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Bobby Fischer: Icon Among Icons, photographs by Harry Benson on view at the World Chess Hall of Fame
Bobby Kissed by a Horse, Iceland, 1972. Photo: Harry Benson.

ST. LOUIS, MO.- The World Chess Hall of Fame presents Bobby Fischer: Icon Among Icons, Photographs by Harry Benson CBE. World-renowned photographer Harry Benson was the only person to have private access to Bobby Fischer during the entire 1972 World Chess Championship match in Reykjavík, Iceland. Benson captured intimate images of this time with Fischer and was the first person to deliver the news to Fischer that he had won the match.

Benson began photographing Fischer when on assignment for LIFE magazine in 1971. Sent to Buenos Aires, Argentina to cover the 1971 Candidates Tournament, Benson began to cultivate a relationship with Bobby, who was known for being notoriously camera-averse, guarded, and socially awkward. Being skeptical of journalists, Fischer would request late night meetings with Benson which generally consisted of quiet walks broken up by Fischer pulling out a pocket chess set to play under lampposts from time to time. Fischer defeated Tigran Petrosian at the Candidates Tournament, qualifying him for the World Chess Championship match. With this victory, he not only continued his rise among chess players, but also became a pop-culture sensation.

At the height of the Cold War, the media played up the impending battle between the American and the Russian Boris Spassky, the defending World Chess Champion. News outlets referred to the upcoming match as the “Match of the Century” and used headlines such as “Fischer vs. Spassky: A Major Struggle in the Cold War.” The first game took place on July 11th and the last game began on August 31st and was adjourned after 40 moves. Spassky resigned the next day without resuming play and the 29-year-old Fischer won the match 12 ½-8 ½, becoming the 11th World Chess Champion and the first American-born player to do so—ending 24 years of Soviet domination of the World Chess Championship.

Benson continued to cultivate a journalistic friendship with Fischer during the championship. The two spent many hours together during the nearly two months in Iceland, walking and talking night after night through the hills of the Icelandic countryside. Benson noted that the pressure on Fischer was enormous—it is known that Fischer received several phone calls from Henry Kissinger encouraging him to play the match when he threatened not to. Noticing Fischer’s lack of social skills and recognizing his loneliness and isolation, Benson stated, “Bobby regarded the press as enemies, yet there had to be one friendly face in the enemy camp, and I figured it might as well be me.”

As the images in this exhibition show, Benson’s photography captures a side of the elusive and controversial chess genius that is rarely seen, and offers a window into the private world of the man Benson calls “the most eccentric and most fascinating person I have ever photographed.”

Harry Benson CBE
Scottish-born photojournalist Harry Benson arrived in America on assignment to photograph the Beatles during their 1964 tour and knew immediately that he wanted to stay. He has been a witness to many of the major political and social events in modern history. His work ranges from photographs of world leaders to pop stars, all portrayed with an immediacy and naturalness that speaks of a confidence and rapport between sitter and photographer.

Harry has photographed every United States president from Eisenhower to Obama; was feet away from Bobby Kennedy the night he was assassinated; in the room with Richard Nixon when he resigned; on the Meredith March with Martin Luther King, Jr.; next to Coretta Scott King at her husband’s funeral; on clandestine maneuvers with the IRA; present when the Berlin Wall went up and when it came down; covered the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia as well as wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia, Cyprus, and the Falkland Islands; and photographed the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans.

Harry was under contract to LIFE magazine from 1970 until it closed in 2000. In addition, he has worked forThe Sunday Times, Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, Architectural Digest, and People magazine—impressively shooting over 100 covers for the magazine. Harry continues photographing today for Forbes, Town & Country, Quest, Vice and many other major magazines.

His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.; both museums hosted Harry Benson: Being There in 2006 and2007. A major retrospective of his photographs was shown at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow in 2008. He has had over 40 museum and gallery solo exhibitions and 16 books of his photographs have been published, including the recent BOBBY FISCHER (2011) and the upcoming THE BEATLES ON THE ROAD 1964-1966 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America. The latter will be published by Taschen in the spring of 2012.

Harry lives in New York with his wife Gigi, who works with him on his books and exhibitions. Their two daughters, Wendy and Tessa, live and work in Los Angeles.

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