‘He had such passion’

Danette Dooley
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Photographer Ben Hansen dead at 83

Ben Hansen, a popular photographer who focused on Newfoundland cultural photography, died Friday at the age of 83.

A veteran photographer credited with playing a central role in promoting this province to the rest of the world died Friday.

Ben Hansen was 83 years old.

A native of Copenhagen, Denmark, Hansen served with the English Army in the Second World War.

Trained as a fine cabinet maker, he immigrated to Canada in 1953 and moved to Newfoundland in 1968 to work as manager of photographic services (now called image services) for Memorial University.

He retired from Memorial two decades later.

Patricia Adams, a photographic technician with image services said she will remember her former boss as a strong mentor who helped her find her way in a male-dominated industry.

He was a pleasure to work with, she said, and he was a man who loved to tell stories about his children and grandchildren.

“He had such passion for touring this island and documenting scenic beauty,” Adams said.

In 2009 Hansen received an honorary doctorate from Memorial.

Orator Ivan Emke described him as a pioneer of Newfoundland cultural photography.

Hansen opened eyes to the beauty of not only the grand and spectacular, but also the seemingly commonplace and mundane, Emke said.

“Many of the images he captured were seemingly insignificant. But like a good wine, Ben Hansen’s photos grow in value over time, as they preserve a cultural landscape which has been altered,” Emke said.

Hansen’s photos have won Professional Photographers of Canada awards and have been featured on UNICEF greeting cards.

Though best known for his scenic shots of rural Newfoundland, he photographed everything from local weddings to Royal family members including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

Hansen and his wife Joyce had eight children. Their son Jeff died last year.

Their daughter Sarah said her father lived an amazing life.

“He worked very, very hard. We never wanted for anything. He was loving and he was fun and he was unable to say no to any of us. And he dearly loved this province,” she said.

French painter Jean-Claude Roy produced a book of photos and paintings with Hansen called “Two Visions of Newfoundland and Labrador” — one of more than a dozen books Hansen published.

Hansen was a quiet man who liked to work alone, Roy said when contacted in France via email Monday afternoon.

“As we spent time together, he told me about his early life in Denmark, his life during the war, coming to Canada and working on the railway and how he became a photographer.”

Hansen’s early life was not always easy, Roy said, but he told his story with the calm, good humour that was characteristic of him.

He “astonished” Roy with his hard work and commitment.

“In his seventies, he would sleep in his car in order to be where he needed to be to get the photograph he wanted as the sun rose.”

Roy recalled how Hansen once drove back from Corner Brook rather than spend the night away from home.

“He fell asleep at the wheel and rolled his car in the ditch. The car was a write-off, but Ben found his way back in St John’s that same day, bought a new car, and was ready to go back on the road the day after.”

Hansen spoke with pride about his children, Roy said, and knew how fortunate he was to have such a supportive wife.

The couple was married for more than half a century.

“Ben had a sweet tooth and often said, ‘Come back to the house. I’m sure Joyce has made some cookies.’  I will miss Ben very much.”

Hansen is waking at Barrett’s Funeral Home on Hamilton Avenue. Visitation continues today from 2-4 p.m. and from 7-9 p.m. Funeral service takes place Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Mount Pearl.

telegram@thetelegram.com

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: English Army, UNICEF, First Baptist Church

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Denmark Copenhagen France Corner Brook Hamilton Avenue

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  • Austin Elliott
    December 14, 2010 - 11:52

    I worked with Ben at MUN. I was in PR and worked almost daily with this fine gentleman. He was a true professional.