Monday, September 24, 2018

Around the nabe

The Unisphere in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in  Queens, commissioned as part of the 1964 New York World's Fair. 12:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, September 24, 2018.  A cool-ish weekend in New York, mostly cloudy with some warm sunshine interspersed. By Sunday night and the time I write this at close to midnight, there is rain in the forecast and from the looks of the weather map, we’ll get some of it. I’m not complaining; it seems like Autumn is beginning to creep in; it’s getting darker early.

I went to an early dinner with friends at Sette Mezzo which was very crowded, many with families. Sette is a neighborhood Italian restaurant in the Upper East Side that also draws a wide variety of patrons from the Upper East Side as well as the local neighborhood, but most notably an occasional star or two. It’s not fancy or formal and the staff gives it a very relaxed (but very efficient) personality.

I was there one night when Paul McCartney was there with his wife. At another table Billy Joel was dining with friends and yet at another table Rod Stewart was hosting. I even saw Leo Dicaprio there with friends one night. But that’s New York for you. I’m fairly used to seeing celebrities – as one does in New York – and I’m not in awe but when you see them dining at a table next to you, it adds a lustre you don’t get in your kitchen or your dining room. And you also see how ordinary – just like the rest of us – they are while dining authentic Italian nabe.
A few months back I saw Mel Brooks and Steve Martin exchanging digits at Sette Mezzo.
Last night Harry Benson – who’s photographed the world – all the Presidents back to Eisenhower, even the Queen of England, and of course including all of the aforementioned, was there last night with his wife Gigi and two friends from San Antonio whom Gigi grew up with. That tells you something about the lady, no? 

Harry has been documenting American life since I was a very young man, (he was no oldster at the time either), even though he’s a born and bred Glaswegian who started working for Fleet Street tabloids. He came to New York for the first time on assignment with the Beatles who made their stupendous debut for an American audience (on “The Ed Sullivan Show”).
Harry's photograph of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show (1964).
If you get a book of his work – and there are several – you’ll be amazed at how many of the photos are familiar to you. Because he taps a nerve, an American nerve, with his eye.  I’ve watched him work. There’s nothing to watch. He just sits there or stands there and seems indifferent to the event or the location or the subjects. He’s only there to take the picture.

Harry Benson, Ethel Kennedy, Los Angeles, 1968.
He pays most attention to his camera. You could even imagine that he’s only there to take care of the camera. And when he takes a shot it doesn’t look any different from anybody pressing the button on their camera. He just happens to bring the camera up to his eye and then he snaps  it.

But then you see the picture, and you’re amazed at its distinction, and fascinated. And how he caught it all in the image. It’s an indifferent (although not cold) eye to one observing him working, but the result is powerful and unforgettable: (for example) Ethel Kennedy holding up her hand to block the lens from seeing her bloodied husband on the floor in the dining room of the Ambassador hotel in Los Angeles, with the senator’s bleeding head in the background. Life, both raw and silky; sweet and harsh. The man behind the lens is still the boy from Glasgow who learned early that if you wanted to earn a living you had to work, and work hard.

Also in the room were Jill and Harry Kargman and their three. I hesitate calling them children because one of their daughters is in boarding school and another one is close at a school here in the city. But it looked like a family, through and through. They were at table together and conversing (sans cell phones, etc.). I’d never seen Jill with her family before, and certainly not in a relaxed atmosphere. On stage she’s one of the funniest, most talented writer-comediennes in New York. At table last night at Sette Mezzo I was watching Mother. She’s devoted and you can see it. I think these kids prove to her how lucky she is. I got the feeling her husband Harry feels the same. I’m gushing but it’s sweet to see, and precious anytime, but definitely right now.
Safe to say Jill's children share their mother's sense of humor.
The conversations around me were related to the Judge Kavanaugh business in Washington. It sounds like a lose-lose situation for everyone including the nominee. I know very little about him, and not enough about the legal matters that define him. I would not be surprised to learn that almost everybody I know including the media people who have a lot to say about him, know very little about him. Because that is the nature of these things these days. Knowledge is subservient to Opinion. And everyone has one. At least everyone who has a cell phone.

It is impossible to conclude in advance how any man or  woman would think about matters under the terms of the Supreme Court. We think of the Supreme Court – ideally at least – as ABOVE it all; but maintaining fairness and justice. These simple words are no small matters in the Scheme of Things. And, at the end of the day, all of these members of this exalted court, are just ordinary men and women, like you and me. Whether they believe it (or you believe it) or not. They may behave otherwise amongst others because the power of position does that to people. But when they go home and shut the door and their back is aching or their stomach is bothering them or their hair is falling out or their maid or their wife or their Uncle Oscar is acting up: they’re just like the rest of us. Potentially off the wall.

Meanwhile, to get back to Harry. He doesn’t work very much these days. I guess you could call him “retired” although there is nothing retiring about him. Gigi keeps him busy creating new books of his vast works, as well as promoting them.

"Harry Benson Kings and Queens” opening on October 5th. Pictured: Harry's photograph of Bobby Fischer in Buenos Aires, 1971. Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame.
They’re going to Monaco soon where the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Italy is celebrating its 50th anniversary at a gala where they are honoring Harry as well as Prince Albert of Monaco and Alessandro Benetton. Harry photographed RFK and his family in the 1960s on holiday, as well as the senator’s Presidential campaign, and has continued to document the Kennedy children and grandchildren over the years.

He still goes out with his camera if he can be coaxed for the right reasons such as a personal interest or occasions that might amuse or interest him. For example he was in St. Louis last month at the World Chess Hall of Fame. Why the World Chess Hall of Fame?

On October 5th, there will be an exhibition opening of Harry’s photographs. The show will be called “Kings and Queens” – the scope of which will include vintage photographs of Chess champion Bobby Fischer, as well as photographs of kings and queens including Queen Elizabeth II, and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson

When he was out there, there was a chess tournament called the Sinquefield Cup which is named for a man named Rex Sinquefield who founded the World Chess Hall of Fame. The match leads up to the World Championship Chess Match in November. Harry photographed this match as the two contenders for World Champion – Fabiano Caruana from the United States and Magnus Carlsen from Norway – were in competition.
Harry photographing the American champion Fabiano Caruana at the World Chess Hall of Fame in St Louis. Photograph by Jonathan Delano.

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