Henry Benson: Shoot First documents the incredible career of photographer Henry Benson, who has captured candid and initiate photographs of some of the most significant people in politics and pop culture of the last sixty years, including the Beatles, Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson, Michael Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Joe Namath, Brad Pitt, and many many more. His pictures have appeared in Life,Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and People, for which he has shot over one hundred cover shots. The film is a facinating look at the photographer, and delves deeper into the images themselves.
Benson sees the medium of photography first as a journalistic tool. He gave equal treatment documenting both the Black Panthers and the Klu Klux Klan, which is fascinating considering the devisiveness of today’s media. Some of the film’s most poignant moments feature Benson recounting the circumstances surrounding his famous photos, particularly being tear gassed during riots in the 1960’s. Watching Benson describe how the famous Beatles pillow fight came to be is enjoyable, but his accounts of being gassed is chilling, and creates a further appreciate for his work.
I believe the film works best when it is addressing the morality of the profession. Benson in particular has been known for his ambiguous morality when it comes to capturing a moment on film. Benson was present at the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, allowing him to capture the historically significant event, though he has been demonized for not helping in anyway, choosing rather to photograph the events before him. Benson’s morals as a photographer were also brought into question when he secretly shot candid photos of a reclusive Greta Garbo swimming at the beach. While this is commonplace in today’s world of paparazzi, it was not at the time, and was considered an incredible invasion of privacy.
The film is a captivating look at the career of an iconic photographer. The personal life of Benson is only touched upon, though I suppose those seeking out this film are more curious about his work than his life. While knowing the stories behind some of Benson’s most notable pieces is interesting, at times it felt as if a joke was being over explained, as the work stands alone on its own. If nothing else, the film is a showcase for his incredible body of work, which is well worth a viewing.