More about the programme
Two Scottish photographers with international reputations, Albert Watson and Harry Benson, have documented world-changing events on camera and captured many famous faces forever. Witnesses to numerous major political and social events in modern history, they have a collective career spanning six decades and met while working for French Vogue 40 years ago.
Harry Benson has always been close to the action, with an uncanny instinct for being in the right place at the right time. Born in Glasgow, Benson’s first international break came when he was assigned to travel to America with The Beatles in 1964. His photographs of the Beatles for Life Magazine are unsurpassed as a record of the early years of the group. One of his most recognisable images shows the band erupting in a gleeful pillow fight on hearing that “I Want To Hold Your Hand” had reached number one. Since then he has photographed every US president from Eisenhower to Barack H Obama, and was feet away from Bobby Kennedy the night he was assassinated.
Well-known for his striking portraits, Albert Watson’s work is featured in galleries and museums worldwide. Blind in one eye since birth, Watson photographed his first celebrity, a striking portrait of Alfred Hitchcock holding a dead goose, in 1973. With over 250 Vogue covers, he has photographed Hollywood stars old and new, and shot every supermodel of the past three decades.
Discussing their different approaches to the craft, Watson feels “there is wonderful control that a photographer can have over his picture because you are the one who’s deciding when to hit that shutter”.
Benson comments that in his view “photography is the moment, it’s spontaneous” and explains how he was “always the first in and the last out”. Watson’s approach is much more researched; he is always “constructing images, sometimes two weeks ahead of time”.
The chat also veers from Benson explaining how he photographed the Beatles’ pillow fight to working with Bill and Hilary Clinton shortly after he became President. He also tells of his feelings the night Kennedy was assassinated.
Giving an insight into the shooting, Benson felt his images “would record history”. Watson’s anecdotes include working with Alfred Hitchcock and Mike Tyson, and he explains the story behind the image for Rolling Stone magazine when he decided to photograph Mick Jagger with a tiger.