Day 6

Legendary photographer Harry Benson lifts the veil on three of his most iconic shots

Harry Benson's camera has captured some of the most remarkable people and moments of the last 50 years — including the Beatles and Donald Trump. Benson was with Bobby Kennedy when he was shot in 1968. Now, Benson is being celebrated in a documentary about his career. He shares the stories behind three of his most memorable images.
Three of the iconic photographs that renowned Scottish photographer Harry Benson remembers best. (Harry Benson)

When Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968, renowned Scottish photographer Harry Benson was there to capture the moment.

Over the years, Benson has photographed some of the most famous people and moments in modern Western history. He rose to fame while shooting the Beatles in the sixties and went on to capture everyone from Winston Churchill to Muhammad Ali

Now 87 years old, Benson is being celebrated in the new documentary Harry Benson: Shoot First, which hit theatres on Friday.

Here are the stories behind three of Harry Benson's most memorable photographs.


Donald Trump in a limousine, 1981

Donald Trump in a limousine, 1981. (Harry Benson)

This photograph was taken at the end of a work site tour Benson had taken with Trump, as Trump was discussing business on his limousine phone. 

"He had a beautiful marina in Atlantic City, a beautiful marina, but somebody had parked a dusty old boat there — and he was furious," Benson recalls.

After photographing Donald Trump for forty years, Benson feels no need to pick up the camera again now that Trump has been elected as the next U.S. President. But he has no doubt Trump will be good for photographers' business.

"You're not going to be unemployed at the end of the week for bringing in a good story of Donald Trump."


The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, 1968

Robert F. Kennedy moments after being shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, 1968. (Harry Benson)

"Bobby Kennedy, to me, was the first celebrity political person," Benson says. "He was like Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney. He was an event."

When Robert F. Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968, Benson was just steps away.

"I was about two, two-and-a-half yards behind him," he recalls. "I turn left; screams. Turned around, and Bobby's slipping to the floor."

In another image from that night, Robert F. Kennedy's wife, Ethel Kennedy, is rushing over to Benson, hand outstretched. Shortly after the photograph was taken, Benson was knocked to the ground.

Ethel Kennedy in the moments after Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, 1968. (Harry Benson)

"I put the film in my sock, because if a policeman comes up to me and says, 'I want your film,' and he's got a gun, I want to photograph for Life magazine; I don't want to die for it," Benson says.


The Beatles' pillow fight, 1964

The Beatles' pillow fight at the George V Hotel in Paris, 1964. (Harry Benson)

When Benson's editor first asked him to cover the Beatles in Paris, he didn't want to take the assignment.

"I knew who they were, of course, but they hadn't quite broken through the way they did, like, a couple of days later," Benson chuckles.

This photograph was taken in the Beatles' hotel room at the George V Hotel in Paris, France after a show. John had mentioned a pillow fight several nights earlier, and Benson asked them to recreate it.

Shortly after, the Beatles departed for the United States. Benson was on the plane with them.

 "Basically, that picture of the Beatles having a pillow fight brought me to America," he says.


A decades-long career

When it comes to Harry Benson's photography collection, the three images above are just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, they're more like an ice chip perched on the tip of the iceberg.

Amy Winehouse in London, England, 2005. (Harry Benson)

When Benson met Amy Winehouse in London in 2005, he took a liking to her immediately. As he recalls, the pair chatted about the Beatles and the Who.

"I found her a perfectly charming, very nice girl," Benson says, "and very talented."

"When I heard Amy had died, I was really shocked and really saddened. It shouldn't have happened."

Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen during the recording sessions for "We Are the World" in Los Angeles, 1985. (Harry Benson)

Benson was the only photographer present during the famous all-night recording sessions that produced "We Are the World." He remembers the night vividly.

"Quincy Jones, who was the composer... he had scrawled out a message: 'Leave your egos at the door," Benson recalls.

"They were all told not to tell anybody where they were going," he adds. "And they sang all through the night."

Harry Benson: Shoot First will play at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto on December 16th and The Cinecenta in Victoria on December 29th.