Benn, Nathan -Biography

Benn, Nathan -Biography

I am a native of South Florida and graduate of the University of Miami. Ever since I was a young teen and first discovered photography, my heroes were the great image-makers of the twentieth century. Wilson Hicks, the editor of Life Magazine in its days of glory, organized the “Miami Conference on Photocommunication,” which I attended from 1965 into the 1970s. At the conference I met David Douglas Duncan, Ernst Haas, André Kertész, Will McBride, Arnold Newman, and other legendary photojournalists., and developed the irrational idea that my destiny was to be a magazine photographer.

Ironically, W. Eugene Smith was also an exceptional inspiration in my quest to be a photographer. The irony is due to the legendary conflict between Wilson Hicks, as Executive Editor of Life Magazine, and W. Eugene Smith as Life photographer in the early 1950s, when Gene produced Nurse MidwifeCountry Doctor, A Man of Mercy, and other landmark photo essays that remain the ultimate exemplars of “Concerned Photography.” In 1973 I ventured to Maine to meet Berenice Abbott, who introduced me to the work of Eugène Atget. I think of my two Eugenes, W. Eugene Smith and Eugène Atget, as the cornerstones of my photographic sensibility.

I had the extraordinary good fortune to serve on the photographic staff for the National Geographic Society from 1972 into 1991. During my tenure at NGS, 300 of my photographs were published in National Geographic Magazine, and hundreds more in numerous books. I am especially grateful to Robert E. Gilka, the legendary Director of Photography at National Geographic for nearly three decades. Bob hired me as a green, but eager summer intern in 1972. He tolerated my mischief with patience and encouragement and afforded me the best job in the world.

Even the best job in the world has a season and after nearly twenty years I feared burnout. At the same time, I developed an interest in emerging digital technology and began to see the challenges and opportunities for photography in digital media. I decided that 1991 would become my sabbatical year and packed up my Leicas, Nikons, and Hasselblads, put 350,000 transparencies into storage, and jumped ship.

I started Picture Network International (PNI), the first “internet portal” to sell stock photography online. Seymour, PNI’s first online service, was launched in 1993, three years ahead of online services from Corbis and Getty Images. Seymour introduced the paradigm of keyword search, thumbnail results, online lightboxes and shopping carts, interactive rights-managed pricing, and fully automated 24/7 licensing. All subsequent online stock photography services utilize methods and technologies that were first introduced by PNI. Eastman Kodak purchased PNI in 1997.

In early 2000 I became Director of Magnum Photos Inc. During my term at Magnum we published the award-winning books RFK Funeral Train and New York September 11 by Magnum Photographers. I was fortunate to work for, represent, and develop friendships with many legendary photographers including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cornell Capa, Elliott Erwitt, Bruce Davidson, Leonard Freed, Inge Morath, and Susan Meiselas. The idea of being the “Director of Magnum” is widely considered to be an oxymoron, but I consider my three years at Magnum as one of the richest and most satisfying episodes in my career.

In 2003 I returned to my own long neglected archive and enjoyed rediscovering and reinterpreting my images, finding many unpublished photographs that I am now eager to share. Today I concentrate on defining my own legacy and producing fine art prints. My prints are already in the collections of the Library of Congress, Corcoran Museum of Art, and Chrysler Museum of Art. PowerHouse Books is publishing my first monograph in September 2013, Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972 – 1990, and my prints were exhibited for the first time at the AIPAD Photography Show 2013 in New York.

I served as a trustee for the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film from 2003 through 2012, and live in Brooklyn Heights with my wife Rebecca Abrams, a fine arts photographer and our son Augie.

Nathan Benn

New York City

April 2013

  • University of Miami, BA, cum laude, 1972, Degree in Psychology and Mass Communications
  • George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Film, Trustee, April 2003 - 2011. Trustee Emeritus - Present
  • Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA, Consultant, June-September 2009
  • Christie's, Consultant, April - May 2009, London and New York
  • Magnum Photos, Inc., Director, May 2000 - December 2002, Special Projects, January - July 2003
  •, CEO, August 1998 - January 2000
  • Simon & Schuster, Consultant, January 1997 - May 1998
  • Corbis Corporation, Consultant, January - December 1997
  • Picture Network International, Ltd., Founder and President, 1992-1997
  • Electric Book Company, Founder and President, 1990-1991
  • Eastman Kodak Company, Consultant, 1990-1991
  • National Geographic Society, Contract Photographer, 1972-1991, United States, Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Earned numerous awards including Pictures of the Year, World Press, and White House News Photographers Associations.
  • Miami News and Palm Beach Post-Times, Photographer, 1969-1972, Award-winning photographic reportage of regional news events and features.
  • Kodachrome Memory, Solo Exhibit, Shelburne Museum, January 24 – May 25, 2015
  • "25th Anniversary Celebration" Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ, 2017
  • Premier Book Signing and New Works, Solo Exhibit, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, September 13-27, 2013
  • New Works, Solo Exhibit, Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ, September 28 - October 12, 2013
  • New York September 11 by Magnum Photographers, New-York Historical Society, First 9/11 show by a cultural institution and largest visitation for any exhibition in N-HS history, 2001
  • Kodachrome Memory, Photograph, March-April 2015
  • Photography Exhibit Remembers a Lost Vermont Era with ‘Kodachrome Memory’, Vermont’s NPR News Source, January 22, 2015
  • The Life of a Photographer at National Geographic Before Digital, Santa Fe New Mexican, August 2013
  • Kodachrome’s Lasting Color, and Memory, New York Times and Lens, August 12, 2013
  • Once Upon a Time in America, The Independent, September 2013
  • Pittsburgh-Stronger Than Steel, National Geographic Magazine, December 1991
  • New Moche Tomb: Royal Splendor, National Geographic Magazine, June 1990
  • Craftsmen and Their Work, National Geographic Magazine, June 1990
  • Enduring Echos of Peru's Past, National Geographic Magazine, June 1990
  • Skyscrapers: Above the Crowd, National Geographic Magazine, February 1989
  • France Special Issue, National Geographic Magazine, July 1989
  • The South Koreans, National Geographic Magazine, August 1988
  • Shakespeare Lives at the Folger, National Geographic Magazine, February 1987
  • The Dutch Touch, National Geographic Magazine, October 1986
  • Florida - A Time of Reckoning, National Geographic Magazine, August 1982
  • Old Prague in Winter, National Geographic Magazine, April 1979
  • Massachusetts North Shore, Harboring old Ways, National Geographic Magazine, April 1979
  • Mississippi River, GEO Magazine, June 1979
  • Of Air and Space, National Geographic Magazine, June 1978
  • The Living Dead Sea, National Geographic Magazine, February 1978
  • New York's Land of Dreamers and Doers, National Geographic Magazine, May 1977
  • In Search of Moses, National Geographic Magazine, January 1976
  • The Pious Ones, National Geographic Magazine, August 1975
  • Vermont - State of Mind and Mountains, National Geographic Magazine, July 1974
  • Cuba's Exiles Bring New Life to Miami, National Geographic Magazine, July 1973