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photo-eye Book Reviews: Desire for Magic

Desire for Magic, Photographs by Patrick Nagatani. 
Published by University of New Mexico Art Museum, 2010.
Desire for Magic

Reviewed by David Ondrik
Patrick Nagatani Desire for Magic
Photographs by Patrick Nagatani. Edited by Michele M. Penhall.
University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, 2010. Hardbound. 260 pp., color illustrations throughout, 12x12".

Patrick Nagatani's newest book, Desire for Magic, is a monster publication covering 30 years of the artist's career. It is a beautiful book, bound in red cloth with a transparent vinyl dust jacket. The embossment on the jacket - title, artist's name, and a circle on the front and back covers - creates a lavish presentation, and you haven't even opened it yet. As appropriate for someone who spent much of his life teaching, seven scholars and collaborators have penned introductory essays to seven major bodies of work executed between 1978 - 2007: "Nagatani/Tracey Polaroid Collaborations," "Nuclear Enchantment," "Japanese American Concentration Camps," "Ryoichi/Nagatani Excavations," "Novellas," "Chromatherapy," and "Tape-estries." There are also texts that originally appeared during exhibitions but have not been published until now. Each essay is a few pages long and provides context for the concepts involved in the work.

Desire for Magic, by Patrick Nagatani. Published by University of New Mexico Art Museum, 2010.
 This background is important to those unfamiliar with Nagatani, as he is an artist working in photography, rather than a photographer. I've been asking myself about this distinction for a while now, and what I've come up with is that a photographer will eventually want to tell you about some sort of gear that they use. An artist will want to tell you about some idea they are working out. In the 16 years I've known him, the only gear Nagatani's excitedly told me about is his impressive collection of masking tape. His preferred, although not exclusive, method of realizing his ideas is to create scenes to be photographed, rather than find them. Whether he's exploring the healing powers of colored light, New Mexico's enchantment with the nuclear industry, meditating on a bodhisattva, or documenting Japanese American concentration camps from the 1940s, ideas are what breathe life into the imagery. Each body of work is supported by an incredibly detailed conceptual and intellectual foundation. Each body could support its own publication and analysis, which makes it nearly impossible to do so here. So I'll stick to the book itself: the print quality is very high, and the images are large on the page. A (relative) handful of images represents the major body of work and there are a number of gate-folds that expand out for the larger, panoramic images. The "Tape-estries," a series of c-prints that have been covered, obsessively and meditatively, with the aforementioned masking tape are a difficult series of images to reproduce, and yet they look very good here. My one complaint is that a handful of images cross the gutter, which I really wish book designers wouldn't do.

Desire for Magic, by Patrick Nagatani. Published by University of New Mexico Art Museum, 2010.
Desire for Magic, by Patrick Nagatani. Published by University of New Mexico Art Museum, 2010.
The book is a companion and catalog for the retrospective show hosted by the University of New Mexico Art Museum. The show closed in mid-December and the book is a great way to bring a small piece home.—David Ondrik

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David Ondrik has lived in Albuquerque since the late 1970s. He was introduced to photography in high school and quickly appropriated his father’s Canon A-1 so that he could pursue this exciting artistic medium. In 1998 he received his BFA, with an emphasis in photography, from the University of New Mexico. His imagery explores the New Mexico landscape, and his process comfortably transitions between digital and analog, mixed media and traditional darkroom as needed. Ondrik’s photography is part of the permanent collection at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe and the city of Albuquerque’s Public Art Program. He is the youngest of twenty-five photographers included in “Photography: New Mexico,” published in 2008 by Fresco Fine Art Publications. In 2009 he was nominated for Center’s Santa Fe Prize for Photography. In 2009 he helped found Flash Flood, an online magazine seeking to promote photographers in New Mexico. Ondrik is also a National Teaching Board Certified high school art teacher.