National Atomic Museum, Kirkland Air Force Base, Albuquerque NM by Patrick Nagatani

About This Project

Photographer Patrick Nagatani was born in Chicago in 1945, just days after the Enola Gay bomber dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  Born to Japanese-American parents, that cataclysmic event would resonate throughout Nagatani’s life and work.

In the late 1980s, Nagatani moved to Albuquerque, where he assumed a post teaching photography at the University of New Mexico.  Fascinated with the history of the nuclear industry in that region, Nagatani began researching the subject, photographing atomic testing sites and reading public information related to nuclear affairs.  From this extensive research emerged the ambitious photographic series Nuclear Enchantment, in which New Mexico serves as a stage for scenes that comment wryly on the atomic history of that so-called “Land of Enchantment.”  Nagatani’s elaborate photographic tableaux incorporate miniature scale models, life-size sculptures, painted sets and actors.  He often applies colored oils to his photographs, imbuing the work with a luminosity suggestive of radioactivity.

The theatrical nature of Nagatani’s work reflects his experiences working in the Hollywood film industry in the 1970s, where he built special-effects models for science fiction films such as Bladerunner and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  InNuclear Enchantment, Nagatani deftly combines photography with built sets and Hollywood-style “special effects” to question the ways in which photography shapes our ideas about historical truth.

Color, Patrick Nagatani