The Albuquerque Museum’s exhibit “Buried Cars and Other Stories” displays the colorful photographic works of Patrick Nagatani. Nagatani’s work is known worldwide and his photographs show places far and wide.
Joseph Traugott, the Albuquerque Museum guest curator and longtime friend of Nagatani, said the exhibit is a compilation of Nagatani’s life work. The exhibit consists of over 50 pieces of his work and includes multiple series.
“Patrick was a photography professor at UNM for 25 years and was well loved by many,” Traugott said.
According to Titus O’Brien, the curator at the Albuquerque Museum, the exhibit was in the making for several months and all of the pieces except one now belong to the Albuquerque Museum. Nagatani’s work is creative on so many levels, O’Brien said. When viewing his work people often struggle with understanding how he made his art because it has so many dimensions to it.
The buried cars series, Traugott said, was a playful series in collaboration with celebrated archeologist Ryoichi. Nagatani had a long interest in building models and all of the cars in the photographs were made by himself.
Viewers often believe that these photographs are real, not that they are stories of mythical adventures told in photographs. Traugott said this series was humorous and leaves viewers with a mystery because all but one of the models used in these photographs have disappeared.
According to plaque at the start of the exhibit, “Nagatani’s photographs, shown in this exhibition, remain as the only proof that the excavation of these twentieth century vehicles ever occured.”
Nagatani wrote a book accompanying the photographs taken for this series, aptly titled “Buried Cars: Excavations from Stonehenge to the Grand Canyon.” His art is so believable that viewers think the dazzling cars photographed in staged archaeological digs were actual cars uncovered — not models.
Many of the photographs featuring uncovered cars show famous places that could never have actually had these cars buried there. Nagatani’s artistic eye lead him to put different models at different locations around the world, Traugott said.
“While there is a lot of humor there are dark undercurrents in his work,” O’Brien said. "The threat of nuclear war, persecution of minority groups, genocide — these stories are all told.”
Other photos in the exhibit showed the results of nuclear bombs in a unique way. Nagatani’s photos showed a red washed world from the atomic bombs. The “Nuclear Enchantment” series shows Nagatani’s take on that era of history, said Traugott.
According to Traugott both of Nagatani’s parents were detained in the Japanese Internment Camps during World War II.
Each of Nagatani’s series examine different and often serious issues. His work examines gender roles too, Traugott said. During the creation of the “Buried Cars” series only men worked on the project but in contrast the images of bomber planes were all flown by women. O’Brien said Nagatani took a humorous and cheeky approach to dark topics.
Nagatani passed away last October, said Traugott. Nagatani made a difference in thousands of students lives, O’Brien said, and his photography students always had amazing things to say about him.
“He was monumental to Albuquerque art history. This exhibition is a testament to that,” O’Brien said.
Megan Holmen is the assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_holmen.