Patrick Nagatani

Patrick Nagatani was a Japanese American photographer that focused on transcultural perceptions of American nuclear development and its consequences in his series Nuclear Enchantment. His goal is to facilitate the interaction of people from diverse regions and backgrounds with images depicting nuclear landscapes (whether they be uranium mines, nuclear missile parks, roadsigns, cemeteries, labor housing built for miners, etc.). He firstly defamiliarizes the subject by transposing two incongruous scenes atop one another, as he does in his photograph of Hopi Clowns transposed over the White Sands missile park, and his photograph of Koinobori (Japanese Fish Kites) over the Laguna Pueblo Cemetery. Aside from transposition of images, Nagatani often distorts aspects of the photos he takes by adding or subtracting color, overlaying a hazy film, making certain points more pronounced, and much more. The effect is that one looks at a photograph of a real thing, but struggles to make sense of its reality; to subtract Nagatani's manipulations, or understand the component parts of the photograph requires the bravery to confront difficult social realities and the way they interact with each other--how the exploitative mining in Laguna, New Mexico affected people in Hiroshima, Japan, and so on.


Koshare/Tewa Ritual Clowns, Missile Park, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, 1989 & 1993, Chromogenic print (Ilfocolor Deluxe), 17 X 22 and 27 5/8 X 36 1/2

Koshare/Tewa Ritual Clowns, Missile Park, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, 1989 & 1993, Chromogenic print (Ilfocolor Deluxe), 17 X 22 and 27 5/8 X 36 1/2.

From Nuclear Enchantment, this is a photograph of the missile park in White Sands, NM. The missile park is a tourist attraction built beside the site of the Trinity Test, the first nuclear explosion. The bomb test was conducted on land traditionally shared by the Southwestern tribes, and is in close proximity to the Hopi, Laguna Pueblo, and Navajo reservations. Transposed over the image is a group of Koshare/Tewa Hopi clowns. The Hopi clowns traditionally were mischief-making satirists of the political life of the tribe, and their comic mischief had an actual social function besides pure entertainment. Apart from the obvious connection that White Sands was land originally inhabited by the Hopi, the transposition of these clowns is significant because it satirizes the transformation of White Sands into a place of recreation. A "missile park" can in some ways be considered a museum of weapon-artificats, but it is clearly also a perverse amusement park, a place of recreation. These Hopi clowns thus remind the spectator that this land is Hopi land while making fun of the fact that this site of destruction has become a site of play. We are left questioning this society which blows apart land and makes a plaything of its destructive legacy.



Japanese Children's Day Carp Banners, Paguate Village, Jackpile Mine UraniumTailings, Laguna Pueblo Reservation, New Mexico, 1990&1993, Chromogenic print (Ilfocolor Deluxe), 17X22 and 27 3/4X33. 

From Nuclear Enchantment, this photograph depicts the Laguna Pueblo ceremony in Laguna. Transposed over the photograph are Japanese Children's Day Carp Banners, and edited into the background are uranium tailings from a nearby uranium mine. The addition of the uranium tailings can be considered dishonest because they do not really exist where they are placed in the photograph. But this little dishonesty works to depict in one frame an aspect of village life that lies beneath the surface of the village itself; namely that many of the villagers work or worked in the mine and are or were exposed to radiation. The effects of exposure loom over their daily lives unceasingly, as the uranium tailings loom over the village in the photograph. The addition of the carp banners looms over the cemetary similarly. Nagatani places these Japanese symbols of celebration and life over a Laguna cemetary because the uranium mined by the US from Laguna territory was deployed as an atomic bomb twice over Japan. The enduring legacy of the mines contains the enduring trauma of nuclear holocaust in Japan. This legacy is an enduring thing: it endures for the villagers in the form of ruined land and radiation sickness, as it endures for the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The carp banners are an ironic addition, but the irony makes way for an understanding of the traumatic connections nuclear developments has made between cultures otherwise removed from each other. Hanging over the cemetary is a living legacy of those affected.