Having been at more historic events and met more famous people at their most vulnerable than most, Scottish photographer Harry Benson has had a long and ongoing career. The new documentary Harry Benson: Shoot First immortalizes a man, now 86 years old, who has spent his life immortalizing others in photographs. Today you can watch a clip from the film, exclusively on The Creators Project.
The film starts in 1964, the legendary year Benson spent with The Beatles on their first trip to the United States. “I didn’t want to do that job,” Benson says. “I was going to Africa. I was a serious journalist.” When his editor insisted, the 25-year-old Benson gave in. “I asked why was it me. He said because the other photographer was ugly, and the one thing you couldn’t be around The Beatles was ugly.” He adds, “I knew that photographer, and he was ugly.”
Benson’s images of The Beatles are, without exaggeration, unlike any others. They are instantly recognizable: the pillow fight in the hotel, Paul with a face full of shaving cream, Muhammad Ali “punching” the band’s collective lights out. “There are endless images of The Beatles,” says art consultant Henry Neville in the film, “but there are no images of The Beatles that gain the intimacy that Harry’s photos have done; that understanding of four young kids changing history.”
But the film is quick to prove that Benson is so much more than his Beatles days. He has gotten beneath the skin of some of the most impenetrable icons of the 20th century: Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson, Johnny Carson, Sophia Loren, Dolly Parton, the list goes on. Then, he’s been invited back for dinner.
First-hand, Benson has witnessed moments that mattered: the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, and the Watts Riots in Los Angeles. He infiltrated KKK rallies in South Carolina, interviewed and photographed Lennon’s murderer, traveled to refugee camps in Somalia, and gone behind the IRA’s closed doors. He took portraits of every US president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, and was the photographer at Truman Capote’s famed Black and White Ball.
By capturing the bigger picture of Benson’s career, the film takes a look at the life behind the photographer’s legendary lens. It presents an honest portrait of a man who skips family Christmases to get the story, who breaks rules to make new ones, and who competes with everybody, especially himself. A man, in short, who puts his craft above all else; because, as Benson says, “a great photograph can never happen again.”
Harry Benson: Shoot First will be released in theaters, OnDemand, Amazon Video, and on iTunes on December 9th. Find more information about the film on it’s official site and click here to find more of Harry Benson’s work.