There is an interesting byplay in the collaborations of L.A. photographer Patrick Nagatani and L.A. painter Andree Tracey. In 1983, the two funneled their interests and came up with a compelling breed of tableaux vivants plus performance plus art plus photography.
Works by the pair spanning the last five years are on view at UCLA's Wight Gallery through Dec. 13, including their first joint venture, "Atomic Cafe." The artists built a life-size scene around Tracey's painting of the landmark downtown watering hole. A weird man sits near a cafe window that looks out onto a cartoonish Alameda Street traffic jam. He is served real French fries and real utensils in the form of objects hanging chaotically in front of the painting. A live female recruited to play the waitress holds a tray with props suspended to look as if they've just been toppled.
The carefully orchestrated spectacle was photographed using a rare, large-scale Polaroid camera. The resulting one-of-a-kind photos turn the diorama into conceptual art at its best. The actual objects, painted flat red, take on the look of affixed magazine reproductions. Because of the very limited depth of field of the large Polaroid format, the "real" waitress looks like a compressed paper doll. With intentional irony, the only sense of dimensionality comes from Tracey's very artificial cartoony rendition of the cafe space and the city beyond.