“I can honestly say that I’m the best printer in the world,” he told Calvin Tomkins of The New Yorker in 1990. “It’s my gift.” Mr. Tomkins noted that Mr. Benson had made his boast sound self-deprecating.
In 1981, Mr. Benson was asked to reproduce 200 historic photographs from the immense private collection of the Gilman Paper Company — including works by Mathew Brady, Henry Fox Talbot, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus and Alfred Stieglitz — that had been displayed at the company’s Manhattan headquarters.
He persuaded the company and its curator that the best solution was to make offset copies in ink — and for the company to buy him an offset press that would give him great control over color and tone.
He and Thomas Palmer, his assistant then, needed four and a half years to complete the project: a hulking limited-edition book that used a secondhand German Miehle single-pass offset press in Mr. Benson’s basement.
“It began with the idea of reproductions for Gilman to put on the walls, and then they said, ‘Why not make a book?’” Mr. Palmer, who became a photographic printer, said in an interview on Monday. “It took so long because Chip didn’t know what he was doing when we started — and he would be perfectly happy to read that.”
Mr. Benson joked that hardly anyone bought the Gilman book, and that he contemplated screwing legs into his three copies and using them as a coffee table.
Sarah Meister, a curator in the Museum of Modern Art’s photography department, called Mr. Benson’s reproductions of the Gilman photographs an “incredible achievement.” In a telephone interview on Tuesday, she said: “Richard was as gifted a technician and inventor as he was an artist. He really breathed life…