Twenty-seven years ago, my career as a photographer was launched by a series of images of billboards, TV monitors, and drive-in theaters ("Drive-in Theater" and "Billboard" series, 1992-1997).
At once visually seductive and iconic, I saw these sites as mere façades or projections that conveniently concealed or obfuscated larger national issues of religion, immigration, racial and economic inequality, and unrest. I also came to realize that these interfaces allowed Hollywood and corporations to espouse fabricated mythologies or histories of the American Dream through films and ad campaigns.
With the recent promise to "Make America Great Again," we're no longer recollecting the past but reliving it, which compelled me to revisit my old negatives of drive-in theaters and start photographing more recent abandoned theaters in the Midwest.
The early "Drive-in Theater" and "Billboard" series brought the past to the present by digitally filling the theater screens with images I took of KKK demonstrations, the southern border, migrant workers, etc. By changing the context of familiar imagery to Americans, the viewer becomes an observer and is asked to question the ideology of the American Dream.
In the new "Eclipse" series, the screens have gone blank, appearing as dark predictions. They stand as uncertain monuments in a disorienting landscape that is at once familiar yet unrecognizable. Muddling night and day, positive and negative, present and future, the darkness of the land quietly unveils our memories and questions what we remember and forget as a nation.
Osamu James Nakagawa is the Ruth N. Halls Distinguished Professor of Photography at Indiana University Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design. He is a recipient of the 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2010 Higashikawa New Photographer of the Year, and 2015 Sagamihara Photographer of the Year in Japan. Nakagawa's work has been exhibited internationally and is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; George Eastman Museum; Tokyo Photographic Art Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and others.