Arthur David Bensusan

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

Medical doctor, lecturer at Wits University, inventor of the first instantaneous X-ray, photographer, photographic historian, founder member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of South Africa, (now the SA College of Medicine), secretary of the S

First name: 
Arthur
Last name: 
Bensusan
Date of birth: 
1921
Location of birth: 
Johannesburg
Date of death: 
2007
Location of death: 
New Zealand

Dr Arthur David (Kin) Bensusan was born in Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng) in 1921. The son of a physician, he schooled at St John's College, Johannesburg and then commenced medical studies at Witwatersrand University (Wits). He joined the South African Air Force at the outbreak of World War II and served in North Africa and Italy as an aerial photographer, having developed a great interest in photography at an early age.

He completed his medical degree at Wits after the war, graduating in 1950, and entered general practice in Johannesburg. He was a founder member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of South Africa, (now the SA College of Medicine), and secretary of the South African Association of Private Hospitals for many years.

Dr Bensusan was a world-renowned authority on the history of photography and the founder of the Bensusan Museum and Library of Photography at Museum Africa in Newtown, Johannesburg, Gauteng.

In 1954, he founded the Photographic Society of Southern Africa. He received a number of awards and became a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and Photographic Society of America. He was invited to join the London Salon, an elite group of photographers that included the great Canadian photographer, Yousuf Karsh.

He was involved in establishing a photographic unit at Witwatersrand Medical School and was able to combine his love of medicine and photography as part-time director of this unit. He then headed the photographic division of the Wits medical school and lectured on the use of photography in medicine. In the 1960s, he invented the first instantaneous X-ray, which allowed for the immediate diagnosis of people involved in accidents.

He collected old cameras, books and photographic equipment. In 1969, he donated these to the City of Johannesburg, which founded the Bensusan Museum and Library of Photography in his honour. He published a number of books on photography, most notably Silver Images: History of Photography in Africa.

Dr Bensusan produced two documentary films; one named 'New Legs' was about an amputee, and cleverly used the amputee's twin brother for filming the pre-accident scenes. He was awarded a Cannes Film Festival medal for his film 'Thatch Reflections'-the first South African to receive a Cannes documentary award.

Dr Bensusan was actively involved in politics. He became a city councillor in 1961 and was a Johannesburg city councillor for 16 years and mayor for 1973/4, the first medical doctor to be so appointed. He was pro-actively involved with numerous health issues such as tuberculosis, noise control, drug abuse and pollution, and was an avid anti-smoking campaigner.

In his later years, he obtained a Master's degree in Theology, and was ordained in the Church of England in South Africa. He was involved with building St Luke's Church in Port Shepstone, and served as rector there for a number of years until into his 70s.

He subsequently moved to a farm in Reivilo in the Northern Cape and then to Centurion (Pretoria, Gauteng). Here he continued writing books, articles of religious and photographic interests which were published up until a few months before he died.

Dr Arthur David Bensusan died at the age of 85 while in New Zealand. His wife Levina, four children, 11 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild survive him.


References:
• University of Witwatersrand, (2013), Obituaries Bensusan, Arthur David (1921-2007), from WitsReview, [online], Available at www.wits.ac.za [Accessed on 4 July 2013]
• Looringh-van Beeck J. (2007). Arthur David (Kin) Bensusan (13/06/1921-17/03/2007) from The Free Library, [online], Available at www.thefreelibrary.com [Accessed on 4 July 2013]

Last updated : 21-Oct-2016

This article was produced by South African History Online on 19-Jul-2013

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