The cover of this week’s issue features a rare behind-the-scenes shot of model Margaux Hemingway taken by esteemed photographer Harry Benson CBE. Here, he discusses the story behind the photo, photography tips he’s learned during his 75-year career and his A Moment in Time: Iconic Images by Harry Benson exhibition on view at the Southampton Arts Center through July 15.
A Conversation with Harry Benson CBE
What’s the story behind this week’s cover photo?
Margaux was the fun-loving granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway who was taking New York by storm by the time this photograph was taken in 1975 for the cover of People magazine (which was different from the current version of the magazine). She was having her hair done for the photo by hairdresser-of-the-moment Paul McGregor, so I just thought I would see what was happening.
The photograph is definitely one of my favorites as Margaux looks gorgeous, and I like the fact that she is framed by three pairs of hands.
What are some of the key elements that define your photography style?
I always say, “I photograph what I see, and what I see should inform.”
Do you own a certain lens or piece of gear that has served you well in a variety of photography situations?
That keeps changing, but now my favorite lens is the Canon 24 to 105 mm.
And I still own the wide angle Rolleiflex that I used to photograph The Beatles having a pillow fight in Paris in 1964, on the night they found out “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was No.1 on the American charts.
What’s something that you’ve learned during your career that you can impart to aspiring photographers?
When asked that question, I usually tell them to get a guitar because everything has changed dramatically since computers and cellphones. Now everyone is a photographer.
Seriously, being willing to work hard, give up nights and holidays for assignments, and never giving up can help a young photographer attain their goal.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am happy to have had the opportunity to photograph The Beatles during the rise of Beatlemania, and to have covered the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. Photographing Sir Winston Churchill; Cassius Clay as he became Muhammed Ali, perhaps the most celebrated athlete of the last century; and to have photographed the last 13 U.S. presidents are three accomplishments of which I am proud.
I’m also proud of being appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for service to photography.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your photography career as a whole?
Being free to travel the world meeting some of the most interesting, intelligent, good, bad, celebrated people and to have been present for some of the most important events of the last half of the 20th century.
Would you like to share any closing thoughts or additional information?
I’m very proud to have one of my photographs on the cover of Dan’s Papers which corresponds with my photography exhibition at the Southampton Arts Center. Thank you.
Curated by Sally Martin Katz, A Moment in Time: Iconic Images by Harry Benson is a presentation of the photographer’s images documenting politicians, musicians, celebrities and athletes. An artist reception takes place on Friday, May 26 at 6 p.m. and a film screening of Harry Benson: Shoot First takes place on Friday, July 7 at 6 p.m. For more information, visit southamptonartscenter.org.