Being There: Fifty Years of Harry Benson's Photojournalism (5 stars)

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This article is from 2006.

By definition, this show isn’t so much a considered series of meticulously planned portraits as a bunch of off-the-cuff snapshots. Yet, what snaps they are, and what a testament to Scots photographer Harry Benson’s years and standing in the business that together they form a definitive catalogue of the late 20th century’s most famous faces and events.

The healthy selection on display doesn’t just incorporate a procession of glamour. Early photographs from Benson’s days as a freelance in Glasgow are also shown, and there’s a poised, almost cinematic quality to otherwise simple crowd shots of Celtic fans celebrating a goal. As some of the agreeably descriptive notes point out, Benson was known among his contemporaries for being able to find the right spot and gently cajole his subjects in just the right way, and later assignments for the Daily Express - including his famed portraits of the Beatles touching down in America - demonstrate how quick thinking and doubtless a lot of film can produce era-defining images.

Onwards to Benson’s most celebrated work with People, Life and The New Yorker (he now resides in New York), and this retrospective is a perfect study of photojournalism as artform. He has photographed sports stars, musicians, leaders from around the world (even managing to make George W. Bush look presidential), and created documentary studies of heroin addicts in turn-of-the-eighties New York. Strikingly personal moments such as a harrowing Express cover of Bobby Kennedy’s wife seconds after his assassination are revisited, and this impressive body of work stands as both a journalistic inspiration and a meticulously created showreel of recent history. (David Pollock)

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 7 Jan

This article is from 2006.

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