These images are part of Nathan Benn's new exhibition, A Peculiar Paradise, which opened at HistoryMiami Museum on November 8, 2018 and runs through April 14, 2019. This collection of photographs interprets Benn’s home state at the dawn of the 1980s, a time when Florida’s only true constant was change. Although some regions rested like the state’s alligators, staid and satisfied, other areas became a hotbed for the narcotics trade and a hub for Caribbean and South American immigration. Benn captures this increasing cultural diversity and the state’s innate peculiarity with the keen sense of an anthropologist and the glint-in-the-eye of a local.
The pictures, fittingly, sometimes feel urgent, sometimes leisurely. Kodachrome film's distinctive color palette, boosting warm colors and muting cool color, seems tailor-made to its purpose here, displayed to full effect with expressive composition and sumptuous texture.The combined effect of images by Nathan Benn of his home state with charming anecdotes creates a delightfully vivid, passionate, and subjective look at what adds up to a love letter to the Sunshine State.
Nathan Benn embraced color photography before it was considered an acceptable medium for serious documentary expression; he synthesized the intentions of post-World War progressive photo-reportage with modernist aesthetics. The National Geographic Society photographic division recruited Benn, a native of South Florida, immediately upon his 1972 graduation from the University of Miami. Three hundred of his photographs were published in National Geographic Magazine and hundreds more can be found in numerous NGS books.
Benn’s assignments were equally divided between domestic and overseas projects. He typically photographed people in their authentic environment, rarely posing or manipulating the subjects. His reportage for National Geographic included the Netherlands, Dead Sea, Prague, South Korea, Scotland, Florida, Vermont, Massachusetts, Mississippi River, Finger Lakes, Dead Sea, Prague, Hasidic Jews, Jewish Diaspora, medicinal herbs, human physiology, Bible lands archaeology in the Middle East, pre-Columbian archaeology in Peru, and skyscrapers.
While revisiting his archive over the past decade, Benn discovered hundreds of unpublished pictures that vividly depict American culture and diversity. Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990, Benn’s monograph published in 2013 by PowerHouse Books, features over 100 photographs organized by geographic regions and affinities. American Photo magazine honored the monograph as one of the best books of the 2013.
After two decades at National Geographic, Benn put down his cameras in 1991 to focus on nascent digital media technology; this lead to his creation of the first online digital asset management and media licensing enterprise, Picture Network International (PNI). Launched in 1993, PNI’s Internet platform and marketplace revolutionized the stock photography industry, creating the archetype for Corbis and Getty Images.
In early 2000 Benn became Director of Magnum Photos, the renowned photographer cooperative founded in 1948 by Henri-Cartier Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger, and Robert Capa. Under Benn’s leadership from 2000 to 2003 Magnum transitioned from an analog enterprise to a best-of-class digital platform. The cooperative also published award-wining books including RFK Funeral Train and New York September 11 by Magnum Photographers. Benn lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Brooklyn, New York, with his wife Rebecca Abrams, a fine art photographer, and their teenage son.
With a uniquely American mix of formality and ease, and a color palette so tart you can almost taste it, Benn makes the past vividly — even painfully — present. — Vince Aletti, Photography Critic, The New Yorker
The seeming inconsequential subject of Benn’s photographs - which are keenly observed and evocative of a time and place - act as metaphors for American culture and values. Although much of Benn’s work was done for a magazine and not gallery walls, his use of color throughout holds its own with artists of the period such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore. — Richard Buckley, Former Editor, Women's Wear Daily, Vogue Hommes International
To view more of Nathan's work, visit his website.