Harry Benson on New York New York, His New Book of Iconic Portraits


Renowned photographer Harry Benson’s lens has captured some of the most enigmatic people of our time, from Jackie O to Yoko Ono. To celebrate the launch of his new book, New York New York (powerHouse), Benson shares with W some of the memorable moments and impressions from his shoots.


“Fosse is the only person to win an Emmy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award in one year. Who can even comprehend what that would be like? In his apartment filled with memorabilia from his many hit shows, I asked him to show me some of his iconic dance moves, and he obliged.”


“I first photographed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in London in 1961 shortly after JFK had been elected president and then again in 1962 when she visited her sister, Lee, who lived in London. One day I was walking home up Fifth Avenue and a cab happened to pull up to the curb beside me. I looked up, and there she was. So I waved, she smiled, and I took a photograph.”


“The mayor, whom I first met when our children were in nursery school together, has always been a down-to-earth, no-nonsense person. He knew the fastest way to get downtown was on the subway, so on the subway we went. “


“Mrs. Astor loved Dachshunds and so do I, and we had that in common when I photographed her. She was a bit flirty and kicked off her shoes and put her feet up without giving it a second thought.”


“We had never met before, but the esteemed artist was very obliging as I photographed him in his unique townhouse. He told Hilary and me that he was leaving the next day for Europe, so we were happy to catch him before he left. The next week my wife, Gigi, and I flew to Italy and visited a friend on his wonderful island quite near Positano. We walked and walked up a steep hill to the top of the island, and there to greet us was our host—you guessed it, Julian Schnabel. “


“They were having lunch at the Factory, Warhol’s famed studio. Warhol had his Polaroid and tape recorder by his side. He started to photograph me as I was taking the photograph of Bianca, so I focused on Bianca in one frame and Andy in the next.”


“Since I had first photographed the Beatles in 1964, I was pleased to photograph John’s wife and son in the park that he loved. I could see why John fell in love with Yoko: she was smart, attractive, and strong, and she was raising Sean the way she knew John would have wanted.”


“When we went to Michael Kors’ atelier, he was prepared to give me a good photograph as he had the stunning model Chanel Iman there. Both were relaxed and seemed to have fun when I asked them to jump in the air for a photograph.”


“I was taking photographs of Diane at her estate in Connecticut when her Dalmation jumped up onto her bed. I thought that would be a good picture so I asked Diane to get in bed, too, as I like to see people in their natural environment.”


“I photographed Halston quite a few times over the years and always found him to be the most obliging subject. He knew a good photograph was what I was after and he was happy to help me get one.”


“When I arrived at Giorgio Armani’s store on Madison Avenue, he asked me what I wanted him to do. Jokingly, I said what about photographing in the store window and having Ashley take off her top. Thinking I was serious, to my surprise they agreed. Traffic came to a standstill on Madison and the sidewalks were crowded with people as everyone wanted to see what was going on.”


“I liked him. Don’t be fooled by his high squeaky voice. Truman was a tough little man. He had an uncanny way of reading your mind. Always up for a good time, he was not afraid to march to his own drummer. “


“Halston was a great couturier, even the French said he was the best. His clothes withstand the test of time. He worked hard and he played hard and that night he was having fun behind the sign at Studio 54 with his pals–Lorna Luft, Steve Rubel, and Victor Hugo.”


“Peter Marino’s apartment was a stunning example of his distinctive creative vision as a designer. It seemed the perfect place for him to stand—beside a lifelike bronze leopard sculpture.”


“Veruschka was one of the first or perhaps even the first supermodel. She was stunning and sultry and oh so tall. She and avant-garde designer Giorgio d’Sant Angelo were at a downtown party sitting in a corner when I arrived. Giorgio, who I had photographed several times, saw me and beckoned me over to sit with them. Giorgio was so full of energy and Veruschka was so serene—complete opposites, and yet, they complemented each other nicely.”