Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Remembering Benedict J. Fernandez Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

4 March 2021

Benedict J. Fernandez, who documented the civil rights movement of the 1960s, died Jan. 31 at his home in Oxford, N.Y., from heart failure. He was 84.

He was born in Manhattan in 1936 to a Puerto Rican father who worked as an office manager and an Italian-American mother. He spent his childhood in East Harlem.

When he was six years old, he was given a Brownie box camera. He struggled learning to read in school, a victim of dyslexia, but found in photography a way to express himself.

After being laid off from a job as a crane operator when the Brooklyn Navy Yard closed in 1963, Fernandez became a freelance photographer. As a crane operator, he had photographed his fellow workers for a project he called Riggers.

'I don't sit down and take the camera and say I'm going to take pictures.'

After lending some film to another photographer, he was introduced by that man to Alexey Brodovitch, who was then the art director of Harper's Bazaar and founder of the Design Laboratory, a workshop for photographers and designers.

That led to a scholarship at the Design Laboratory for Fernandez plus a job running the darkroom at the Parsons School of Design. He went on to become head of the school's new photography department, recruiting professional photographers as teachers.

At the age of 46, he graduated from Empire State College with a bachelor's degree. He had previously won a Fulbright research fellowship in photography and a Guggenheim fellowship.

As a photojournalist, he documented the American civil rights movement as well as some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s private moments with his family. His portfolio of King photographs titled Countdown to Eternity became a traveling exhibition. He published both Protest and I Am a Man in 1996. The National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art in New York both include his work in their collections.

He explained his approach, "I don't sit down and take the camera and say I'm going to take pictures. Click. Click. Click. No, something has to happen in order for me to want to take the pictures, because I don't read or write. I live."

He established the photography department at the Parsons School of Design before continuing his career in the 1990s as a founder and CEO of Hoboken Almanac of Photography and the Almanac Gallery in Hoboken, N.J., and as a senior fellow in photography at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

He also taught disadvantaged urban youth at no charge at the Benedict J. Fernandez Photo Film Workshop, which he established in the basement of Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in Manhattan.

He is survived by his wife Siiri (Aarismaa), who he married in 1957, and their two children Benedict and Tina Polvere, five grandchildren and a great granddaughter.

BackBack to Photo Corners