Photographer Ben Martin, ‘friend of the world,’ receives Historic Salisbury’s Clement Cup

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 24, 2013

SALISBURY — You can say it up front: Historic Salisbury Foundation has been taking advantage of Ben Martin.
For the past several years, Martin has been the foundation’s “chief photographer,” taking pictures of OctoberTour, Andrew Jackson Society dinners and the organization’s many preservation projects and properties.
It’s far removed from some of Martin’s previous assignments — a career in which his work appeared on the pages of Life, Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, National Geographic, Travel & Leisure and other major magazines.
This is the same Ben Martin, a Salisbury native, who on assignments took photographs of President John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro, Nikita Khrushchev, Marilyn Monroe, Duke Ellington, Mickey Mantle and Arthur Rubenstein.
He worked the Kennedy funeral in 1963, the 25th anniversary of D-Day and Normandy, the 40th anniversaries of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, the Lincoln Center and Time’s (not Sports Illustrated’s) first swimsuit issue.
Historic Salisbury Foundation honored Martin Friday night with its highest award, the 2013 Clement Cup, named for Salisbury preservationist and one of the foundation’s founders, Ed Clement.
The presentation came during the 24th Annual Andrew Jackson Society dinner, held at the foundation’s Salisbury Station.
Doug Black, vice president of the board of trustees, introduced Martin as “our friend and friend to the world.”
Black added, “We have been blessed to have Ben’s superb vision, skills and camaraderie, documenting OctoberTours and other significant events such as the making of the movie ‘Leatherheads,’ Bill Clinton on the campaign trail at the depot, the mill villages in Salisbury and many, many others.”
Martin said when he was told he would be honored with the Clement Cup, he was surprised. He’s more used to photographing people who receive awards than receiving one himself.
“I am totally at a loss for words,” he said.
Martin made sure to have several people sitting at his table. They included Barbara Harris Richmond, the Salisburian who became Miss North Carolina in 1952 with Martin as her photographer.
Martin had hoped Mary Jane Fowler, curator at the Rowan Museum, could attend, but she was unable. He said Fowler has been serving him as a “freelance office assistant” and curator of his photographic collection, which is quite large.
Others at the table included childhood friend June Ervin and David Willingham, who has become Martin’s photographic assistant and colleague in recent years, helping him negotiate some new computer software of the digital age.
Roger Lowder also was at the table. Lowder’s company, which specializes in an aluminum plating photographic process, helped Martin and Willingham with a photograph taken last fall of the foundation-owned Grimes Mill.
The shot was taken for OctoberTour before the 1896 mill was destroyed in a fire Jan. 16. At Friday’s dinner, Martin presented the foundation and Executive Director Brian Davis with a brilliant photograph of the mill, having employed Lowder’s process.
Martin said it was meant “to help our grief in losing Grimes Mill.”
Black described Martin as a journalist, photojournalist and documentary cinematographer.
Martin was Time magazine’s first staff photographer and a senior photographer for more than 33 years, going on assignments to all parts of the world.
Through the years, his corporate clients also included IBM, General Motors, American Airlines, Sheraton Hotels and Carnegie Hall.
Martin was the author, photographer and designer of the award-winning book “Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime,” and he became a close friend of the late Marceau.
Martin remains co-owner and creative director of Pomegranate Press Ltd., which specializes in books on the entertainment industry. He was the still photographer on several motion pictures, television series and specials.
Many of Martin’s photographs of famous people, mementos such as a signed drawing of Pogo from cartoonist Walter Kelly and press credentials were on display Friday night.
Martin won awards as director and cameraman for industrial documentary films, one of which focused on the London International Boat Show.
Martin graduated from Salisbury’s Boyden High. His father, an attorney and newspaperman, gave him his first camera.
Martin would be the photographer for Boyden High’s student newspaper and yearbook. The late Salisbury Post photographer John Suther mentored Martin and also taught him how to fly an airplane. Martin also became a certified Scuba deep sea diver.
The Post hired him as a part-time photographer when he was 15. By 17, he had become the youngest member of the National Press Photographers Association.
He attended N.C. State University before transferring to Ohio University, which had an excellent photography program.
Black said Martin worked his way through college as a short-order cook for a White Castle burger joint, took photographs of proms and events on campus, was a freelancer for local newspapers and a stringer for United Press International.
A class assignment, in which he spent an entire day and visited 11 different churches with a circuit-riding preacher, led to its being presented over 13 pages and 83 photographs in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.
His early work eventually caught the eye of Life magazine in New York, and he said he was offered his job with Life as he prepared to spend the Christmas holidays in Salisbury and work for the Salisbury Post over his break.
Three weeks later, he also was offered a job as a photographer for Ford Motor Co. at six times the salary, but he decided to stick with his career as a photojournalist.
Martin belongs to the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, the National Press Photographers Association, the American Society of Media Photographers, the Association of Fashion and the Overseas Press Club of America.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.