Visualising Disasters, part I: the Atomic Bomb and its culture

The American military campaign of nuclear bombing which took place from 1945 to 1962 was filmed by several cameramen and photographers. New York Times has published a part of Peter Kuran’s photographic work “How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb” accompanied by the testimony of George Yoshitake, the last cameraman involved in this project who is still alive today.

The atomic bomb as a weapon of war was used for the first time on 6 August 1945, during the final phase of the World War II. It was dropped by the American aircraft Enola Gay over the city of Hiroshima in Japan causing an emblematic icon of the atomic mushroom.
No photographs of the incident were published in the press until the following bombing of another Japanese city, Nagasaki on 9 August. On 11 August the photographs of both missions were released and the end of the war was announced.

Photos of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (George R. Caron) and Nagasaki (Archive of the U.S. Air Force). Source:




As a result of this timing, the photographs were welcomed as pictures of triumph and glory and were not primarily seen as evidence of disaster. Further on, the experience of the magnificence of the spectacle was reinforced by and also transformed into the emblematic transformation of the mushroom cloud.

The celebration of the Bikini Atoll experiment in 1946 with an “atomic cake” is an example of this procedure:

(Source:Historical Pictures Service)

The cloud of the atomic bomb became a controversial icon of both visual magnificence and horrifying reality from the very beginning of its photographic depiction and it became the vehicle for a whole atomic pop culture.

For a view of the various visualizations the atomic bomb generated take a look at a Fallout Shelter Handbook of 1962 and the documentary Atomic Café, directed by J. Loader, K. & P. Rafferty.

This entry was posted in images, Photography, visual culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s