Bloomington photographer Osamu James Nakagawa, a 2009 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and associate professor of photography at the IU Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts, makes pictures that disrupt reality.

“I change reality,” he says of his work. “I paint.”

Nakagawa, 49, has lived in Bloomington with his wife, Tomoko, and daughter, Hikari, 13, since 1998 when he came to IU from New York City with an already-established international reputation.

His work has been shown around the world and featured in such publications as The New York Times and Time and Aperture magazines.

Born in New York City in 1962 to Japanese parents, he spent his childhood in Japan and, in the late 1970s, moved back to the United States when his father was transferred to Houston for work.

Nakagawa says he feels like an outsider in both cultures. This state of being in between is reflected in much of his art.

This is how Nakagawa works: from his base in Bloomington, where he says he draws creative sustenance from a close network of artist friends, Nakagawa roams. He is drawn to spaces and places where cultures collide.

He did just that when he turned his camera on Okinawa’s precipitous cliffs, the site of the devastating American military assault in 1945.

“I was shocked,” he says of his first glimpse of the cliffs, where many Okinawans jumped to their death in a mass suicide. “I couldn’t just see the plain, beautiful sky, and the cliffs going down to the ocean.”

At that moment, his creative instincts kicked in. “I have to transform it,” he remembers thinking at the time. “I have to get it out of my body.”

Back in his studio in Bloomington, Nakagawa plays with color, light, and perspective, often by digitally stitching images of the same scene.

Nakagawa has been represented locally by Pictura Gallery, where he was a co-curator of a show called “Contemplation” that ran in spring 2012.