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Graphic Design USA Magazine

My Very Own Kodachrome Memory

Some 15 years ago I was giving a talk about stock photography trends at a conference and exhibit. Later I wandering the aisles, in a state that can only be called “trade show fatigue” — you know, flourescent lighting, hard floors, stale air, indecipherable products, junk food, bad ties, institutional hotel, keep losing my entry badge, miss my kids — when a person came over and introduced himself as a (not so) distant relative who was a commercial photographer and who knew (vaguely) that we were in the same (sort of) industry.

That person turned out to be Nathan Benn and, as I soon learned, he was not just some photographer. He was a master photographer with an illustrious career at National Geographic and, in a career transition, was in the midst of pioneering what has now become the booming digital stock image marketplace. Later, he also headed the legendary Magnum Photos, but that is a story for another time. From our brief and inauspicious meeting at some convention floor in some city, has blossomed into one of my favorite personal relationships with Nathan, his lovely and talented wife Rebecca (also a photographer of note), and their equally lovely son. And if we sometimes need to draw a chart to remind ourselves of the blood relationship — I believe our fathers shared grandparents, maybe, I think, possibly — that does not get in the way.

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So I am especially pleased to learn that Nathan has a new book out that displays a selection of his work. It turns out that while he was traveling the globe for National Geographic magazine, Nathan took nearly half a million photos and he did so using color photography before it was considered an acceptable medium for serious documentary expression. In revisiting this archive recently, he discovered hundreds of previously unpublished pictures that appeared immaterial to editors of the 1970s and 1980s, but now resonate with empathic perspectives on everyday life and everyday people in forgotten neighborhoods. They were so evocative, these photos begged to be seen and contemplated.

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Thus, Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990, was born. In his forward, Richard Buckley comments: “Kodachrome Memory celebrates the significance of American regional diversity as it was 30 or 40 years ago, before the advent of Internet culture and before the country became one vast strip mall stretching from sea to sea. The seemingly inconsequential subjects of Benn’s photographs … act as metaphors for American culture and values.” The publisher is powerHouse Books. The author is my kinsman — after posting this I will pull out the chart to remember exactly how we are related — photographer,  Nathan Benn. And the book is a revelation.

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