I have just returned from Salisbury, North Carolina, where Ben Martin, my dear friend and former husband, passed away at his home February 10th from a pulmonary embolism.
Ben was one of the most genuinely happy people I’ve ever known, continuing to teach, mentor and work as a photographer despite advanced Pulmonary Fibrosis. Our family was Ben’s family and we treasured having him in our lives for some fifty years.
Photography was Ben’s life. He was Time magazine’s first staff photographer (1957-1989), and 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. He is the author of Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime and co-author of A Different World: The Great Hotels of the World. He was a founding partner in Pomegranate Press, a book publishing company.
New York’s Gallery Center/Russek Galleries in Soho represents and exhibits his iconic photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King, Che Guevera, Malcom X and Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy, among many others. The most recent exhibit of his work was at the Waterworks Visual Art Center in his hometown of Salisbury.
I will greatly miss having my own personal “Wikipedia” every time I want to pick up the phone to ask a question too arcane for Google.
Ben Martin – Photojournalist
Benjamin Rush Martin III was born in Salisbury, North Carolina September 16, 1930 to Margaret Fulk Martin, a bank administrator, and Benjamin Rush Martin Jr., a newspaper man, later an attorney and circuit court judge.
Ben became fascinated by photography at the age of eight when his father 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 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.
Ben covered wars and fashion, politics, arts, business and sports as TIME's Senior Photographer for thirty-three years, photographing world leaders and stories as diverse as the Japanese "Zero" pilot, who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, to major cover essays on African safaris, an arctic expedition to the North Pole, the 25th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy and the 40th anniversaries of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. 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 presidential portrait and book jacket photos.
Ben was also a pilot and air force veteran, who began flying single-engine aircraft in high school.