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Richard Benson

Richard Benson

American, 1943 - 2017

Richard Benson, known as Chip, committed much of his career to developing innovative approaches to reproducing photographs in print, using an offset printing press to made images for books by Irving Penn, Lee Friedlander, Helen Levitt, and others. He was born in Providence, Rhode Island as Richard Mead Atwater Benson on Nov. 8, 1943. His father was a renowned stonecutter who owned the John Stevens Shop, founded in 1705, and his mother took over the shop after her husband’s death in 1956. Benson briefly attended Brown University but dropped out because he wanted to work with his hands and travel. He enlisted in the Navy, where he learned optical repair, fixing telescopes, camera, and binoculars. Later in his life he restored Ford Model A vehicles and built clocks and even a steam engine. He also taught at Yale University for more than thirty years and served as dean of its art school from 1996 to 2006. Photography was his initial print medium but he gave up the darkroom for the offset press and later inkjet printers. In 1981, Benson was invited to reproduce 200 historic photographs from the private collection of the Gilman Paper Company. He convinced the company and its curator that the best approach would be to make offset copies in ink and then arranged for the company to buy him a press. He and his assistant took four-and-a-half years to complete the project, creating a massive tome of exquisite images. Benson became a MacArthur fellow in 1986 and received two Guggenheim Fellowships. His own publications include a history of photographic printing -- The Printed Picture (2008) – and a volume of his photographs titled North South East West (2011). Benson died of heart failure on June 22, 2017, in Newport, Rhode Island. (Ware 2017)