Monday, 10_24_22. Cloudy and coolish yesterday in New York with temps hovering around the low 60s. The leaves are just beginning to leave the trees and cover the sidewalks along the park paths, but no Autumn foliage beginning to show, unlike upstate.
Last Wednesday night Paige Peterson hosted a cocktail party honoring Harry Benson and his new book, Harry Benson. Paul — a collection of his photographs of Paul McCartney, the latest volume of his remarkable career. Paige, who likes her camera, can’t help taking photos of everybody she comes in contact with (an exaggeration, but credible nevertheless). I was having dinner with Harry and Gigi Benson last Friday night at Sette Mezzo while Paige was dining at a nearby table. She left the restaurant just as we did and before you knew it, like the paparazzi that she could be, she was outside getting a photo of us — particularly Harry.
Harry, unlike a lot of us, is not fascinated with having his picture taken. In fact, he’ll go along with it because he’s naturally polite under the circumstances — Paige had just given a big cocktail party for him and his new book two days before — but I can tell that he finds being the subject of the camera almost annoying. So he does something to make it seem like he’s “participating” in the process.
Meanwhile, the cocktail party. This one was all out because it had a purpose. There were 70 on the guest list, almost entirely Gigi and Harry’s. This is a good ingredient for a cocktail party as guests will either: 1. See people they don’t get to see much because everyone’s busy or out of town; and 2. You may meet someone interesting, or at least see them from across the room.
Suddenly you’re reminded you are living in New York where everyone and everything happens. It’s a trip, and always enjoyable for the guests. At least in retrospect.
It was called for 5:30 which was a little early for me because I still had work to finish up. I knew it didn’t matter because I’d been told it was a big list. So I arrived at 7:30 when many guests had come and gone, or were about to leave for dinner.
I don’t mind cocktail parties where I don’t know many or any. Watching/observing is often better than a conversation. Because you see us as we make our way through crowds. These events are easily inhibiting, no matter who we think we are in the world (or the neighborhood), we’re vulnerable. All of us. Some of us, like Harry – who is older and wiser – will act out being interested when in fact he’d rather be home snoozing with his dogs on the sofa, and enjoying the relief.
Conversation is usually very superficial, although in this party there were many old acquaintances and associations via Harry and his work, so it was a little more relaxed and animated. When I arrived, just inside the door (as people were beginning to leave), I consciously stood in one place so I could see and say hello to those I know. Although more than one person who greeted me with such familiarity that I knew I must have known that person but “hadn’t a clue” at the moment.
I don’t want to be rude, but I also don’t want to reveal the fact that I can’t remember the person’s name. Obviously it wasn’t a close friend but in my line of work in New York where you meet many, and often on a daily basis; and sometimes have initial conversations that are personal, with or to that particular new person. New Yorkers are used to meeting new people and revealing/unloading if that other person seems naturally agreeable.
Back to the party. By 8 o’clock, most of the guests had departed except for the few (there were ten of us, total) along with Harry and Gigi whom Paige had invited to dinner. Some of us had settled down in her sitting room with the wide black and white striped wall. Paige is also an artist and the apartment has many of her paintings as well as photographs like her near and dear son. The room is very contemporary and yet with a feeling of history surrounding us.
Harry had already adjourned there, which is how the rest of us followed. We were also joined by Edwina Sandys, a long time New Yorker who grew up in England and where her grandfather was Prime Minister by the time she was a young girl. His name was Winston Churchill.
And it happened back then when Edwina was a young girl, she met Harry, the photographer from Lord Beaverbrook’s papers The Standard or The Express who was there to photograph her grandfather. We sat and listened while this young man from Glasgow and the Prime Minister’s granddaughter recalled that moment way back in their time. And of course the recollection was raucous and funny in the recall.
So the evening turned out to be a kind of celebration for Harry and his brilliant career where he’s photographed the widest variety of individuals of the past almost three-quarters of a century, including all of the Presidents back to Truman, as well the Queen whom he photographed several times; as well as the famous of the famous from statesmen and scientists to movie stars, politicians, statesmen, to everyday people and tragic endings.
Harry Benson’s camera was an interest that began when he was a boy. It was to be a natural dedication. Taking those pictures was everything for him. Everything. And so it remained — about life, as seen through the eyes of the man and his camera.
It is also especially noted that in all that development was his wife Gigi, whom he met in Texas, her home state. Besides being wife and mother to his two beautiful daughters, Gigi has served as the super manager of her husband’s career. It grew to be a total partnership/fifty-fifty. Applause, applause!