Harry Benson's Photos: The Real Thing

Saturday, June 9, 2007

I found the review of my exhibit, "Harry Benson: Being There," currently at the National Portrait Gallery, gratuitously mean-spirited and bewildering [Style, June 7]. I thought reporter Joel Garreau's job was to review the photos, not to present his idea of my personality -- his opinion of which I would beg to differ with.

He seems to have formed his opinions from reading the abbreviated captions at the exhibit, which cannot possibly tell the whole story.

Here's what happened regarding the pillow-fight photograph featured with the article. The Beatles had had a pillow fight before. I was with them when they heard the news that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was No. 1. I suggested they have another one. John said no. So that was that, as far as I was concerned. Then John sneaked up on Paul anyway, hit him in the head with a pillow, and they were off.

As for Mr. Garreau's dismissal of my photojournalistic credentials: What about being tear-gassed with Martin Luther King Jr.? Ignoring a curfew during the Watts riots to photograph a dead man? Photographing a woman and baby at a Ku Klux Klan meeting? The nightmare of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, with hysterical screaming all around? These were not staged.

Denigrating my 50-year career offhandedly without asking me directly to clarify his presumptions was very unfair. Mr. Garreau did not interview me, so I couldn't defend myself against his maliciousness. I would like your readers to judge my photos for themselves.

HARRY BENSON

New York

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Harry Benson's "stuff," as Post reporter Joel Garreau called the legendary photographer's work in his review of Mr. Benson's exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, is far from being "hokum."

In his reference to Mr. Benson's wonderful Beatles pillow-fight photo from 1964, Mr. Garreau failed to report that the Beatles had just found out that their record had gone to No. 1 in the United States and that they were going to visit America for the first time.

The Beatles' exuberance was not fake or set up. That Mr. Benson may have encouraged the Beatles to celebrate their success in no way compromises that classic photograph.

I have shown Mr. Benson's work at the Govinda Gallery in Georgetown, which I direct. Mr. Benson is a talented artist, both a photojournalist and a portrait photographer. Looking at his photograph of a depressed John Lennon after he was vilified for comparing the absurdity of the Beatles' popularity to that of Jesus or the photo of screaming fans on the Beatles' first tour demonstrates Mr. Benson's power as a photojournalist.

CHRIS MURRAY

Washington

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