Don’t blink–not even once. That’s the best advice for viewers of the dazzling new documentary Harry Benson: Shoot First. Every flutter of an eyelid risks blocking out a wonder of the photographic world: Michael Jackson frolicking like the Pied Piper at Neverland Ranch with a retinue of children; Bill and Hillary Clinton on the precipice of a kiss on a hammock; Bobby Fischer being nuzzled by a wild Icelandic horse. A beloved photojournalist with a Scotsman’s gentle wit, Benson has spent more than 50 years being an amiable fly on some of the world’s most exclusive walls, capturing intimate moments with the Beatles (before and after the breakup), Liz Taylor (in a lip-lock with Richard Burton, and with her head shaved and scarred from brain surgery), Muhammad Ali (both raucous and reflective) and every President since Dwight Eisenhower (including a pre-political Donald Trump).
The sheer volume of Benson’s arresting images obliges directors Matthew Miele and Justin Bare to blaze by dozens of jaw-dropping photos, but they sense when to pause for stories from behind the lens. We hear of Benson witnessing Robert Kennedy’s assassination and Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, and also of the morning he shot a misty refugee camp filled with famine-struck Somalis, crafting an image simultaneously sensual, hopeful and terrifying. Longtime readers of TIME, LIFE and People will know fully why the work of this master of candid portraits and incisive reportage has graced those magazines’ covers more than 100 times.
This appears in the December 12, 2016 issue of TIME.