Photo by Gigi Benson

Art Buzz: Iconic Harry Benson Opens “Persons of Interest” Exhibit at Redwood Library

By Emily Randolph

“I photograph what I see, and what I see should inform.”
– Harry Benson, Shoot First

The iconic Scottish-born photojournalist Harry Benson, CBE will be opening his exhibit “Persons of Interest” with remarks on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at the Redwood Library at 5pm. Benson is world renown for his photographs taken at poignant historical moments, as well as his portraiture of notable, bigger-than-life individuals. According to the International Photography Hall of Fame, he was twice named NPPA Photographer of the Year and made a CBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2009. He also received the ICP Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

Harry Benson’s incisive photographs have captured the most important persons and events of the 20th century from his arrival in America with the Beatles in 1964 to marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement to being next to Senator Robert F. Kennedy when he was assassinated. Benson has photographed every US president from Eisenhower to Biden, the famine in Somalia, as well as Truman Compote’s Black and White Ball, to name just a few. He is also the most published photographer in LIFE magazine.

He seems to be there with his camera (never a smartphone, but a Cannon digital mirrorless) at critical moments, mostly by design but also serendipitously, like when we captured Greta Garbo swimming unawares. He knows it’s his job to get the shot, no matter how distasteful it may seem to others. He makes no excuses.

When asked whether any photographs in the Redwood Library’s exhibit bear specific personal importance above others, Benson states, “…each of the photographs in the exhibit are important photographs from my career. From the Beatles in 1964 coming to America (and it meant that I was coming with them) to the newest portrait in the exhibit, Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace with the Red Box which holds all the messages from the Parliament each day, each photograph is one that I hope will interest the people who visit the exhibit at the Redwood Library.”

It was the Beatles that brought him to the US, where he has lived ever since. “I was working as a photographer for the London Daily Express at the time and was planning to go to Africa on assignment when the phone rang,” recounts Benson. “The night editor of the paper said they wanted me to go to Paris to photograph the new group the Beatles… I told them I was about to leave for Africa and they said, change of plans, you are going to Paris.” He followed the tour to the US in 1964 on their first tour and relocated to New York shortly after that. “I’ve been here ever since and became an American citizen in 1999,” says Benson. He recounts a cheeky story about how he got the Beatles gig in his documentary, Shoot First. When asked why he was being assigned to the Beatles instead of going to Africa, he was told that their photographer is ugly. Benson agreed.

Benson is still working as a professional photojournalist, 65 years and counting. He works with his wife and business partner, Gigi, with whom he’s been married since 1967. Gigi is in charge of archiving all his photographs from the 60s onward, as well as managing his exhibitions. Currently, they are working on the monumental task of publishing books from each decade from the 60s onward.

The event is free to attend and should prove enlightening, inspiring and fun given Benson’s delightful humor. As Sharon Stone has been filmed saying, “I love Harry Benson. I think I’m probably about a half a bump from being in love with Harry Benson.” If you want to show your love, too, you might consider wearing a green silk handkerchief, his signature pocket square.

About the Redwood Library & Athenaeum
Founded in 1747 on the Enlightenment ideals of intellectual pursuit and civic engagement, and committed to lifelong, interdisciplinary learning, the Redwood Library & Athenaeum generates knowledge in the humanities for the benefit of the widest possible audience with “nothing in view but the good of mankind.”

“Harry Benson: ‘Persons of Interest’” Opening Reception
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Remarks by Harry Benson 5:00 pm
Reception 6:00 pm
Free to attend. Please register here.

Redwood Library
50 Bellevue Ave
Newport, RI 02840



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