Main content

Neil Benson photographic collection


Held at: Philadelphia History Museum [Contact Us]15 South 7th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia History Museum. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Neil Benson was born in March 1953 in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Jay Cooke Junior High School and Olney High School. Benson studied at Temple University and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Philadelphia College of Art (now known as University of the Arts) in 1974.

In May of 1970, his first published photograph appeared on the cover of the alternative newspaper The Drummer. Benson would serve as The Drummer's photo editor from 1970 through 1975, his photographs appearing in every issue from that time. Also in 1970, Benson started doing free-lance work for United Press International (UPI), an association that lasted until 1980. Most of Benson's early work appeared in alternative publications including The Daily Planet, The South Street Star and The Village Voice. He also was a frequent contributor to the Liberation News Service, a counter-culture alternative to UPI.

From 1975 to 1990, Benson served as a staff photographer for Philadelphia Magazine, but during that time period his work also appeared in national publications such as Time Magazine, Life Magazine, People Magazine, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, and The New York Times. Locally, his photographs have appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News, and other Philadelphia-based publications. Benson also did commercial photography for annual reports and commercial projects during his career.

In 1992, Benson became a founding member of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers, a group of artists who work with found objects and recycled materials. Since then, Benson has mounted and exhibited in many shows of recycled art. In 2000, Benson's career as a photo journalist ended when he began to devote his time entirely to his work as an artist.

This collection largely consists of photographs in various formats taken by Benson during his career as a photo journalist from the 1970s through the 1990s. The collection documents Philadelphia history in the final third of the twentieth century, covering such diverse subjects as the Anti-War Movement, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and the Miss American Pageant. Benson's coverage of major historical events of the period includes the MOVE organization confrontations of 1978 and 1985, the Meridian high-rise fire of 1991, the Live-Aid Concert of 1985, and the Three Mile Island nuclear accident of 1979. Nearly 300 Philadelphians of the era are depicted, including Frank Rizzo, Ira Einhorn, Thacher Longstreth, Sylvester Stallone, Ed Bacon, and Anne d'Harnoncourt. Benson's images of everyday life in Philadelphia, from the Reading Terminal to street vendors to sports figures and fans to his own neighborhood annual "Molestice" block party provide a unique lens through which to examine this period of recent Philadelphia history.

There are approximately 30,000 photographs in negative form (35mm). In addition, there are contact sheet prints of the photographs and tear sheets from the publications in which selected photographs were published. There are also full 8 inch by 10 inch prints of some of the photographs in the collection. Some ephemera and office files are also present in the collection.

The collection is organized into seven series by format: Series I. Negatives, Series II. Contact sheets, Series III. Slides, Series IV. Prints, Series V. Publications, Series VI. Ephemera/Realia, and Series VII. Office files. The negatives, contact sheets, and slides show no apparent order, but the prints are organized by subject. The publications, which include newspapers, are organized alphabetically by title. Some of the images have been scanned into an external hard drive that is available on site. The Philadelphia History Museum may own objects associated with this collection.

More detailed inventories and indexes to this collection are available on-site.

Gift of Neil Benson, 2008 (accession 2008.3)

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Philadelphia History Museum directly for more information.

Philadelphia History Museum
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Bruce Laverty with volunteers Helen and Leonard Evelev, interns Kabria Rodgers and Alexandra Zabierak, and Neil Benson (2009-2010); it was encoded through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (2014)
This preliminary finding aid was encoded as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Access Restrictions

Contact Philadelphia History Museum for information about accessing this collection.

Collection Inventory

Print, Suggest