10 Questions with Harry Benson, Photographer

Harry Benson
Harry Benson, Photo: Courtesy T Gallery

One of the world’s most iconic living photographers, Harry Benson will attend a special artist reception for Through the Lens, a career-spanning exhibition of his work at the newly-opened T Gallery in Southampton (4C North Main Street) this Saturday, May 28 from 5–7 p.m.

The 87-year-old Scotland native is renowned for photographing many of history and pop culture’s most important moments and people, including Winston Churchill, The Beatles, Queen Elizabeth II, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Luther King, Truman Capote, Greta Garbo, at least nine U.S. presidents, 9-11 and the Robert F. Kennedy assassination, to name but a fraction of his subjects. Sitting with his beloved wife of 50 years, Gigi, and T Gallery owner Therese Mahar, who occasionally helped translate his thick Scottish burr, Benson answered our standard set of 10 Rapid-Fire Questions.

1. Favorite book (or last one you read, if you can’t decide)?
I can’t remember the name—it was about Kim Philby the British spy [A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre]…and it was intriguing because I actually had photographed him in Beirut. I knew some of the people—some of the spies were actually journalists at that time. They worked for London newspapers.

2. The last thing that took your breath away?
Probably it was Therese Mahar [T Gallery owner].

3. The last thing that made you cry?
Probably it was the same thing.

4. It’s the eve of your execution… What would be your last meal?
Fish ‘n’ chips, and it had to be made in Glasgow. Americans can’t make fish ‘n’ chips.

5. Something worth fighting for?
It would be my family and then my dogs. I’ve got a dog that’s 17 and a half and she could get a driving license.

6. Something worth giving up?
A bit of laziness has crept into my life.

7. Spend an afternoon with anyone—alive or dead—who would it be?
I’m going to meet them anyway because they’re all going to hell. I’m going to spend a lot of time with them. I’d like to spend one with [Winston] Churchill. I’d also like to spend it with my father, just to tell him you got me all wrong.

8. An interesting object in your home or studio?
It’s a stick that a great Scottish comedian gave my father. Harry Lauder, he was the first character from [legendary agent] William Morris and he was a great singer. Its value to me is my brother and sisters were after it and I beat them to it. I beat them. [Note: Lauder’s famous crooked walking stick was part of his spoof on traditional Scottish garb. A contorted tree species, known botanically as Corylus Avellana Contorta, is commonly called “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” in deference to the famous vaudevillian.]

9. Last film you watched?
What a piece of s__t. Hidden Figures was good, but [speaking to his wife] there was something after that, Gigi, that you made me go to—a piece of s__t.

10. Favorite person you ever photographed?
Churchill and Bobby Fischer.

Meet Harry Benson at the opening reception for Through the Lens at T Gallery in Southampton (4C North Main Street) this Saturday, May 28 from 5–7 p.m. For more info, call 212-679-8585 or visit tgallery.com.