Benedict J. Fernandez was born on April 5, 1936 in New York City, in the Hispanic neighborhood of East Harlem. His father came to America via Puerto Rico, and his mother an Italian American. His photographic education began at age six when he was given a Brownie box camera.
His early career was not in photography. He worked as an operating engineer/crane operator at Bethlehem Steel Shipyard in Hoboken. It was as a crane operator, that he photographed his fellow shipyard workers, which became his first major portfolio “Riggers”. He went on to work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in the same capacity, until the facility closed in 1963. At that time he decided to turn his long time hobby into his life’s work. He came to the attention of Alexey Brodovitch, the legendary art director and graphic designer. Brodovitch invited him to enroll in his Design Laboratory and became Fernandez’s most influential mentor. Brodovitch arranged for Ben to become the darkroom tech and manager at Parsons School of Design. Nobody could have imagined in those very early days what a significant role Ben would eventually play at Parsons.