‘He loves to show off’: photographing Donald Trump

Harry Benson with his camera on Donald Trump’s private helicopter in 1987

I have been taking photographs of Donald Trump since the early 1980s. He’s very good for our business, because you always get something out of it. He’s not just a dreary person sitting in a chair; he moves around. You’ll be talking about boxing and he’ll start acting it out, as he did on top of Trump Tower, doing those idiotic shadow-boxing poses. He loves to show off, and we photographers take advantage.

In this picture, we’re on our way to his casino in Atlantic City, from his private heliport in New York. As far as I can remember, it was an assignment for Vanity Fair. It was taken by my assistant, Jonathan Delano, using my camera.

A few years later, I took my favourite photograph of him at the casino, holding $1m in cash, after I’d asked him what a million dollars looks like. It shows his greed… no serious man would do that. I push people as far as I can, and Trump has never once said, “I don’t want to do that.” In fact, you get the feeling you could go further.

I shot him and Melania at home in 2014, and she has her legs wrapped around him. It’s just so way out there – I mean, she’s the future first lady. Can you imagine Pat Nixon or Mamie Eisenhower doing that? I said, “Melania, why don’t you get on that table?” and she did. It’s not done with any slyness.

He hasn’t changed a bit in 40 years. He still wears suits that are too big for him, and a tie with a tight knot, the way the Kray twins did. And he’s still vindictive and spiteful, and angry if he’s not taken seriously.

I’ve photographed every US president since Eisenhower. Nixon was the most enjoyable to work with; he was formal and hard to reach, but when you got something, you really got something. Reagan was terrific fun. I shot him out on his ranch, and he always fetched drinks for us himself.

I’m a Democrat, but you get better pictures with Republicans – they have more manners. I did OK with Bill Clinton, but he had a tough crew around him; and I found Obama cold and uptight. I don’t find it hard working with people I disagree with politically; I’m not there to editorialise or flatter or debunk. It’s just a job; I’m not backing anybody.

The last time I photographed Trump was last July, with three of his children and Ivanka’s baby son. Trump was holding the baby, and was as docile as a big sheep. It’s a lovely picture.

I’m 87 now, and proud of the fact that I’m still working – I’ll always have my camera bag packed.

I’ve not been asked to photograph him at the White House. I don’t care if I never photograph him again, but if I’m invited, I’ll go. I’d shoot him stretched out on a couch under a painting of George Washington. I’d get him to take his shoes off, or even his trousers. It could happen. These are strange times, and I’m not looking forward to them.

I love this photograph, as it shows me working and it’s a bit of my own history. Photographs don’t lie: there you are.

• The documentary Harry Benson: Shoot First is out now and available to stream on Amazon Video and iTunes.

Are you in a notable photograph? Email thatsme@theguardian.com

Hannah Booth

The GuardianTramp

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