Photographer Harry Benson Captured Candid Images of the Stars, Including the Beatles and Liza Minnelli. Here Are the Stories Behind 6 of His Iconic Photos

The 93-year-old Scottish photographer is getting due recognition for a lifetime spent capturing pop culture's biggest icons.

The Beatles have a pillow fight at the George V Hotel in Paris in January 1964. Photo: © Henry Benson.

A major new retrospective at the Southhampton Arts Center is giving due recognition to the Scottish photojournalist Harry Benson, who has spent over seven decades capturing some of pop culture’s most legendary figures. Featuring musicians, models, actors, and athletes, “A Moment in Time: Iconic Images by Harry Benson” runs until July 15.

Born in Glasgow in 1929, Benson started out as a tabloid photographer before landing a job at LIFE magazine. His work has also been published in TIME, French Vogue, Newsweek, People, Architectural Digest, Town & Country, and Vanity Fair, and his subjects have included the Kennedys, Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, and Queen Elizabeth II. Making best use of this unique access to high profile subjects, Benson has a knack for producing images that feel natural and carefree.

Henry Benson visiting the exhibition at Southampton Arts Center. Photo: Rob Rich.

“Having started my career on London’s Fleet Street, I work very quickly and try not to influence the person I am photographing,” he told Artnet News. “I photograph what I see and what I see should inform.”

Now aged 93, he is still snapping away and has shared a behind-the-scenes glimpse at his most exciting jobs in a new Magnolia Pictures’ documentary Harry Benson: Shoot First.

One of Benson’s best known images is an action shot of The Beatles having a pillow fight at the George V Hotel in Paris in 1964. The band’s high spirits must have been buoyed that night by the news that I Want to Hold Your Hand had topped the American charts and they were invited to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. Benson traveled with them on their American tour and never returned to the U.K.

Two decades later, in 1992, he visited Truman Capote near his summer home in Wainscott, Long Island and immortalized the writer’s carefree excitement as he paced over the dunes towards the beach. “Truman was a tough man who was always ready to oblige for a photograph; he is truly missed,” said Benson in a press statement.

Truman Capote in the sand near his summer home in Long Island in 1982. Photo: © Harry Benson.

One day in 1971, Benson was walking home from the offices of Life magazine when he saw Francis Coppola in conversation with Al Pacino and Diane Keaton outside Radio City Music Hall. Instinctually, he grabbed his camera and within moments had secured a behind-the-scenes shot of the filming of The Godfather, which remains one of the most celebrated movies of all time.

Al Pacino and Diane Keaton speaking to Francis Ford Coppola on the set of The Godfather in 1971. Photo: © Harry Benson.

In one 1978 snap, New York’s breathtaking skyline, which frames the twin towers, is as much the artist’s subject as are actress and singer Liza Minnelli and her friend, the acclaimed fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick, known mostly as simply Halston. The pair are seen sharing a moment of laughter at his atelier on the 21st floor of the Olympic Tower.

Actress and singer Liza Minnelli with her friend, the fashion designer Halston, in New York City in 1978. Photo: © Harry Benson.

Among the many musicians and rock stars who have posed before Benson’s camera is The Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger, who was performing at Madison Square Gardens in 1969. Memorably, Tina Turner and Janis Joplin also took to the stage as opening acts.

Portrait of Mick Jagger in 1969. Photo: © Harry Benson.

Benson also turned his lens back on the magazine world, authoring a portrait of one of its greatest titans, Diana Vreeland. The Paris-born fashion writer was editor-in-chief of American Vogue from 1963 to 1971 and later a special consultant to the Costume Institute as the Met.

Portrait of former Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland. Photo: © Harry Benson.

The rapturous whoops and cheers of students at Harrow School in London take centre stage of a photograph documenting Sir Winston Churchill’s visit to his alma mater in 1960. The boys greeted their former prime minister with an updated rendition of their school song, adding the line “and Churchill’s name shall win acclaim through each new generation.”

Sir Winston Churchill visits his alma mater Harrow school in 1960. Photo: © Harry Benson.

“A Moment in Time: Iconic Images by Harry Benson” is on view until July 15 at the Southampton Arts Center.

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