52 by 52 8:21am, 17 May 2012
Challenge #38: Photograph something that can never happen again
— Harry Benson

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.


Beatles Pillow Fight, George V Hotel, Paris, 1964

“It was 3am after a concert at the Olympia in Paris in January 1964. They had so much pent-up energy after a performance, and they really couldn’t go out because they would be mobbed. So we were sitting around talking and drinking. Their manager, Brian Epstein, burst into their suite at the Hotel George V to tell them “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was No. 1 on the American charts, which meant they were going to America to be on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ … I heard the Beatles talking about a pillow fight they had had a few nights before, so I suggested it. I thought it would make a good photo to celebrate. At first they said OK, but then John said, no, it would make them look silly. Then John slipped up behind Paul and hit him over the head with a pillow, spilling his drink, and that started it.”

Robert Kennedy Assassination, Los Angeles, 1968

"Kennedy is literally shot in front of me,” Benson said. “I’m saying to myself, ‘Don’t fuck up today. Fuck up tomorrow.’ This is it. This is what I came into the business for.” Benson, the only photographer on the scene, didn’t hesitate, and snapped now-iconic images of Kennedy on the floor, and a fear-stricken Ethel Kennedy turning around to scream: “Give him air!” Benson shot five rolls of film of the assassination, and put each roll in his sock, “in case a policeman with a gun asked me for my film.” He says: “I’d rather photograph for life than die for it.”

Michael Jackson, NeverLand, CA. 1997

"I got the impression that in no way was Michael a recluse. He read the papers and kept up with the news. Once he asked me what I thought of the Reagans, who were in the White House at the time. He was also curious to know what the Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was like, as Michael had seen my photograph of him. Michael made a point of knowing who was who, while all the time those sad eyes were searching, looking closely at me. Occasionally he would break into a laugh, but mostly he was just looking."

View more of Harry's iconic work >

As well as being a good place to connect with other members and share your initial reactions, thoughts about how to 'solve it' and any links you think might help the group, this can also be a good place to include any old photos you have that fit the challenge. We're looking forward to hearing your thoughts this week.

— 52 by 52 team
shaunbellis PRO 6 years ago
Truly inspiring work. Let's hope that we dont disappoint :-)
~ Meredith ~ 6 years ago
I agree. I love that Beatles photo though I have to admit I find the one of Michael Jackson a little creepy. Guess I won't be shooting on the Tube for this one. I'd love to believe that delays will never happen again but I think I might be disappointed :)
Julia M Cameron PRO 6 years ago
Wow....something to aspire to here!
Will take a bit of thinking about too...something that can never happen again...hmmm.
Feels like a bit of "documentary", but not necessarily.
scala66/Paul Marsh PRO 6 years ago
I love Thursdays. Technically though, doesn't every photo ever taken meet this brief?
Mark W Russell Posted 6 years ago. Edited by Mark W Russell (moderator) 6 years ago
Here is a brief from one of the real giants of photojournalism. Many of Benson's photographs are part of my life and growing up.
He has been privileged to be close to so many of the rich and famous, and therefore has got shots many of us can only dream of. However, take a peek at his Glasgow photographs or the Trivoli series and here are some scenes and situations we could aspire to and potentially achieve.
In a recent thread with Meredith I noted ".....transience. It nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."
Surely, this is about somehow trying the capture an "event" that is not reproducible.
Palofperu PRO 6 years ago
Not sure how close I can get to a unique event. To me the word that stands out in this instruction is 'can'. Think 'might' would be more accessible but not such a challenge.
Leripix 6 years ago
Eh? What? Is it thursday already?
Julia M Cameron PRO 6 years ago
Mark, your last sentence...trying to capture an "event" that is not reproducible....seems to distill this brief down to it's essential meaning....thanks!

Now what and where?
shaunbellis PRO 6 years ago
I've been struggling to think of something to shoot for this weeks challenge. One thing is for sure, it's meant that I have taken my camera everywhere with me!
bart1eby Posted 6 years ago. Edited by bart1eby (member) 6 years ago
I think a lot of these instructions really tap into what it is that makes photography unique and any of us who've ever tried to retake a photograph would agree with scala's comment above. With that in mind and pursuing my current interests I'm probably going to photograph something that can never happen again because it never happened in the first place...
Mark W Russell 6 years ago
"We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory."

Henri Cartier-Bresson
1908 - 2004
Emma Georgiou PRO 6 years ago
Mark, I looked at the very same quote today, whilst trying to drum up some inspiration. I'm looking at possible double exposures on my xa2. I've run through the first 36 frames a while ago, just need to use the other 36 now. You couldn't photograph or marry up those kind of combinations again?
Julia M Cameron PRO Posted 6 years ago. Edited by Julia M Cameron (admin) 6 years ago
Here is my first stab at this.

Set 1 Thinking about prediction...the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II may not happen, but if it does, it can never happen again.

and also Set 2 Looking at an action that looks as though it could be repeated, but is unique each time it is set in motion.

Emma Georgiou PRO 6 years ago
For me I really like set 2 - great technique as I bet this was really tricky to shoot.
Julia M Cameron PRO 6 years ago
Thanks Emma. It was hard to set the swing at a speed I could photograph with just the right amount of blur and panning to keep the "seat" sharp enough.
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