Mixed Me­dia

Nathan Benn Ko­dachrome Mem­ory: Amer­i­can Pic­tures 1972-1990 at De­sign Ware­house

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In the 1970s and 1980s, Nathan Benn, on as­sign­ment for Na­tional Ge­o­graphic mag­a­zine, would take off for Florida or Ver­mont or Peru with $10,000 in trav­eler’s checks and 300 rolls of Ek­tachrome or Ko­dachrome film, and find a story. Think­ing of him­self as “a hunter-gath­erer,” he made im­ages of sub­jects in­clud­ing Mis­sis­sippi River flood­ing, women work­ing in Korean sweat­shops, the land of Moses, and a por­trait of Pitts­burgh. He shot all over the world, but to­day he re­gards the im­ages that fall un­der the um­brella “Amer­i­can re­gion­al­ism” as his most en­dur­ing. He has hand-picked about two dozen of those for Nathan Benn Ko­dachrome Mem­ory: Amer­i­can Pic­tures 1972-1990, open­ing on Fri­day, Dec. 11, with a 5:30 p.m. re­cep­tion, in the Art & In­dus­try space at De­sign Ware­house (101 W. Marcy St., 505-988-1555).

The se­lec­tion is culled from the 93 pho­to­graphs fea­tured in his 2013 book of the same name pub­lished by Pow­er­house Books. (It is a dif­fer­ent se­lec­tion than was shown that year at Medicine Man Gallery on Canyon Road.) “I think this show re­in­forces the core theme of the book, Amer­i­can re­gion­al­ism,” Benn said. “Not all the pic­tures in the book are ones that I would want to live with on the wall. Some work bet­ter as dis­play art than oth­ers. And the ones that in­trigue me most are those that are cat­a­lysts for the in­di­vid­ual viewer’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion and that may sug­gest some­thing mys­te­ri­ous. I’m less in­ter­ested in pic­tures that are com­pletely un­am­bigu­ous.”

Benn stopped work­ing for Na­tional Ge­o­graphic in 1991. Two years later, he launched Pic­ture Net­work In­ter­na­tional (PNI), the first “in­ter­net por­tal” to sell stock pho­tog­ra­phy on­line. He went on to serve as di­rec­tor at Mag­num Pho­tos in the early 2000s. In re­cent years, the Santa Fe res­i­dent has been scout­ing for new im­ages in his archive of per­haps 100,000 slides — an edited col­lec­tion from the ap­prox­i­mately 350,000 pho­tos he took for Na­tional Ge­o­graphic. And he has kept busy with ex­hi­bi­tions.

He had his first mu­seum solo show this win­ter at Ver­mont’s Shel­burne Mu­seum and is work­ing to­ward a Fe­bru­ary open­ing for an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Univer­sity of Rich­mond. Oth­ers are slated for a Mis­sis­sippi River mu­seum, a Florida mu­seum, and a univer­sity show in Cal­i­for­nia. “I’m happy to say I have some wind in my sails,” he said. “I’ve had a good two years, and it all started in Santa Fe with my first solo show ever.” He has also been sell­ing prints, in­clud­ing one to Am­s­ter­dam’s Ri­jksmu­seum and two to Wash­ing­ton, D.C.’s Na­tional Por­trait Gallery.

Asked if he’s still us­ing a cam­era, Benn said with a laugh, “Yes, I used my cam­era last week to take pho­to­graphs of my fam­ily dur­ing Thanks­giv­ing. Even though I’m not tak­ing more pho­tos with any in­ten­tion of se­ri­ous­ness, I work ev­ery day on my pic­tures.” — Paul Wei­de­man

Nathan Benn: Fourth of July, Pitts­burgh, 1990, archival pig­ment print

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