Benjamin Rusnak bridges commercial, editorial, humanitarian and fine art photography with a continuous thread of passionate image making woven with emotion and insight.
23° of latitude separate the Equator from the Northern tropic. These latitudes are home to beaches, palms, vacation resorts, idyllic paradise -- and poverty. This is where the sun bares countless dark and desperate lives. This is where the unfortunate location of birth often condemns people to a life of struggle in an unforgiving land, beset with drought and flood, famine and tempest.
Conversely, this is where hope and resilience coexist with tribulation. For the poor, there is a duality to life. In each person, each moment holds joy and pain, a mourning for what is lost and a yearning for what may be. These lands represent a dream holiday to tourists, but they are only an elusive fantasy to millions of residents still hoping for the reality of paradise to become theirs.
I have documented the lives of the poor in the Caribbean and Latin America for a decade. The people I meet struggle, strive, hope, dream, live and die in those 23°. While this region is only one part of the globe, the lives of turmoil and legacies of hope within it are emblematic of people around the world who suffer at the same latitudes. Their lives are separated by a chasm of degrees, in contrast to those living in developed nations to the north and south.
This work illuminates this intersection of geographic lines with circumstance of birth and how the irony of being poor in paradise creates strength, resilience and a duality of spirit. I believe the broad view of the panoramic format, combined with an often-intimate perspective, creates a novel way to explore the relationship between the land and those who must scrape together an existence from it.
Our Land. Emerging from the womb of the Earth, we are reborn through our experiences in the natural world. This work looks at the importance of wild places in our lives. Venturing into external landscapes, we inexorably delve into our internal wilderness in an intertwined expedition and examine the cycles of loss, genesis, and rebirth that we all experience on our journeys.
Exploring the natural world is discovering our place in it—how nature changes us and how we alter it. In a world increasingly filled with artificial and sterile overstimulation, we need the natural stimulation of all our senses through dirt, plants, sun, rocks, clouds—and sweat and blood. Time spent in the wild can be the release and cure for what ails the soul of modern society.
This planet sustains and nourishes us, and as the only species that can alter the natural world on a global scale, it is our responsibility to be good stewards in this symbiotic relationship. These images represent the external and internal magic of the wilderness, our transcendent exploration of it, and how we may learn to better ourselves and our lifeline. Venturing into the darkness, we seek the light.
Balancing Act : A visual conversation about the tension between exploring and protecting the natural world, both in the environment and within ourselves. Preparing for my artist-in-residence at Zion National Park, I faced a daunting challenge. More than 4 million people visited the park the previous year, most of them with a camera. Legendary and iconic photographers also have captured scenes of this extraordinary place. What could I offer to the visual conversation that was different than everyone before me?
Aware that the centennial of the National Park Service was approaching, I read the original 1916 congressional act that gave the NPS two conflicting mandates: “to conserve” and “to provide for the enjoyment of” our national treasures. And for a century, the NPS has struggled with that balance between preservation and development.
Striving to capture this delicate balancing act on film became the driving force behind my month in Zion. I decided to create two bodies of work — one of natural beauty and the other of humans interacting with nature. Then I paired a similar or contrasting image from each body of work into a series of stacked diptychs. I hope the combination says something greater than either image could say alone. I also chose to use a panoramic film camera because the long, narrow frame lends a cinematic feel that speaks to me.
I believe these images illustrate a complex story of the importance of preserving the wilderness and our complicated relationship with these wild lands. A poster on shuttle buses quotes legendary conservationist Edward Abbey: “Nature is not a luxury, but a necessity of the soul.” In stark contrast, flash flooding killed seven hikers in the park during my artist-in-residency, punctuating the ferocity and unforgiving purity of our wild lands. These images from a single park reflect the universal challenge of experiencing and protecting the natural world.