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