still make it better. That doesn't mean I haven't taken studio pictures. I've done hundreds of fronts covers of people. I do them. Do I light them? No, not really. It's because the studios don't have any spontaneity in them. They are not real. Because of all the makeup and lighting -there's always the same lighting in it. It's all bullshit.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read George Wein: A Life and Legend in Jazz Interviews
George Wein: A Life and Legend in Jazz
by Doug Hall
Published: July 19, 2018
Read Sidney Hauser:  Justice and Jubilation Interviews
Sidney Hauser: Justice and Jubilation
by Paul Rauch
Published: July 17, 2018
Read Michael Leonhart: Surfing on an Orchestral Wave Interviews
Michael Leonhart: Surfing on an Orchestral Wave
by Ludovico Granvassu
Published: July 16, 2018
Read Nicky Schrire: Permission to Be Yourself Interviews
Nicky Schrire: Permission to Be Yourself
by Seton Hawkins
Published: July 9, 2018
Read Monika Herzig: A Portrait of a Hero Interviews
Monika Herzig: A Portrait of a Hero
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: July 3, 2018
Read Thandi Ntuli: On Exile Interviews
Thandi Ntuli: On Exile
by Seton Hawkins
Published: June 28, 2018
Read "Lwanda Gogwana: Tradition and Innovation" Interviews Lwanda Gogwana: Tradition and Innovation
by Seton Hawkins
Published: September 9, 2017
Read "Fabian Almazan: Multilayered Vision" Interviews Fabian Almazan: Multilayered Vision
by Angelo Leonardi
Published: March 30, 2018
Read "Grace Kelly: Free From Boundaries" Interviews Grace Kelly: Free From Boundaries
by Doug Hall
Published: January 27, 2018
Read "Paul Kelly: Life is Fine...Really!" Interviews Paul Kelly: Life is Fine...Really!
by Doug Collette
Published: September 3, 2017
Read "Aaron Goldberg: Exploring the Now" Interviews Aaron Goldberg: Exploring the Now
by Luke Seabright
Published: November 24, 2017
Read "Andreas Varady: Guitar Wizard On The Rise" Interviews Andreas Varady: Guitar Wizard On The Rise
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: June 18, 2018