HarryBenson could be called the Scarlet Pimpernel of photography. Now 84, theGlasgow-born photographer has been here, there and everywhere – always in theright place at the right time to capture era-defining images. He photographed the Berlin Wall when it was built (second picture) andas it was torn down. He marched with – and photographed – Martin LutherKing (third picture). He snapped during the Watts Riots in Los Angeles andafter Hurricane Katrina flattened New Orleans. Every US president fromEisenhower to Obama (fourth picture) has succumbed to his lens, along with numerous celebrities. Meanwhile, assignments in war zones play an equallyimportant role in his portfolio, as a selling exhibition – the first in Britain– reveals.
Thistimely retrospective, running from February 4 to 15 at Mallett in London, offers more than 90 images – with each variously sizedprint in a numbered edition of 35 and signed by Benson. They cover three mainstrands of his work: Beatlemania (example in first picture, arrival in NewYork in 1964), reportage and celebrity icons, including portraits of Al Pacino,Dolly Parton, Kate Moss (fifth picture), Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson.Prices range from £2,070 (13in x 19in) to £13,500 (40in x 86in), with Beatlesprints from £2,430 (13in x 19in) to £17,500 (40in x 60in).
Benson’sknack of immortalising specific moments in time with truly memorable images isexemplified by his work on tour with The Beatles. Asked in 1964 to document thewave of Beatlemania hysteria sweeping Europe, he took a photograph of theband’s pillow fight in a Paris hotel room (44in x 44in, £17,500; other sizesavailable). The shot perfectly expresses the Fab Four’s light-hearted mood and– beyond that – the innocent optimism of the early 1960s.
Photographersoften have the chance to see into the soul of sitters – and so it is withBenson. His written memories of the moment accompany the images in thisinsightful show. And so we read that he found “Amy Winehouse to be completelyprofessional and personal, not at all what I expected”. And as the Berlin Wallcame down, “People came with sledgehammers to chisel off chips as souvenirs”. Really, you couldn’t ask for a better companion to the past half centurythan photography’s own Scarlet Pimpernel.