Life Behind the Lens

The Beatles mugging, President Richard Nixon resigning, the Reagans dancing, IRA bigwigs lying in state. A few of the spontaneous moments captured by intrepid Scottish photojournalist Harry Benson. The maverick lensman strives for what he calls "pictures with air in them." Given the countless scenes he has shot over the years for Fleet Street tabloids and major American publications, there's enough air there to oxygenate an entire planet. Accompanying "The Beatles Now and Then," an exhibition of Fab Four photos co-presented by New York's Staley+Wise Gallery and Miami's a-d Gallery at the Miami Beach Books & Books, Benson comes to Miami this weekend to plug his latest book, Harry Benson: Fifty Years in Pictures. He spoke on the phone from New York City, fresh from snapping Mayor Michael Bloomberg for The New Yorker.

New Times: What made you want to become a photographer?

Harry Benson: Hopeless at school. Photography to me was so pure. It was so obvious, all you had to do was take good pictures and you'd become heavyweight champion of the world.

Do you consider what you do art?

No. When I hear the word art, I go for my revolver. It sounds so pretentious, as if you're talking down to people.

What was the most frightening experience you've had doing your job?

It was very difficult working the night when Bobby [Kennedy] was shot. I was next to him.

Were you a Beatles fan when you were asked to photograph them on their first world tour in 1964?

No. I wasn't.

What kind of music were you listening to back then?

Ha! Probably Johnny Mathis. But when I heard [the Beatles] play, I knew they were sensational. No question.

Are you surprised you've outlived some of your subjects?

That's the thing that lets me know I'm coming on. George is dead. John is dead. It's sad. I remember them when they were right at the top, all doing their thing.

What would you have done if you had not become a photographer?

I don't know. I'm certainly not fit enough to work in a bank. I can't count!

Any intention of retiring?

People retire to do what I'm doing -- taking pictures. Why retire? As long as somebody wants me to take a picture, that's fine.