These vintage photos show the ‘Peculiar Paradise’ of Florida in the early 1980s

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While working for National Geographic Magazine, photographer Nathan Benn returned to his home state of Florida in 1981, an era that saw rapid construction in Orlando's theme parks, a bloody drug war in Miami and waves of immigration from the Caribbean.

In A Peculiar Paradise: Florida Photographs, Benn’s latest from powerHouse Books, the photographer recounts this impactful time period through revealing images of wild spring breakers, quirky roadside gator attractions, and drug busts with Cocaine Cowboys.

From powerHouse Books:

A Peculiar Paradise: Florida Photographs by Nathan Benn shows its subject—Benn’s homestate—at the dawn of the 1980s, during a time when Florida’s only true constant was change. Although some regions rested like the state’s alligators, staid and satisfied, other areas became a hotbed for the narcotics trade and a hub for Caribbean and South American immigration. This increasing cultural diversity (Miami’s English-speaking Caucasian population was in free fall, from 84% in 1950 to just 12% by 1990), and the state’s innate peculiarity is captured here with the keen sense of an anthropologist and the glint-in-the-eye of a local.

The pictures, fittingly, sometimes feel urgent, sometimes leisurely. Kodachrome film’s distinctive color palette seems tailor-made to its purpose here, displayed to full effect with expressive composition and sumptuous texture. Benn’s vibrant, idiosyncratic images reflect the charming, sometimes dangerous, chaos of Florida at the time, a place that came to embody both the quintessence of suburban Americana and the depth of the melting pot, and the source of Benn’s own nostalgic longing.

The book debuted in November of 2018, and photographs from the series are currently on display now through April 14, at the HistoryMiami Museum.

All photos by Nathan Benn, courtesy of  powerHouse Books