Richard Mead Atwater Benson, 73, photographer, printer, author, inventor, and teacher, departed this earth on June 22, 2017. He was the son of the late John Howard Benson and the late Esther Fisher Smith Benson.
Richard (Chip) was born in Newport and raised on Washington Street in the Point neighborhood. He graduated from St. George’s School and attended Brown University for three months before deciding the U.S. Navy would be a better fit. While stationed on a Naval repair ship, he learned about optics and lenses, which spurred a lifetime of pursuits into every corner of the photographic arena. He was an early adopter of digital photography, and making pictures was a great joy of his life, second only to the love of his wife of 51 years, Barbara (Murray) Benson.
He worked as a printer, specializing in photographic reproductions. He began teaching photography at Yale University in 1979, and served as Dean of the Yale School of Art from 1996-2006. His photographic work can be found in collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Yale University Art Gallery.
In 1973, he co-authored Lay This Laurel (Eakins Press) with Lincoln Kirstein. In 1997, he co-authored A Maritime Album (The Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, Virginia) with John Szarkowski and in 2001, he authored A Yale Album (Yale University Press). In 2008, he authored The Printed Picture (Museum of Modern Art) which accompanied an exhibit at MoMA he co-curated that explored the history of technology related to the making of pictures. In 2011, he authored North South East West (MoMA), a collection of his own photographs.
Among his numerous honors, he received two fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Rhode Island Governor’s Medal for the Arts, and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.
In addition to his wife Barbara, he is survived by a daughter, Sarah Warren (Dave) of Palm Beach Gardens, FL; a son, Luke Benson, of Newport, RI; a daughter, Abby Benson, of Boulder, CO; and a son, Daniel Benson (Dorrance) of Newport, RI; a brother, John Benson, of Jamestown, RI; grandchildren Seneca Benson, Nicholas Warren, Sienna Benson, Alisa Benson, Ryder Benson, and Bridger Benson; and two great grandchildren. He was predeceased by his brother, Thomas Tew Benson.
A memorial service will take place in the fall. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Photograph by Harvey Wang.