Ben Martin, TIME's first staff photographer, who covered wars, fashion, politics, arts, business and sports as the magazine’s Senior Photographer for thirty-three years, died on Friday, February 10 in Salisbury, North Carolina. He was 86. The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism.
Mr. Martin photographed major cover essays on the 25th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy and 40th anniversaries of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, the Japanese "Zero" pilot, who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Mozambique civil war from both the rebel and Portuguese sides, East African Safaris and an arctic expedition to the North Pole. His three-day non-stop coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s funeral led to a LIFE magazine cover, and his coverage of the first traveling pontiff, Pope Paul’s trip to the Holy Land was a cover feature in TIME.
He walked backwards in front of Martin Luther King for most of the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March, causing Chief U.S. Marshall, John Doar, to comment that “Martin was the best shield Dr. King could have, because he was always in front of [the black leader] photographing his every move.”One of his most memorable assignments during this era was as lead photographer on TIME’s now famous “Swinging London” cover story that Hugh Hefner, founder and editor of PLAYBOY, called “pivotal” in defining the sensual, sexy “swinging sixties.”
Despite having taken the "infamous" sweaty upper lip and five-o'clock shadow photograph of Richard Nixon during the Kennedy-Nixon TV debates in 1960 (a photograph Nixon claimed cost him the election and led to Martin being ostracized by him), many year later, the then- former-President Nixon asked that, “we let bygones be bygones" and commissioned him to photograph his official post-presidential portrait.
Born Benjamin Rush Martin III in Salisbury, North Carolina September 16, 1930, Mr. Martin became fascinated by photography at the age of eight when his father, a newspaperman, gave him a bakelite “Univex 00” miniature box camera. At age fifteen he founded the first High School News Bureau in the nation, and became a staff photographer at the local newspaper, The Salisbury Post. At age seventeen he became the youngest member of the National Press Photographers Association.
He attended Ohio University, where he majored in journalism and photography, working his way through college cooking nights as a short-order “White Castle” hamburger chef, and as a stringer-photographer for UPI Newspictures. His photo essay on a traveling preacher published in the Columbus DISPATCH Sunday Magazine brought him to the attention of Wilson Hicks, executive picture editor of LIFE. Offered a position as a “photographic trainee/assistant photographer” on the LIFE staff after his graduation, he came to New York only to discover the magazine had eliminated the new position a week before his arrival. Not wanting to return to his hometown jobless, he accepted a position as a copyboy on TIME, coming to work every day with his Leica on his shoulder. Since TIME had no photographic staff at that time, Ben was called on to shoot last-minute assignments. After several months juggling his copyboy job with the ever increasing photographic assignments, Henry Luce hired him as TIME’s first staff photographer.
Mr. Martin is the author of Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime and co-author of A Different World: The Great Hotels of the World. He photographed for all divisions of Time, including Life, Fortune, People, Sports Illustrated, Money, Entertainment Weekly, Architectural Forum, House and Home, Time-Life Books and HBO.
Mr. Martin was married to the actress Kathryn Leigh Scott (1971-1990), with whom he co-founded Pomegranate Press, a book publishing company. There are no immediate survivors.