The UNM Art Museum is remembering Patrick Nagatani, a UNM Regents’ Professor who taught photography, with an upcoming exhibition, “Patrick Nagatani: A Survey of Early Photographs.”
This show will feature work Nagatani made in his early stages of becoming the well-known artist he grew to be, said Mary Statzer, the curator of the exhibit.
“This exhibition is in celebration of his life and work and his career as a teacher,” Statzer said. “We received a large gift of photographs from him before he died last year, and this show is comprised of many of those works that came in that gift. They’re actually photographs that he made before he came to New Mexico. They are works that have not been seen as often here, in New Mexico — some of which haven’t been seen or exhibited in a long time.”
Statzer said Nagatani was well-known for his work with color and directorial mode, which is the technique of intentionally setting up a scene to photograph. He often used props and models.
Although these photographs are not part of his better-known, later work, the techniques shine through, she said.
“A lot of the ideas that come up in the later work are evident in the early work,” Statzer said.
A work included in the exhibition that is exemplary of these foundational ideas is “Chroma Room,” which was the series that got Nagatani into graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles, Statzer said. For this piece, Nagatani painted a single room many times, each time a different color, and then set up scenes from his thoughts and dreams that were induced from living in the room.
“Here, he’s placed the camera in the same part of the room every time, so the closet becomes a feature that changes in each picture,” Statzer said. “I love the saturation of color, which is something that finds its way into his later bodies of work.”
This series will have its own room in the gallery, which has been modified to fit the theme.
“We’ve painted the gallery kind of like what he did, which I think is fun and hopefully gives the viewer a sense of what it might have been like to paint the same room different colors over and over again,” Statzer said.
Another Nagatani series, “A Party: Beverly Hills, USA,” that will be part of the exhibition, was taken at a party in Beverly Hills, she said.
“He asked the host if he could just show up and set up a simple paper backdrop and camera and the host said yes...In interviews, he talked about how all he had to do was set up that backdrop and the camera and people just came. He didn’t have to do anything. It was like a magnet. Rather than directing them, he just waited to see what they would do,” Statzer said.
This work features recurring faces and evidence of time passing as the night grows long. Statzer said Nagatani used a camera lens that made the people have heads slightly bigger than they ought to be.
Aside from these works, many more of his projects will be displayed in this show.
On Friday, opening day, there will also be a premiere of “Living in the Story,” a documentary on Nagatani’s work.
“The film portrays an artist deeply concerned and well-informed about world events who uses imagery, storytelling and narrative fiction to raise awareness about modern anxieties,” Film Director Lynn Estomin said.
Estomin said the film will contain footage of Nagatani working in the studio, as well as many interviews in which he discusses his own work.
“Over 20 years ago, I had the privilege of meeting and becoming friends with Patrick Nagatani, a truly exceptional artist, activist and storyteller...One of the many things I learned over the years of working with Patrick was the importance of both humor and ambiguity when creating art on serious subjects,” Estomin said.
The makers of the movie, including Nagatani himself, decided to premiere the film in Albuquerque.
“I hope that those who knew him will see the man they knew and loved in the film I created,” Estomin said. “I hope that those who did not have an opportunity to meet Patrick in person will relate to his art, his stories, his activism and his passion for life as portrayed in the film.”
The exhibit will be open Friday through July 28 at the UNM Art Museum.
Estomin, cinematographer Miguel Gandert and project-intiater Andrew Smith, will also participate in a Q&A session.
Former colleagues and students will discuss Nagatani’s professional life Saturday.
Ariel Lutnesky is a culture reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted on Twitter @ArielLutnesky or at firstname.lastname@example.org.