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April 3rd, 2009

Harry Benson: Start small, work hard

Posted by Melissa Dubasik

After watching Harry Benson‘s Photographers In Focus video about getting his start in photography, we figured he would have some sage words for photographers trying to make their own start in the business. Below he talks about the sacrifices a photographer makes — which don’t feel like sacrifices if you love what you’re doing.
©Harry Benson

James Brown, Georgia, 1979 ©Harry Benson

Carmen Suen: How did you get started in photography?

Harry Benson: That was a long time ago. When I was a teenager, I felt like being a photographer was my only hope. I have always been interested in photography. And, I was never very good at academics. I thought, I could be a professional soccer player, or I could be a professional photographer. I played a few soccer games, and thought I wasn’t that great. When I was 21 or 22, I started doing wedding photography at local churches. It was at that time that I started to get more serious about photography. Eventually, I got a job at the Daily Express.

To me, photography is honest and straightforward. As a photographer, all you need to do is to take good pictures. If you work hard, and take the opportunities in front of you, you will succeed. There are, of course, obstacles. While my friends were going out for a drink, I was working. I seldom got to celebrate Christmas and New Year like most people do. I celebrate these holidays with my family in a different way. I don’t see it as a sacrifice; I see it as a privilege. It’s very lucky to be able to do what makes you happy.

CS: What was your first “big job”?

HB: Well, there was not really any one “big job.” But I think I have some favorite pictures — those I took during my 2-week trip with the Beatles in February 1964. I love those pictures because they are happy pictures.

That was a very special trip for me. I never wanted to be a rock photographer. But then I got this opportunity to travel with one of the most important groups in rock history. Because it was a newspaper assignment, I had to send pictures back to London every day. I had to consistently bring back good photographs. I needed to stay as creative and good as I could be. That was not easy, but I did it.

CS: Do you have any advice for young photographers?

HB: Always go to the smallest denominator, and don’t get carried away. Look for a job in a local newspaper, not a big city paper. Local newspapers pay for your mistakes. If you can take a great picture of a small town mayor, you can take a great picture of a president.

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