Patrick Nagatani

Patrick NagataniPatrick Nagatani (1945-2017)  was a professor emeritus in the Department of Art & Art History at the University of New Mexico.  A major survey of his work from 1978-2008 opened at the UNM University Art Museum and the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. His book Desire for Magic has recently been published.

In 1991 he earned the Outstanding Faculty Award, from the College of Fine Arts and from 1998 to 2000 he was honored with a Regent’s Professorship.  In 2004 he was recognized for his scholarly achievements and exemplary contributions to the College of Fine Arts by the University of New Mexico Libraries.  He received his M.F.A. degree from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1979.  He is a past recipient of two major National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowships.  Some of his awards include:  The Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship, The Kraszna-Krausz Award for his book Nuclear Enchantment, the Leopold Godowsky Jr. Color Photography Award, the Eliot Porter Fellowship in New Mexico, and the California Distinguished Artist Award from the National Art Education Association.  He has served as a panelist for the Illinois Art Council, Southern Arts Federation, Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, California Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  He is an honored recipient of the “Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts” from Governor Bill Richardson in New Mexico as well as the Honored Educator Award from the Society of Photographic Education in 2008.

Nagatani has given numerous public lectures, seminars and workshops and his work has been exhibited widely both nationally and internationally.


There are forty images in this body of work.

Since my arrival in New Mexico, twenty-three years ago, I have become increasingly aware of the various activities in the scientific, military, mining, medical, etc. industries here in my home state. The historical as well as the contemporary development of the nuclear industry, as well as its impact on this state has been my prime emphasis of investigation. A concern of this work is to promote a dialogue with and about the contemporary/historical landscape of the state that contains the most extensive nuclear weapons research, management, training, and testing facilities and organizations in the United States.

My intentions are to raise public consciousness about the effects of New Mexico’s nuclear industry which continues to grow despite the damage it has already caused and will continue to bring to the state. The series, Nuclear Enchantment, attempts to awaken the many New Mexicans who still believe nuclear power poses no threat and that defense spending promotes the economy. Culturally and geographically connected to Mexico, it is perceived by the elite powers as a place that can be abused and even reduced to rubble.

Are we a society so blinded by the powers of science that we will continue to support a destructive industry rather than seeking alternative solutions? Many of the photographs in Nuclear Enchantment are of actual sites presided over by a cast of ancient mythic figures. I hope that they are captivating and enigmatic. I want them to remind us of the spiritual poverty of the technical age. In some of the work, I use figures from the great nineteenth-century Japanese woodblock artist Hiroshige whose art commented on Japan’s transition from ancient Shintoism to Westernization – a path that ultimately led to Hiroshima.

In my work, I intentionally show a levelled world. Polluted skies, contaminated earth, nuclear explosions, fantastic happenings are all seen in the same light (regardless of the effect they have on people that are actually experiencing such events, for whom the events are not images, but occupy their moment); natural, social, mythic, physical, and psychological experiences are all leveled at images. Even I (the artist) becomes an image, a desensitized subject in several of my own installations. The levelling is by choice, as in Baudrillard’s “active indifference”. (Jean Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Silent Majority, 1983)

My reality and depiction are within this levelled world. It is within what known scientific information we learn and retain. It is within this social/political/economic period of time. And it is within photography, painting, installation, and performance. I hope that Nuclear Enchantment is thought-provoking, yet technically brilliant, and richly beautiful despite the grim tidings. Like the macabre yet jewel-like images from medieval books of hours dealing with the Office of the Dead, I point a bony finger at the contemporary dance of death we are on the verge of joining.