The Life of Richard Benson

Born in Rhode Island on November 8, 1943, Richard Benson is an established printer, teacher, and photographer whose CV includes serving as the dean of the Yale School of Art for a decade (before which he taught since 1979). He is a Guggenheim and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, as well as a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Further support has come from the Eakins Press Foundation.

It was when he took his first job as a printer in the mid-1960s that Benson realized his interest photography. His first work was done on an eight by ten-inch view camera. Since, of course, he has moved on to high-end digital cameras as well as other kinds of technology. The relationship between an image and the object used to create is of crucial artistic importance to Benson, who since the 1960s has become a world-renowned pioneer in printing technology because of his contributions to the medium. His awareness of the importance of ink on the page has culminated in his current photographic work, which is in color and printed on an ink-jet printer. He also has photos in platinum and silver.

Richard Branson’s work is featured at galleries and museums across the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as the Yale University Art Gallery. His work is not limited to photographs, however: he has also overseen the printing of many books and publications, the authors of which include Lee Friedlander, Paul Strand, and Eugene at get.

Other achievements and publications include the plates for Photographs from the Collection of the Gilman Paper Company, which was published in 1985. In 1973, he co-authored “Lay This Laurel” with Lincoln Kirstein; in 1997, he co-authored “A Maritime Album” with John Swarovski.

 He solo-authored “A Yale Album” in 2001, and “The Printed Picture” seven years later. The latter of these is about semiotics, pictures, and the ways that they are printed. Click here to learn more about viewing Benson’s works.

Many of the pictures featured are what Benson calls representational, rather than symbolic; that is, when letters and numbers are used to communicate any concept, they are understood because of the meanings embedded in the common language of the writer and the reader. Representational images are different than these symbols because the details of their structures dominate their meaning, and this meaning can be changed by any small change in the image’s form.

As Benson writes, it thus follows that as a representational picture becomes more complex, different people may attach different meanings to it – as opposed to a stylized image of a heart, which for most people across a specific culture means, almost exclusively, romantic love and affection.

What all of this means is that knowing what a picture or image “means,” or symbolizes, can vary drastically depending on context. Benson’s thesis is, however, that the form the picture comes in is the dominant quality through which the viewer understands it. His interests, Benson goes on to claim, lie not so much in meaning as in form.

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