Newspaper speculation in the US has raised the possibility that 87-year-old Scots photographer Harry Benson, first famed for his early Beatles pictures, could become Donald Trump’s Chief Official White House Photographer.
That idea is put forward by the Hollywood Reporter. Benson also appears in a lengthy article in the New York Times, which stresses the Scot’s close connections with Trump down the years.
A film documentary on Harry Benson: Shoot First had its premiere in New York at the weekend. In it the president-elect talks about the photographer.
Said the Reporter, “Benson has had good luck in the past when it comes to photographing President-elect Donald Trump.”
The film , says the Times, shows many times that Benson has snapped the president-elect - before his election. In one shot Trump is holding $1 million in cash.
"The money, the money! That was my idea. The money shows greed," Benson recalled at the after-party for the screening held by The Cinema Society at The Carlyle in New York.
"As long as he makes me look good, I'm happy," the president-elect said of Benson in the documentary.
Benson is perhaps best known for his pillow-fighting images of The Beatles early in his career. He has shot many famous names in the US over the years , including Ku Klux Klan leader Robert Shelton in the 1960s; Elizabeth Taylor just hours after her brain surgery in 1997; a breast-feeding Deborah Norville in 1991 that may have cost the Today anchor her job; playful pictures of Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon in 1980; and a distraught Ethel Kennedy only moments after Bobby Kennedy's 1968 assassination.
The image shows her reaching up to block Benson's camera lens. He also has intimately shot every president since Eisenhower.
But will he again get a chance to photograph the president-elect? "I don't know," he told the Reporter. "But I'll tell you something about Donald Trump. He's good for our business. He's a character. You don't leave empty-handed. You get a picture. He'll give the photographers a lot of good pictures; he'll give the writers good quotes. That's what it means; you're working and it's important in your life."
With no plans to retire anytime soon, the 87-year-old still has people on his bucket list he'd like to shoot, "I'd like to do Putin," he said at The Carlyle (the evening was celebrating the film but also his 87th birthday). "I don't know [what I'd ask him], but I'd like to photograph him."
The New York Times article also kicks off with the famed Beatles pillow fight taken in the 1960s. He closed the decade by capturing Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, Ethel Kennedy’s hand taking up much of a frame, as if to stop the tragedy cold.
In the 1970s, Mr. Benson shot a hard-driving, show-offy young real estate heir named Donald J. Trump shadowboxing on the roof of Mr. Trump’s Fifth Avenue tower. Some 20 years later, Mr. Benson posed Mr. Trump in the money cage of his casino, the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, with a million dollars in cash in his arms. “He was trying to hold on to it,” Mr. Benson said. “It was against gaming commission rulings for him to even be there.”
After Mr. Trump married his wife, Melania, in 2005, Mr. Benson captured them in the gilded-to-the-gills dining room of their penthouse, Ms. Trump spilling out of a skimpy black dress in a Vargas-girl pose.
“They don’t want people to see that one anymore,” Mr. Benson said.
Then came the question about the White House.
Mr. Benson has photographed every president since Eisenhower, but he is not talking about an invitation to Washington. “We’re in for it now,” he said of the president-elect in the Scottish accent, said the Times" that he has held onto from growing up in Glasgow.He hasn’t changed.”
The documentary about Mr. Benson directed by Matthew Miele and Justin Bare, opened on Friday. The International Center of Photography will soon announce that Mr. Benson is the recipient of its 2017 Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement,
And on Dec. 16, the Staley-Wise gallery in SoHo will unveil “Harry Benson: Get the Picture,” a career-spanning exhibition.
At the Carlyle hotel, a selection of Mr. Benson’s black-and-white photographs — many of eminent guests, dead and alive, who have stayed there — is on view indefinitely. In 2014, he was invited to photograph Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace, and in 2008, she bestowed the order of Commander of the British Empire upon him.
Six feet tall, Mr. Benson is always smartly- dressed in clothes made for him in London Asked how he got to the second floor of the White House Mr. Benson said. “I would tell them, ‘I didn’t dress as if I was the maintenance man.’”
. Mr. Benson and his wife Gigi, who manages the business that is Harry Benson, have lived in the same New York apartment for 48 of the 50 years that they have been married, raising two daughters. Though neither of the Bensons rides, they also own a house in Florida near Palm Beach.
“I don’t want to look pompous, you know,” Mr. Benson said. “I don’t want to seem pretentious. I’ve never been a genteel photographer.”
The Times tell how Benson rose to the top. He blames his humiliating expulsion from a Glasgow secondary school, at 13, for a lasting anger and his unrelenting competitiveness. His father, the director of the Glasgow Zoo, gave him his first camera, to keep away trouble.
In Glasgow he crashed a party and so charmed Lord Beaverbrook’s son, Sir Max Aitken, that” a job materialized on Fleet Street,” said the Times.
Mr. Benson met Gigi at a Houston charity ball while he was traveling with Prince Philip for The Daily Express in 1965.
His photograph of Ronald and Nancy Reagan dancing at the White House, shot on assignment for Vanity Fair in 1985, was used for the cover.
Were he to shoot Mr. Trump in the White House, it would be “in the Oval Office,”
Mr. Benson said. “I’d get all the gadgetry of power around him, and then, more and more.” For a Vanity Fair cover, Mr. Benson said, he would pose Mr. Trump “in the shower,” the president with no clothes.”
He had conversations with John Lennon in New York.“He was going around with all this ‘Give peace a chance’ stuff,” he added. “I told him, ‘John, now you’re meddling in United States foreign policy, and the Nixon administration has its eye on you.’
Said the Times, Mr. Benson was later to created some of the most arresting shots of Lennon’s fans in mourning.