Benita Raphan
1962 - 2020
Benita Raphan, whose films about the eccentric and inner lives of iconic geniuses garnered multiple awards, including a Guggenheim in 2019, died in January 2021 at the age of 58.

As Benita told StudioDaily: "I am interested in revisiting a life or a career from the very start, from the beginning; the basic concept as initial thought, as an impulse, as an ineffable compulsion, an intuition; to reframe and reinvent an action as simple as one pair of hands touching pencil to paper." Her films appeared on the Sundance Channel, HBO, PBS, and in the UK, and they were screened at numerous festivals including the Sundance, Tribeca, and Telluride, and at the MoMA and Walker Art Center.

Filmmaker Alan Berliner, one of her mentors, wrote: "Benita combines her love of knowledge, her passion for excavating a subject as deeply as possible, a disciplined work ethic, a devoted sense of purpose, along with her world-class graphic arts skill set, into works of beauty, illumination and extreme visual sophistication."

Benita grew up on the Upper West Side and attended Calhoun, Fieldston, and Bronx Science, and graduated high school from City-As-School, where an internship with renowned photographer Albert Watson spurred her artistic journey. She earned a BFA from New York's School of Visual Arts. A college classmate later wrote that Benita "was an iconoclast even back in the early 1980s-the first person I knew who had her nose pierced." While most peers of that era wore black, Benita wore a trademark white dress.

She moved to London to get her MFA from the Royal College of Art, and then on to Paris to work with fashion designers Yohji Yamamoto and Girbaud. Benita returned to New York, lived in an apartment she curated in the style of "flea-market modern," as wrote The New York Times, worked in graphic design and, for the past 15 years, at the School of Visual Arts.

Benita brimmed with friendly curiosity and passion for this world. In Up To Astonishment, her film about Emily Dickinson, Benita used hundreds of flashing images of cobalt and emerald butterflies. Benita too could zoom in on a flower specially planted to attract her and then zoom out to flutter through shadows. The shape of the number "8" and the letter "a" fascinated her, as did the taper of a friend's finger. A prolific correspondent, she crafted distinctive envelopes that moved a lifelong friend to save and savor them.

Quick to celebrate loved ones' good news, Benita helped each one feel special. She championed underdogs---literally in the case of Pete and Rothko whom she adopted and adored. She also volunteered through the New York Public Library's Language and Literacy Program. She cherished the children she knew, particularly her niece and nephews. Friends and colleagues remember her "spirit and style" and "fierce loyalty."

Benita is survived by her mother, Roslyn Raphan; her sister, Melissa Raphan (Tom Rock), their children, Sam, Matt, Julia, and Pete; and extended family.
Published by New York Times from Mar. 4 to Mar. 5, 2021.
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6 Entries
My condolences to Benita's family and friends. She was a rare gem.
Miriam Kuznets
April 6, 2021
dear Beni,
Your loss was such a shock... I can't think of visiting NYC without meeting you anymore. You were the most European-American I met, and I'll cherish forever the fun & artistic moments we spent together, whether in Paris or in NYC. You'll be deeply missed, I was so fortunate to have known you as a talented artist, as a human and as a dear friend. All my heartfelt condolences go out to your family, your nephews and nieces whom you loved so much. RIP my Beni.
Noëlle Duperrier-Simond
March 29, 2021
Benita was so incredibly creative, fun, soulful, curious, talented, caring, friendly, energetic, enthusiastic, and ambitious. I feel so very fortunate to have been so close to her for several years as a young Bronx Science student and a freshman at NYU (circa 1978 - 1982). At the time she was a terrific photographer and a primary artistic force for my band the Speedies, with her photos used in the press, on our records, and in our flyers for shows. We fell out of touch for a long time but reconnected about ten years ago. It was nice to see how her work advanced into the film realm and she was in good spirits. This is a tragic loss to have her leave us but we can keep our positive memories of her uniqueness in the world. I’m glad she lived such a meaningful and creative life, touching many of those with whom she made connections. Sharing my sincere condolences with her family and friends.
Eric Hoffert
March 6, 2021
Hello. My heartfelt condolences go out to Benita’s family. She was a neighbor and I very much enjoyed our many conversations. RIP dear Benita.
March 4, 2021
3-4-21: I like so many others in our great City of New York knew Benita as a a spirit of resilience and good humor. Benita was the dear friend of a neighbor family I came to know almost 7 decades ago and who I consider to be my extended family. Benita was always possessed of spirit fueled by strength and purpose, joy and friendship. In particular many years ago Benita lived in Paris and at the time I thought she was the most glamorous, cosmopolitan person I had ever met. She came to exemplify an individual who made a difference in our World by showing us through her art the lives of others who have greatly influenced our society, who have made a lasting impact on the lives of others, just as Benita did during her life. She was a kind and tender person who if speaking with you in a crowded room always made you feel like you were the only person in that room. I experienced a deep loss when I learned of her passing, she was truly an extraordinary and beautiful woman. RIP Benita
Ernest I. Londa
March 4, 2021
Benita Raphan was a friend to the world. Her luminous vision allows each of us to see a little more clearly, and appreciate all that there is that much more deeply. What a gift to us all. Oh how she will be missed.
Muffin Gifford
March 4, 2021
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