From Publishers Weekly
Benson's America is a landscape created out of portraits-photographs that capture the intimate moments of celebrity giants, from Michael Jackson to Bob Hope, as well as the lives of anonymous men and women on streets, in night clubs and on battlefields. The elegant, full-page photos are not organized by chronology or subject matter; rather, they're presented as a patchwork collage of American culture. For example, a striking 1977 photograph of Donny and Marie Osmond sitting silently at a kitchen table, focused only on their sandwiches, sits opposite a photograph of two shirtless, tattooed marines grinning for the camera in 2001. The photographs span 40 years; Benson, who was raised in Scotland, fell in love with the U.S. on his first visit in 1964 while traveling with the Beatles. In his career working for Life, People and the New Yorker, he has photographed the most well-known politicians, actors and musicians, capturing them both in pensive moments and in the middle of large, adoring crowds. Some of the photos, like a snapshot of a sad Frank Sinatra standing alone in a doorway, are haunting in their intimacy, while others are fun and slightly odd, like the one of Cyndi Lauper in red fishnet stockings and flaming hair posing with her conservatively dressed grandparents in 1984. The nearly 200 photographs in this coffee-table book are diverse, weird and intriguing, providing insight into the unique personalities that define Benson's America.
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Benson took the famous photos of the Beatles, slightly before they became transatlantic stars, pillow fighting (see Once there was a way . . ., 2003). Good relations with the quartet allowed him to tag along to America, a mecca for him since his Scottish urban childhood. He soon made the U.S. his home; more recently, he took citizenship. His America-in-pictures consists primarily of informal celebrity portraits, with here and there a similar shot of ordinary people, some of them fleetingly in the news, such as the men aboard the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt en route to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and the band of Nebraska townswomen in their Sunday best, marching to protest a porn flick in 1969. Whether in color or black and white, Benson's handiworks are full of character and energy, reflecting the exuberance also evident in his brief preface and his belief in American optimism and bustle. Nothing garden-variety about them, Benson's pictures should be well worth looking at years from now, even though their appended captions are syntactically inept. Ray Olson
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