Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990

Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990

Jan 24 - May 25

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“Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990” is the inaugural solo museum exhibition of the photography of Nathan Benn. Comprised of 67 evocative color photographs, the exhibition spans the two decades prior to the digital revolution, a sea change that created a surplus of images in everyday life. Florida-born Benn, formerly a staff photographer at National Geographic, focused his lens with ethnographic precision on the regional textures of an America, in Vermont and Florida, which for the most part, now exists only in memory or on film. The exhibition is organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions and will open at Shelburne Museum’s Pizzagalli Center for Art & Education on January 24, 2015.

The exhibition is based on Benn’s book of the same title “Kodachrome Memory” (PowerHouse Books, 2013). Benn and Shelburne Museum Director, Thomas Denenberg, chose to highlight photographs from Vermont and Florida ranging from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s to represent the photographer’s artistic journey from his home state to Vermont.

According to Denenberg, the Vermont images from the 1970’s capture the end of an era in the Green Mountain State before commercialization forever altered the landscape. In Benn’s work, the viewer can still see Vermont as it looked during Marion Post Wolcott’s tenure with the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in the 1930s, however; change is obvious as well.  Post-industrial cities, small towns on the wane, and new young faces of the back to the land movement all play a role in Kodachrome Memory.

Although the photographs are documentary in intent, a close look at the work also reveals elements of an almost painterly abstraction. Benn offers more than just visual information or social commentary. His emphasis on buildings and textures essentializes the photographs and invites the viewer into the frame creating a dialogue about time and place.

Journalist Richard Buckley, who wrote the forward to Kodachrome Memory, notes that “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.”

Nathan Benn worked as a photographer for 20 years before putting down his camera to run and eventually sell a very successful digital image business, Picture Network International (PNI). He hadn’t given much thought to showing his own archive of photos until in 2009, when Eastman Kodak announced it was discontinuing Kodachrome film.

Kodachrome was an important technical advance that led to an aesthetic for the era. It was manufactured commercially from 1935 until 2009 by Eastman Kodak. And for many photographers, both professional and amateur, it evokes an instant nostalgia for the lush colors and quality of light that it delivered.

The “demise” of Kodachrome, according to Matt McCann of The New York Times’ Lens Blog in a review of Benn’s book, inspired Benn “to peek into the boxes of transparencies from his days at National Geographic. He had ignored his archive for so long that, to him, “the images were hardly even there.”

“We are pleased to debut this exhibition at Shelburne Museum,” notes Denenberg, “and present Nathan Benn’s vision of a Vermont fading into memory and legend.  Any discussion of the future of our state must reckon with these images.”

All photographs copyright Nathan Benn. Exhibition is organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions.

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