Long having been aware of the work of Harry Benson, it was time for me to look at some of his work in a concentrated manner. Having several collections that include his work and some dedicated solely to Benson this work seems to be as crisp and seminal as any.
Benson will be remembered for a few iconic images of the Beatles including the 'pillow fight' that he captured just through sheer persistence. He outlasted the rest of the press/photog gaggle and the bands entourage to be on the scene in the right place and time. The Beatles liked Benson so at various times he was granted rather extraordinary access both in the amount of time and where he went with them during this two and half year stretch of Beatlemania.
Benson augments the large photographs with a few short diary like essays. The photographs are not burdened with captions and details. They stand alone on page after page with the needed information collected in Benson's notes about several photos at once so not to lessen the weight of these photographic moments. There is the personalhistory of how the photographer worked in this era with a traveling darkroom and other massive amounts of gear.
The impact of black and white journalistic style photography is well displayed. We get those frozen moments in time such as the Beatles with Mohammad Ali, the band playing on stage in various interchangeable venues, and of course the pillow fight. The latter moment in this work is augmented with a proof sheet style page of frame after frame of the boys at play late at night-early in the morning in a hotel. Very personal images of young energetic men that are already becoming isolated from the world by their own fame.
The youthfulness of the Lennon-McCartney duo is front and center in this work. An impossibly young John Lennon on the streets of Paris, Paul McCartney shaving (yes, he of the eternally baby face), and the duo in various combination's at the piano and working together abound in the first half of the book. The cover is even the two of them at the piano with Ringo in the background.
At some point they become stars, celebrities, and undeniably older. Benson was there and caught, if not the exact moment, the instantaneous and undeniable result. John suddenly is the star in his mod boots, Paul looks like the old country gentleman with his tea riding through the countryside on a train, George the appearance conscious man in front of the mirror, and Ringo, well he is still Ringo. The complete carefree look and body language is gone. From brief captured private moments to the distance between the crowd and band, they now belong to the ages.
Private moments captured, some mentioned, some not seen often enough of George and Patti, the ominous image of the band amidst a cordon of Chicago police, to a very alone John with a drink and smokes round out this transformative moment in the Beatles all too brief history.
"Once there was a way..." ends with a final photograph of the Beatles walking out at a racetrack concert venue taken from behind. They face away from the camera towards the teeming, cheering, roaringthrong and then it is over. This last image was made about a week before the final public concert the Beatles would ever give.