Top snapper waives fee for parliament portrait

Harry Benson
Harry Benson
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A WORLD-RENOWNED photographer who was at the centre of a row over his £8000 payment for pictures of the Scottish Parliament’s first two presiding officers has waived the fee for his latest Holyrood assignment.

Scots-born Harry Benson is best known for photographing US presidents, Hollywood stars and pop giants from The Beatles to Michael Jackson.

Six years ago, he was commissioned by parliament bosses to produce portraits of Sir David Steel and George Reid, but the cost – £4000 per portrait and a further £1000 for flying him over from America and two nights’ accommodation – provoked a storm of protest.

At the time, Mr Benson was quoted saying he was “worth every penny”. But when it came to photographing Holyrood’s third presiding officer, Alex Fergusson, Mr Benson gave his services free.

Today parliament bosses said there had been “no negotiation” over a fee for the latest portrait and Mr Benson had offered to work for nothing.

The new portrait has not yet been unveiled and will not go on display at the parliament until Mr Fergusson has ceased to be an MSP. He stepped down as presiding officer at the election last year, but resumed his role as a Conservative MSP.

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald welcomed Mr Benson’s decision to waive his fee. She said: “He sounds to be as canny as his photographs are candid.

“I was affronted when the parliament splashed out so much for the other portraits. It was excessive and the sort of display of self-aggrandisement we tried very hard to remove from the Scottish Parliament.”

The only costs associated with the latest photograph were £758 for printing and £98 for framing.

Mr Benson helped select and mentor a young photographer who took the Queen’s picture after higher education establishments across Scotland were invited to nominate two graduates for the honour.

Mr Benson’s photograph of Mr Fergusson is one of just three acquisitions for the parliament’s art collection in the past three years.

The others were the portrait of the Queen by Shaun Murawski and a set of engravings of the Scottish Parliament Riding of April 1685.