Ben Ross, American (1916 - 2004)
Ben Ross was not afraid of heights. In fact, the people who knew him best would say he was not afraid of anything. But there was something about heights that brought out the best in Ross.
There was the height of glamor — his photos of Audrey Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, Harpo Marx and other Hollywood legends are memorable, and his early 1950s sessions with Marilyn Monroe are famous. And there was the height of flight, which earned him the reputation as one of the great aviation photographers.
Not many photographers have in their portfolios images of both World War II and John Lennon. But over the course of his 60-year career, Ross — an ASMP member since 1947 and recipient in 2000 of ASMP’s Lifetime Achievement Award — defied pigeon-holing.
Born in 1916 in New York City, Ross began his career as a messenger, darkroom assistant, and eventually photographer at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. During World War II, he became a member of the Eighth Air Force Combat Camera Unit, flying combat missions as a photographer/gunner over Europe. He was later one of only three photographers chosen to join the newly-formed Strategic Air Force in Europe.
After the war, Ross teamed up with his brother, freelance writer Sid Rosenblatt (Rosenblatt is the family name; Ross was assumed for business because “you couldn’t really get along with a Jewish name if you wanted to advance in photography,” he once said), and the two specialized in aerial and air-to-air photography and articles for aircraft manufacturers, air industry publications and general magazines. One of his best-remembered aerial photos was his 1948 air-to-air shot over San Diego of the Convair Flying Auto, a car with wings that was never mass-produced. Many of the air-to-air photography techniques used by today’s aerial photographers were pioneered by Ross.
From 1948, Ben and Sid made frequent trips to Hollywood, working together on hundreds of stories for Parade magazine. Among his images of that time that have endured are those of Monroe, made over three different sessions in 1951, ‘52 and ‘53. Wisely, Ross retained copyright ownership of all his negatives, and today much of his work is collectible art — he is represented in the permanent collection of The National Portrait Gallery, The Brooklyn Museum, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and many others — and his prints sell for an average of $1000.
Ross’ work also appeared in Look, People and Stern, as well as in many books. In 2002 he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Photographic Administrators Incorporated (PAI); among other recipients of that award over the years were Berenice Abbott, Cornell Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Ernst Haas, Philippe Halsman, Yousuf Karsh, Jay Maisel and Arnold Newman.
Ross died on April 24, 2004. He was 88.