Passion for photography


Herald Writer

Bob Benson, who for more than four decades immortalized the personal, industrial and pastoral life of Snohomish County in photographs, died Saturday. He was 73.

Known for his infectious humor, skilled eye and never-ending appetite for photographs, Benson established a reputation great enough that brides and grooms would change schedules or, on more than one occasion, hire a helicopter to whisk him from a Hat Island vacation to ensure he was behind the lens at a wedding.

"He always had a camera with him," said his son Kirk Benson, 43.

Robert D. Benson was born in Williston, N.D., in 1927. He first discovered photography when he served in the Army in Italy, shortly after the end of World War II, said his wife of 48 years, Bernice Benson.

Benson began leaving his photographic mark on Snohomish County in 1958, when he opened Benson’s Camera Supply on Hewitt Avenue in Everett, she said. That business eventually grew into a camera supply store and studio, with a branch in Marysville.

Peering through his beloved Hasselblad cameras, or others, Benson showed a huge breadth of interest.

The Everett man hung from planes to capture panoramas of granite peaks.

He charmed kids to stand still for portraits with promises that they could have his "lucky" coin – one of a collection of foreign coins he carried for such occasions.

He photographed the inner workings of factories for some of the areas biggest companies.

He snapped photos of the family dog in a Santa hat for a Christmas card the dog sent each year to animals in other families.

"Everything me and Kirk have done is recorded," said his other son, Kris Benson, 36.

And Bob Benson never tired of photographing weddings, thousands of them in all, family members said. He referred proudly to "his brides," Bernice Benson said, and continued to photograph the events regularly after selling his studio in 1996.

"He’s just a very friendly guy. He had a knack to put you at ease," said Sam Bryce, a professional photographer in Lake Stevens who trained under Benson at Everett Community College (then Everett Junior College), and later photographed weddings for Benson.

Benson’s work earned him the rare rank of master from the Professional Photographers of America. Western Washington has as few as a dozen active masters, Bryce said.

When not behind the camera, Benson could often be found on his 33-foot motorboat, the Studio B. He was a member of the Everett and Hat Island yacht clubs, and his sons recalled spending vacations motoring through the San Juan Islands. In recent years, he had confined many of his trips to Hat Island, Bernice Benson said.

He died there, after accidentally falling backward off a dock, hitting his head against a boat, and falling into the water, she said. Initial efforts to pull him from the water failed, she said. When he was finally brought to the surface, he could not be revived.

His passion for boating and photography, however, did not keep him from being a devoted father, said Kirk Benson. Bob Benson’s father died when he was 2, and that helped drive his commitment to his family, he said.

Bob Benson is survived by his wife, two sons, and two grandchildren.

A public memorial for Benson will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, west of Forest Park, on Mukilteo Boulevard in Everett.

You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail to

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