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14 March 2017
Magnolia Home Entertainment has released Harry Benson: Shoot First on Digital HD today. The documentary details the decades-long career of legendary photojournalist Harry Benson and features slide shows of his stills along with Benson and a long list of subjects, friends and colleagues -- including Sharon Stone, Alec Baldwin, Dan Rather and Ralph Lauren-- who reflect on his career, methods and pranks.
Among Benson's most familiar images, all of which appear in the film, are his coverage of the Beatles first trip to the United States, the Reagans dancing on the cover of Vanity Fair, Nixon after his resignation at San Clemente, Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra arriving at the Black & White Ball and his images from the hotel kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles following Robert Kennedy's assassination.
But there's more. His shoot with the reclusive Bobby Fischer captures him making friends with the wild horses of Iceland. He takes the Beatles to see Muhammad Ali and they clown around together in the gym. He captures the elderly Greta Garbo taking a swim, Dolly Parton putting on her makeup, James Brown doing the splits in someone's front yard and Michael Jackson at Neverland. He goes to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s motel room just hours after King's assassination and visits the Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Bobby Shelton in his motel.
As the slide show above shows, Benson doesn't pose his subjects in the studio but shoots candids on location. "If you let someone else impose their point of view, especially the person you're shooting, you're not going to get the picture you want," he has said.
His first camera was a Coronet Cub, which his father gave him as a preset. But it didn't last long, as he explains in the movie. He sold it to buy a smart jacket he saw on a dummy in a store window. He thought the jacket was more likely to make him popular with the girls than the camera.
And while most of his work was done in the film era using Tri-X with Hasselblad, Nikon and Rolleiflex cameras, he moved color as soon as the magazines demanded it and on to digital photography first with a Canon 1D Mark II and then a Mark III. He prefers using the 24-105mm zoom but for low light relies on the 50mm f1.2.
'If you let someone else impose their point of view, especially the person you're shooting, you're not going to get the picture you want.'
Directors Matthew Miele and Justin Bare were charmed with the "provocative storyteller and witty raconteur" as soon as they met him. "After three years of sifting through thousands of photographs, filming fifty interviews with Harry's friends, fellow photographers and gracious subjects, as well as trips to Harry's native Scotland and following him once again on his regular beat on Fleet Street in London, we have a film we are proud to say is inherently Harry."
You can see more of Benson's work in 'Photography Is Not a Team Sport', where Emily Anne Epstein presents 14 of Benson's best known images. In How to Take Better Low-Light Photos, Rik Fairlie pries some technical advice out of Benson. And in Photographer Harry Benson Reflects on His Incredible Career, Judy Gelman Myers presents her recent interview with him.
In 2005 Benson was the recipient of the Lucie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Portrait Photography and the American Photo Award for Photography. He was named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association in 1981 and 1985 and presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Scottish Press Photography Awards in 2006. Benson was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2009. And he has published 14 books of his photographs.
Impressive as that is, Benson, now 87, has no intention of retiring.
We screened the movie the other day and it's very well done. We especially liked the contact sheet motif that introduces each subject. The images always go by too fast for us but the interviews were the perfect length. And you can never get too much of Benson.
You can watch the movie via a number of options including iTunes, Amazon, AT&T Uverse, Comcast, Cox, DirectTV, Google Play and YouTube. A typical HD rental is $6.99 and the movie is also available for purchase, although only on Digital HD, not DVD or Blu-ray.