Revered Photographer Harry Benson Talks Iconic Shots - Rolling Stone
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Shooting Rock History: Revered Photographer Harry Benson Talks Iconic Shots

As a documentary on his life hits theaters, legendary photojournalist tells stories behind images of Beatles, Michael Jackson, Willie Nelson and more

Harry Benson talks photographs

Photograph by @HarryBenson

Though his pictures of everyone from the Beatles to Michael Jackson made him one of the most beloved culture photographers of the 20th century, Harry Benson isn't phased by the icons he’s captured. In his heart, he's always been a photojournalist covering the news, whether it was the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy or the star-packed "We Are The World" recording session. In fact, in 1964, he was on his way to a story in Africa when he got the call that he would be following a band called the Beatles during their American debut – and it wasn't until that so-called music story became the biggest news story on the planet that he realized he'd accepted the right assignment. It's also what makes his photographs so memorable: they're surprisingly candid and humanizing in a way that's often lost in more controlled photography settings. "I hate studio pictures," he told Rolling Stone earlier this week. "I like everything out of control. Like myself!" 

It's that lack of reverence for fame that also puts those very celebrities at ease in his presence – all the better to capture them at their most natural. In a new documentary about his life and work, Harry Benson: Shoot First, his famous subjects-turned-admirers, from Donald Trump to Sharon Stone, discuss his easy humor and his ability to get anyone to open up – a skill helped by his Scottish accent and his way of speaking in a sing-song trill, even when he's being brutally honest. Benson sat down in his Manhattan home for a no-holds-barred conversation with Rolling Stone to tell the stories behind some of his iconic rock & roll photographs.

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