Michael Benson : Passion Photo.
Michael Benson began his career in higher education. He joined the London Institute (now University of the Arts, London) in 1993. There he led a successful national campaign to secure a major new site for Chelsea College of Arts. He also directed the Insitute Gallery, organizing over 50 exhibitions. “Signatures of the invisible”, his collaboration with CERN (Geneva), led to a world tour of exhibitions that ended at PS1Moma in 2003. Two months later, he left his job to create Candlestar with Fariba Farshad. A duo for whom nothing seems to stand in the way.
Experts in the conception, design and production of ambitious cultural projects, the agency specializes in photography.
Over the past twenty years, Candlestar has become synonymous with the development of world-class cultural events, including Frieze, Art Dubai and the Condé Nast College of Fashion.
Since its creation fifteen years ago, Candlestar has produced over 120 Prix Pictet exhibitions in museums around the world.
Michael Benson is also the founding director of the Prix Pictet (created in 2008), the most important award for photography and sustainable development.
In 2015, the agency created “Photo London”, an internationally renowned annual event that took up residence in London’s iconic Somerset House. The growing number of exhibitors, the continuing development of the London audience and the array of satellite events held across the city during the event have all contributed to making Photo London a very special event.
Michael Benson has also written and edited over twenty books, including fourteen for the Prix Pictet.
His “1000 words 1000 years” (Camberwell Press) won the prestigious D&D Yellow Pencil in 2000.
More recently, Michael has written two books to support the annual exhibition program of the Marta Ortega Perez Foundation (MOP), based in La Coruña. Raw Beauty, his book on Peter Lindbergh, was published in 2021 and the one on Steven Meisel in 2022, with whom he also conducted interviews published in Vogue and Modern Weekly (Shanghai).
This year, Candlestar is teaming up with Creo/Montgomery Arts to launch a new photography event to be held at New York’s Javits Centre in September, PHOTOFAIRS New York.
Website : www.candlestar.co.uk
Your first photographic trigger ?
Michael Benson : There were two. First PH Emerson’ Reed Cutters (lived for a while in a mid-Norfolk that hasn’t changed much since Emerson’ time) and then later Don McCullin’s 1970 image of a homeless Irishman .
The man or woman of image who inspires you ?
Michael Benson : Photographers -too many to name just one – Lindbergh, Meisel, McCullin, Salgado, Diane Arbus, Graciela Iturbide, Newsha Tavakolian, Shirin Neshat… Outside that Marta Ortega Pérez and Maja Hoffmann are simply remarkable…
The image you would have liked to make ?
Michael Benson : Lightning Fields by Hiroshi Sugimoto.
The one that moved you the most ?
Michael Benson : Peter Lindbergh’s handwritten lament for his friend Pina Bausch on his 1997 image Atelier Baude.
And the one that made you angry ?
Michael Benson : The image of our fuckwit former Prime Minister in front of his £350 million Brexit battle bus -endlessly infuriating.
A key image in your personal pantheon ?
Michael Benson : Pick any image from Benoit Acquin’s ‘Chinese Dustbowl’ series which won the very first Prix Pictet in 2008. We didn’t know it at the time but 120 exhibitions and ten editions later it was clearly the start of something big…
A photographic memory from your childhood ?
Michael Benson : 1966. Nobby Stiles dancing with the World Cup in one hand and his dentures in the other.
With no budget limit, what would be the work you would dream of acquiring ?
Michael Benson : Either Sappho by Julia Margaret Cameron, Beckett by Avedon or a Lebensmittel grid by Michael Schmidt along with the cash to build somewhere big enough to house it.
According to you, what is the necessary quality to be a good photographer ?
Michael Benson : Obsession with what you are doing almost to exclusion of everything else. After that its down to timing and light.
The secret of the perfect image, if it exists ?
Michael Benson : No secrets. Just hard work and a bit of magic.
The person you would like to photograph ?
Michael Benson : Steven Meisel or Didier Drogba.
An indispensable photo book ?
Michael Benson : A subject of endless debate here at Candlestar towers Not a book per se but Larry Schaaf’s stunning Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné project is as close to indispensable as it gets…
The camera of your childhood ?
Michael Benson : An Instamatic that I traded for a Curved Air picture disk.
The one you use today ?
Michael Benson : An antique Nikon. My iphone and a telescope with which I take pictures of the stars.
Your favorite drug ?
Michael Benson : Alcohol. Anything made at Chateau La Calisse just outside Barjols in la Provence Verte, to be precise.
The best way to disconnect for you ?
Michael Benson : Friday night. My chilling on my terrace in Cotignac at sunset in one of our Martin Parr deckchairs. Good company. Music. Great wine…
What is your relationship with the image ?
Michael Benson : Tricky. Troublesome. Too often awestruck.
Your greatest quality ?
Michael Benson : Self-irony.
Your latest folly?
Michael Benson : 2022/23 Chelsea season ticket … Things can only get better.
An image to illustrate a new banknote?
Michael Benson : Buck Moon.
The job you would not have liked to do ?
Michael Benson : I spent one winter in a freezing cellar splitting pigs and preparing Turkeys for Christmas. Never ever again…
Your greatest professional extravagance?
Michael Benson : Two Italian handmade desks that we bought on the day we set up Candlestar. They were almost too big to fit into our shoe box of an office. It took us years to pay for them.
The city, the country or the culture you dream of discovering ?
Michael Benson : I am woefully ill travelled in Latin America and Africa. I dream of Tierra del Fuego and Accra…
The place you never get tired of ?
Michael Benson : Two. London and Cotignac.
Your biggest regret ?
Michael Benson : Two again. Not starting Candlestar ten years earlier than we did. John Terry’s European Cup Final penalty miss against Manchester United…
In terms of social networks, are you more into Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok or Snapchat and why ?
Michael Benson : None of them. For business they are an absolutely necessary evil but personally I’d rather chew of my own arm than sign up for any of them.
Color or B&W ?
Michael Benson : Both.
Daylight or artificial light ?
Michael Benson : Daylight.
Which city do you think is the most photogenic ?
Michael Benson : Mexico City.
If God existed, would you ask him to pose for you, or would you opt for a selfie with him ?
Michael Benson : It’s a big ‘if’ but if he wants to pop round, we could see what materialises.
If I could organize your ideal dinner party, who would be at the table ?
Michael Benson : Samuel Beckett, Sally Mann, Didier Drogba, Fox Talbot, Rimbaud, Peter Lindbergh, Joni Mitchell, Azzedine Alaïa and my wife, Fariba, who enjoys this kind of thing…
The image that represents for you the current state of the world ?
Michael Benson : I see an awful lot of these for the Prix Pictet but right now Ragnar Axelson’s 2016 Series ‘Where the World is Melting’ is a pretty good statement of the mess we are in…
What is missing in today’s world ?
Michael Benson : A sense of humour.
If you had to start all over again ?
Michael Benson : I’d start from here.
A last word ?
Michael Benson : That night in the desert the stars were close as candles….