Hilary Gear Ross and Harry Benson had no shortage of wellwishers at Monday’s party for their new book “Palm Beach People.”
Guests like Tomas Maier, Hunt Slonem, Wilbur Ross, Bryant Gumbel, Deborah Norville and Tatiana Smith (some of whom are featured in the tome) waited patiently to have a word with the guests of honor at Mallett Antiques. After more than two hours of signing books, Benson said, “I’ve been here since quarter of six and I can’t spell any more — now they know why photographers are illiterate.”
Jokes aside, the photographer in his own work moves considerably faster. “I’m very quick — five or 10 minutes, and that’s it. I photograph what you see, what people really look like. Not to sound pretentious, but it’s kind of like Proust. It’s an anthropology kind of thing — what do these people look like on that day?”
Gesturing toward nearby framed photos, including one of Ethel Kennedy with her hand extended trying to block the camera moments after her husband’s assassination in 1968, Benson said, “Look at my pictures on the wall — they’re not soft pictures. They’re hard pictures. I was a hard news photographer. I was next to Bobby when he was shot. I covered the Civil Rights movement. I was not a fancy photographer.”
Marie Jose Kravis, C.Z. Guest and her daughter Cornelia, Judy and Alfred Taubman; Georgina Bloomberg; Leonard Lauder; Tommy Lee Jones; David Koch; Arriana and Dixon Boardman, and Brooke Shields are featured in Benson’s new book. As for his Palm Beach subjects, Benson said, “You want to take a look at them, examine them and not debunk them. No, I did not want to do that — that would be easy. If you photograph what you see, what you see should inform. You know pictures don’t lie.”
Convincing Kelly Klein to jump into a swimming pool in the pouring rain on a wickedly windy February was one of the more spontaneous moments, Ross said. “He’s so charming. He just sort of chit chats and talks people into doing things,” said Ross, adding that their next project will focus on the Hamptons.
While working on the book, Benson kept another thought tucked away, “If a huge tidal wave came up and smothered the whole of Palm Beach — gone — this would be all that we had for today. I had that in mind keeping me going.”