Nuclear Enchantment: Photographs by Patrick Nagatani

Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery
October 10, 2009 - February 14, 2010

Fascinated by his new home state’s marriage with the nuclear industry, Patrick Nagatani began the Nuclear Enchantment series when he moved to Albuquerque in 1987. This exhibition, featuring around 25 works from the series, is drawn entirely from the collection of the Akron Art Museum. Nagatani, a Japanese-American, was born in Chicago just 13 days after the bombing of Hiroshima and raised in Los Angeles. When he moved to New Mexico, he discovered that it was the birthplace of the nuclear weapons industry, the site of uranium mines and of radioactively contaminated land, and, ironically, was also home to the oldest continuous culture in North America, the Pueblo Indians. “An underlying theme in Nagatani’s art has always been the conflict and comedy in collective ideologies,” writes art historian Eugenia Parry. In Nuclear Enchantment, “he is looking at the boundless faith we have in scientific expertise, and our trust in a peculiar technological ministry.” A tableaux photographer who arranges for the camera in a directorial mode, Nagatani constructed the Nuclear Enchantment images. Photographing at atomic test sites, the locations of nuclear accidents and radioactive waste dumps, he transmuted these banal-seeming places into the landscapes of dreams, and sometimes nightmares. Eschewing PhotoShop, Nagatani’s processes resemble the special effect techniques of early science fiction films. He stages his scenes in front of the camera, often shooting elaborate combinations of props, posed models and cut-out images against in front of actual places. The planes shown in Nuclear Enchantment are mostly model planes from his own collection, which he built from kits. Nagatani’s acidic hues are the result of altering color balances during printing. As stories about the threat of nuclear terrorism and building additional nuclear power plants appear on our evening news, Nagatani’s Nuclear Enchantment series from the late 1980s and early 1990s seems eerily up to date. This exhibition is organized by the Akron Art Museum and made possible by support from Gary and Eileen Leidich, Rick and Alita Rogers and an anonymous donor.