Center for Creative Photography - University of Arizona

photo by John Hazeltine

Tucson, AZ



Patrick Nagatani at The Center for Creative Photography


The Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona presents two compelling views of the work of painter, photographer, installation and sculptor Patrick Nagatani in the exhibitions Nagatani/Tracey Collaboration, 1983-1989 and Ryoichi/Nagatani Excavations, both on view from December 2, 2000 through February 11, 2001. (left: Photograph by Patrick Nagatani and Andrée Tracey, Trinitrite Tempest, 1988, ©1988 Nagatani/Tracey)

"This pair of projects offers a full look into the invention and innovation Patrick Nagatani brings to contemporary art practice both as a singular thinker and creator of captivating imagery, and as an artist open to and adept at collaboration and cross-media expression," said Trudy Wilner Stack, curator of Nagatani/Tracey Collaboration, 1983-1989 and Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Center for Creative Photography. "His work in the 1980s with painter Andrée Tracey established a new vocabulary and approach to content for photography, and his most recent series with Ryoichi brings science and fantasy together with the heady wit and incisive cultural insight that characterize all of Nagatani's art."

"CCP's acquisition of the Nagatani/Tracey collaborations ensures these memorable images will be preserved, continually discovered and available to the public long into the future," said Nancy Lutz, Acting Director at the Center for Creative Photography. "We are proud to be the only museum repository of what is perhaps Nagatani's best known and most influential work."

This exhibition commemorates CCP's acquisition of the only complete set of the forty collaborative works of photographer Patrick Nagatani and painter Andrée Tracey. Working with the large-format 20 x 24 inch Polaroid camera, they created some of contemporary photography's most original, humorous, and haunting commentaries on global issues - from nuclear threats to cross-cultural identities to the corporate domination of consumer life. Distinctively combining diverse aesthetic references and techniques, many of their staged tableaux have already become landmark images.

Nagatani/Tracey Collaboration, 1983-1989, organized by CCP, challenges the traditional role of photography as an objective documentation of reality. Nagatani and Tracey staged narrative photo-tableaux in order to break down divisions between media, and blur the boundary between the real and the artificial, between photographic fact and fiction. They worked in a mode borrowed from advertising and set design and combined in a single tableau painted backdrops, furniture, objects suspended from monofilament, live figures (often themselves), and previously photographed images.

Some of the most recognizable photographs included in the exhibition are Alamogordo Blues, 1986, which depicts a crowd of people during a bomb test wearing dark glasses, holding cameras, with Polaroid SX-70s flying all around them -- the entire scene awash in the red of a nuclear dawn; and a three-panel work, Fusion Feast, 1989, which begins in the first panel as a cheerful domestic still life of a kitchen table and view out of a window that is violently interrupted by a bomb blast, then dissolves into a scene of nuclear devastation.

Nagatani and Tracey collaborated for the first time in 1983 when they were invited to work with the Polaroid camera for a group exhibition in San Diego. Nagatani was primarily the photographer, Tracey the painter. Together they developed themes and staged the set-ups to be photographed. Their work reflects their shared interest in socially relevant themes, a black sense of humor, and a belief that irony and mechanisms for coping with what became their primary theme: the threat of nuclear devastation.

Nagatani recently said about the collaboration with Tracey, "Our photographic scenarios served as the perfect arena in which to explore our themes of disaster beyond our control. In this blend of fact and fiction, the threat was (and still is) so great that it seemed unreal, the reality so awful it was/is impossible to comprehend."

In the exhibition Ryoichi/Nagatani Excavations Nagatani employs science to create and validate an alternative past that questions the assumption that time is linear. Working from the field journals of Japanese archaeologist Ryoichi and photographing excavations undertaken by Ryoichi's team, Nagatani presents evidence of a past where a Jaguar automobile was ceremonially buried within the foundations of the observatory at Chichén ltzá in the Yucatan, and a Ferrari emerges from a volcanic shroud at Herculaneum.

The exhibition is composed of color photographs of archaeological sites demonstrating the presence of automotive culture at disparate points in earth's space and time. Photographs of Ryoichi's journal entries, recovered artifacts, site plans, and maps are presented as documentation. The visual material is supported by text panels describing the excavations and providing scientific information such as carbon-dated laboratory results.

Nagatani describes the project: "In 1985, Ryoichi and his team received a set of maps which were interpreted as pointing to sites scattered throughout the world. The sites were in areas with significant archaeological or historical remains...or with monuments to our own technological age.... The archaeologists spent the next fifteen years secretly excavating the sites and then removing all traces of their finds... My field photographs and photographs of recovered artifacts are the only record of Ryoichi's excavation campaign that remains."

"I hope to challenge us to examine the ways in which photography creates, recreates, or supports a particular history," Nagatani said. "Finally, I am interested in beauty, desire, wonderment, possibilities, and an audience that is willing to suspend belief, to use the right hemisphere of the brain as much as the left."

Patrick Nagatani's work has been exhibited internationally since 1976, including at the Art Institute of Boston , Museum of Photographic Arts , San Diego; and the Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England. Numerous books have featured his work including Seizing the Light: A History of Photography by Robert Hirsch (2000), and Photography by Barbara London and John Upton (1998). His work is in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art ; Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris; Denver Art Museum International Center for Photography, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art ; and Metropolitan Museum of Art , New York. He has been the recipient of many awards including the Polaroid Fellowship and the NEA Visual Arts Fellowship. Currently a Professor of Art at the University of New Mexico, Nagatani lives in Albuquerque. (left: Photograph by Patrick Nagatani, Cadillac Town Car, The Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Utah, U.S.A., 1992-1999, ©1992-1999 Patrick Nagatani)

Ryoichi/Nagatani Excavations is curated by Kathleen Stewart Howe, Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photography at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and is organized and circulated by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, California. It is funded in part by The Lende Foundation.

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/6/11

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