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Harry Benson: Shoot First

What we know today about many famous musicians, politicians, and actresses is due to the famous work of photographer Harry Benson. He captured vibrant and intimate photos of the most famous band in history;The Beatles. His extensive portfolio grew to include iconic photos of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, and Dr. Martin Luther King. His wide-ranging work has appeared in publications including Life, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Benson, now 86, is still taking photos and has no intentions of stopping.


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Harry James Benson, CBE (born in Glasgow) is a Scottish photographer whose pictures have appeared in publications including Life,[1]Vanity Fair, People and The New Yorker.[2]

Benson was assigned to travel with The Beatles on their inaugural American tour in 1964. One of his most recognizable images shows the band in a gleeful pillow fight in a hotel room.[3][4]

Other celebrities Benson has photographed include Bobby Fischer, Michael Jackson, who allowed him access to his bedroom, and Elizabeth Taylor, whom Benson photographed before and after her brain surgery. He has also photographed political figures, including every US president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, and covered war zones. Benson was standing next to Robert F. Kennedy when the Senator was shot on June 5, 1968 and has remarked on the difficulty of steeling himself in order to document the historic moment: "I kept telling myself 'this is for history, pull yourself together, fail tomorrow, not today'."[5]

Benson has been the subject of many exhibitions, including one organized by the Scottish National Portrait Galley at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution,[6] taken over a hundred cover shots for People, published several books and won numerous awards, including the 2005 LUCIE Award for Lifetime Achievement in Portrait Photography and the 2005 American Photo Award for Photography.[7] He has twice been named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographer Association (1981 and 1985).[8] He was the subject of a BBC Scotland documentary titled "Photography: Harry Benson (1985)", directed by Ken MacGregor and written by William McIlvanney.[9] Most recently he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Scottish Press Photography Awards in April 2006.[8]

Benson was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of The Royal Photographic Society in 2009. These are awarded to distinguished persons having, from their position or attainments, an intimate connection with the science or fine art of photography or the application thereof.

Benson was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.[10] In 2014, he took an official photographic portrait of the Queen, commissioned by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. This was over fifty years after his first portrait of the Queen, taken when she opened a coal mine in 1957.[11]

His daughter is American actress Wendy Benson.


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