VISION AND VOICE IN THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT : PATRICK NAGATANI AND JOHN ADAMS

Today's blog post was written by Sharon McCawley, a current docent at the Museum who moved to Santa Fe three years ago from Los Angeles. She was an educational therapist and the Coordinator for the Arts Program for her school specializing in drama, opera, dance, playwriting, and visual arts.

Two symbiotic experiences are fortunately accessible for visitors to The New Mexico Museum of Art and The Santa Fe Opera this summer: Patrick Nagatani: Invented Realities and Dr. Atomic, the opera by John Adams (2003).

Patrick Nagatani, Trinitite Ground Zero, Trinity Site, New Mexico, (from the series Nuclear Enchantment), 1988-89
Patrick Nagatani, Trinitite Ground Zero, Trinity Site, New Mexico, (from the series Nuclear Enchantment), 1988-89, Silver-dye bleach print (Cibachrome), 20 × 24 in. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Gift of anonymous donor, 1997 (1997.61.1) Photo by Cameron Gay © Patrick Nagatani Estate
 

New Mexico is known as "the Land of Enchantment" and Nagatani ironically plays on this phrase in his photographic series, Nuclear Enchantment. Instead of refering to the state's beautiful mountains and trees, he focuses on the atomic testing sites and waste holes. Perhaps, Nagatani’s vision is not as isolated as it initially seems. Consider the denotation and connotation of “enchantment’. When you are enchanted, you are not simply protected by a magic spell or promised a life of happily ever after. When you are enchanted, you are no longer able to choose freely, to live independently. You are manipulated , subject to physical and psychological pain. Outer forces control you and have the power to imprison or release you.

Nagatani’s photographs enchant us. He is a director, accessing all the power of setting, theme, characterization, symbol, and emotion. He creates a surreal collaboration between actual atomic history and nightmares.   Allow him to manipulate his images in order to warn us of the moral implications of our technological choices.

Doctor Atomic opera

Like Nagatani’s alternative non-fiction photographs, Adams’ opera is an example of super realism based on government documents, foundations of nuclear physics, verified interviews, and poetic artistry. The setting is the last month, July 1945, before the first detonation of the atomic bomb which was designed and built at Los Alamos, New  Mexico. The real life characters are Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, Director of the Manhattan Project, his wife Kitty, Edward Teller, the nuclear physicist, General Leslie Groves, the Army Commander of the Project. Adams interprets the ethical ambiguities of the characters’ decision to create and to use the bomb.

The political, social, and environmental forces of that decision triggered Nagatani’s and Adams’ conscience, not just to report, but to augment the truth. Both anchor the emotions of fear, panic, frenzy, and anxiety deeply into sight and sound. Adams relates to ”existential angst” and Nagatani proclaims, “Now I say that the peace the spirit needs is peace, not lack of war, but fierce continual flame.”

The key to both vision and voice is light, like enchantment, a word with multiple denotations and connotations. Light grants us illumination, understanding, transparency, guidance.

Look and listen.