A Peculiar Paradise: Florida Photographsby Nathan Benn focuses on the year 1981, a time when South Florida became notorious as the gateway for narcotics and a destination for Caribbean immigrants, while in other parts of the state, life went on without interruption or conflict. Benn shows us a state that is vibrant and marvelously quirky during a time of gaudy prosperity for some while other Floridians merely sought continuity or struggled desperately for their survival. Often charged with political and social commentary, the photographs take full advantage of Kodachrome film’s distinctive color palette. Photographs and narrative are organized into segments covering manifestations of extreme wealth, Little Havana, illegal Caribbean immigration, elderly citizens, quirky flora and fauna, high and low nightlife, Dundee’s 5th Street Gym, and the deadly narcotics war.
Benn, born and reared in Miami, reveals in his first-person commentary the circumstances surrounding the development of his career and an insider’s look at working for National Geographic Magazine during a period of that publication’s internal management conflict. A Peculiar Paradise offers an entertaining and subjective volume that reflects Benn’s affection for his hometown and celebrates the economic and social re-invention of Florida that eliminated most of what was familiar from his boyhood.
“The book is a rich source of the kinds of things that make the state such an interesting place, and a look back at one of the most fertile times in its history, the 1980s.” —The Washington Post
“Benn paints a complex and surreal picture of his native state in the newly resurfaced project.” —Huck
“The issues and tensions in the over 100 images, whether ecological or political, are often still present, making A Peculiar Paradise a timely return to this decades-old work.” —Hyperallergic
“A cross-section of heady, South-Atlantic life emerges from this half-autobiography, half-ethnography as Benn assumes a naturalist’s eye and a Rockwell-esque predilection towards the range of human emotion that can be portrayed in a still image.” —Musée As seen in: SouthFlorida.com, Miami New Times, WLRN, PDN Photo of the Day, The Guardian, Orlando Weekly, AI-AP, Albuquerque Journal