Nathan Benn Statement

Artist Statement
A PECULIAR PARADISE focuses on the Sunshine State in 1981—a time when South Florida was the gateway for narcotics and a destination for Caribbean and Latin immigrants, while in other parts of the state, life went on without interruption or conflict. I took more than 20,000 photographs in Florida over 29 weeks in 1981, responding to National Geographic’s expectations for a state story that would represent the region’s geography, industries and economy, tourism, wildlife, and culture.

I recall Miami during my post-war childhood in suburban Little River as a provincial city with faint appeal to my curiosity and wanderlust. But Florida’s watery atmosphere, lush vegetation, and quirky attractions never faded from my memory. Much of what was familiar from my youth in the 1950s – 1960s is today eliminated, and I rejoice at the evolution of South Florida into the economic and multi-cultural capital of the hemisphere.

My career as a photographer for National Geographic, 1972 – 1991, brackets the dawn and end of the pre-digital epoch for color photojournalism with analog tools. I recognize that no such thing as “accurate” color exists in photography and utilize digital image processing to compensate for the fading of delicate dye pigments and to reinforce graphic qualities while remaining true to the intention of my analog originals. My favorite pictures are images in which my presence as the photographer is indiscernible and the photographic process appears effortless.

Florida persists as a virtual Fountain of Youth for the aging and El Dorado for those in search of better lives. I hope that my pictures help to reveal the duality of state’s vibrant dynamic while at the same time an imagined paradise.

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