Kerry Kennedy on Harry Benson
“My father had just made the extraordinarily difficult decision to run for president on a platform of peace and social justice. He announced his candidacy on March 16, 1968, in the Kennedy Senate Caucus Room, where his brother, Jack, had announced eight years earlier.
He immediately traveled to New York for what would be his first campaign event at the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Harry’s picture captures how receptive the crowds were, an energy that sustained the 85 days of the campaign. You can also tell that he was enjoying every minute among the New Yorkers, celebrating their shared heritage while bringing diverse communities together.
The parade aptly kicked off the raucous run. Harry was there to cover it. His pictures conveyed the hope, optimism, and joy, which were the hallmarks of Daddy’s campaign.
My father loved Harry. A few years earlier, he had invited Harry to go on vacation with us to the Snake River. I think seeing Daddy in the wilderness, with his children, building a campfire, reciting poetry gave Harry that ability to truly capture Daddy’s personality – to make every picture intimate and personal.”
Inspired by President Kennedy’s inaugural address, James Meredith sought to enforce his Constitutional rights and force the University of Mississippi to end its policy of excluding Blacks. Civil Rights leaders from across the country joined the effort to assure that the Federal laws against segregation were upheld. Harry said Mr. Meredith was very independent and insisted he was going to march on a route that differed from the one planned by the national organizers.
Dr. King responded: “John Lewis, Rev. Abernathy, and hundreds of others going on our James Meredith March- you can go your way alone, or you are welcome to join us.” They all marched together.
This photo had never been printed – no one had seen it, and when we gave the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award to John Lewis in 2017, Harry looked through his negatives and printed this photo. I went to John’s office to present Harry’s picture to the Congressman of his mentor and friend. John wept.
Harry captured turning points in American history. He recorded political and cultural moments that remain timeless. Whether photographing politicians, movie stars, rock stars, or refugees, Harry’s portraits give us a private glimpse into public lives, conveying strength, resiliency, playfulness, and passion. They elicit a collection of emotions that range from reassuring to unsettling.
“Harry is an artist, historian, and raconteur and, best of all, a dear friend with a boundless heart.”
Harry Benson, President John F. Kennedy and President Charles de Gaulle, Paris, 1961
Cross Currents is a recurring series that shares the insightful perspectives of influential individuals on fine art photography.
The series creates a dialogue that emphasizes and expresses the power of art.
We use the concept of “Cross Currents” to illustrate how a significant master in one art or practice can influence a different expression form. For the series, Holden Luntz Gallery connects with gifted individuals outside the discipline of photography and asks them to share their thoughts on a photographer or a body of work and how it has impacted them.