Harry Benson may be the culprit behind the Beatles’ famous pillow fight photo, but he doesn’t consider himself a rock & roll photographer. He’s captured every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower (including Trump), was on the scene when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, and even shot Bobby Fischer at the height of his fame during the World Championship chess match in 1972 — but he’s modest about it. “It was a job that I had to do,” Benson tells Rolling Stone over the phone from his home in New York. “I’ve got to try and get the best pictures I can.”
Benson’s latest book, titled Paul (out now from Taschen), focuses on his iconic images of Paul McCartney. The Scottish photographer first stepped into Macca’s world in 1964, when he was a photojournalist working on London’s Fleet Street. He was about to depart for Africa on assignment when his editor called with a change of plans: he’d fly to Paris instead to capture the Beatles, and he wasn’t too happy about it.
“You think of yourself as a foreign correspondent, a big shot,” he says. “I didn’t want to do a new rock group.” But his perception of the band drastically changed when he watched them perform (he even ended up traveling with them on their famous trip to America that same year). “They were terrific,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘I was on the right story.'”
Benson continued to photograph McCartney over the years, from his tour with Wings to his home life with Linda and their children. The photographer approached McCartney about the book over eight months ago, but he never got a reply. “Paul was doing one with Linda’s old pictures,” Benson says, referring to The Polaroid Diaries. “But the worst thing he could have said to me was, ‘I’ll help you.’ Then I would have to share the money with him!”