Ben Martin, Time Photographer Who Captured the 1960s, Dies at 86

by admin March 3, 2017 at 1:23 am

In 1965, Mr. Martin walked backward facing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to capture images of the protest march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery.

Ben Martin/The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

Ben Martin, who as a Time magazine senior photographer immortalized Richard M. Nixon’s haggard 5 o’clock shadow, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march to Montgomery, Ala., and John F. Kennedy’s grieving widow and children — evocative images that defined the 1960s — died on Feb. 10 at his home in Salisbury, N.C. He was 86.

The cause was complications of pulmonary fibrosis, his former wife and publishing partner, the author and actress Kathryn Leigh Scott, said.

Mr. Martin’s fascination with photography began when he was 8 and his father gave him a UniveX miniature box camera. By 15, he was working for The Salisbury Post, in the city where he grew up. And by 17, he had become the youngest member of the National Press Photographers Association.

Time hired him in 1957, when he was barely 27, making him one of its first full-time staff photographers.


Ben Martin in an undated photograph. In 1957, Mr. Martin became one of Time’s first full-time staff photographers.

via Salisbury Post

He worked for Time, Life magazine and most of their parent company’s other publications. He photographed Kennedy’s funeral in 1963, an expedition to the North Pole and commemorations of the 25th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy and the 40th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He took the pictures for the 1966 Time cover article “London: The Swinging City.”

Nixon claimed that Mr. Martin’s photograph of him looking ashen in a 1960 presidential campaign debate with Kennedy cost him the election, said Cheryl Crooks, a former Time colleague.

“Ben was only one of two press photographers permitted on the set during that debate,” she wrote on her blog, Photo Prose, in November 2013 on the 50th anniversary of the assassination. “His photo showed Nixon with sweat beaded up on his forehead, his tired eyes and slightly disheveled look. Nixon, Ben remembers, ‘arrived late to the studio, refused makeup, refused to put on a clean shirt and all that. Of course, Jack had been there since 4 p.m. and the debate didn’t start until 7.’ ”

“Nixon hated that image,” Ms. Crooks wrote, “and for years after deliberately turned away from Ben whenever he spotted the Time cameraman trying to photograph him.” (They reconciled after Mr. Martin took a portrait in 1985 that became one of the former president’s favorites.)


Jackie Kennedy, with her children Caroline and John Jr., at the funeral of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.

Ben Martin/Time

In 1965, Mr. Martin nimbly walked backward facing King for much of the protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Ms. Scott quoted John Doar, the assistant United States attorney general who was monitoring the march, as saying that Mr. Martin was “the best shield Dr. King could have.”

Mr. Martin retired from Time-Life in 1989 and later worked for corporate clients. He founded Pomegranate Press with Ms. Scott. He also wrote and illustrated the 1978 book “Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime.”

Benjamin Rush Martin III was born on Sept. 16, 1930, in Salisbury. His father worked for a newspaper and was later a lawyer and a judge. His mother, the former Margaret Elizabeth Fulk, was a bank clerk.

No immediate family members survive.

Mr. Martin graduated with a journalism degree from Ohio University in Athens. His photo essay in The Columbus Dispatch about a traveling preacher caught the eye of a Life magazine picture editor, who offered him a job, but the position was eliminated a week before he arrived in New York.

Instead, he accepted a position as a copy boy at Time. Never forsaking his Leica, he also took freelance picture assignments for the magazine, which had taken on its first salaried photographer, Walter E. Bennett, only in 1952.

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