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Remembering Patrick Nagatani Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

14 November 2017

Patrick Nagatani was born in Chicago on Aug. 19, 1945 to Japanese-American parents who had both been held in detention camps during the war and met in an early-release program in the city. It was just days after Hiroshima, his family's hometown, had been destroyed by the atomic bomb.

He died at home Oct. 27 in Albuquerque after a long battle with colon cancer.

The young family moved to California, where Nagatani's father's family had owned a farm before the internment order. There his father became an aerospace engineer, his mother taught school and he graduated from California State University in Los Angeles before earning a master's in fine arts from UCLA.

His career at a photographer, though, began in a drawing class he took at Santa Monica City College.

He tells the story:

I was the hit of the class because I duplicated everything so beautifully. Then one day Gerry, my instructor, took me aside and showed me some Cezanne slides. He showed me one painting of a ladder and asked, "'"What's wrong with this ladder?"

"It doesn't look like it will hold anything," I answered.

Then he asked, "Why do you think he painted it like this?" and I began to understand about the nature of art, how it expresses ideas about things. He told me that since I reproduced everything like a camera, that I should use a camera for future assignments. I started my photography then and never looked back.

He taught at the University of New Mexico from 1987 to 2007 and became known for his constructed images of New Mexico's nuclear legacy.

"I create moments. I like photography's ability to do that," he said.

His work, mostly staged which involved multiple printing and hand coloring as well as collage, also touched on the Japanese-American concentration camps, chromotherapy and the ruins at Stonehenge and Chichen Itza, all of which he discusses in the 2009 New Mexico PBS clip above.

The International Center of Photography has a selection of his work online. And Patrick Nagatani: Living in the Story, a documentary on his life will be released next year.

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