How To Photograph An Atomic Bomb
Peter Kuran has been fascinated with the Atomic Bomb and its photography. As he writes: "It wasn't until 1945 that the sciences of photography would cross paths with the sciences of the atom. For the next 17 years, still and motion picture photography would combine with atomic physics to create imagery the world may never witness again first hand."
In 1995 Kuran produced and directed "Trinity and Beyond (The Atomic Bomb Movie)," a documentary of the history of nuclear weapons development and testing. During his work on that documentary, he met many of the photographers, and in 1999 he directed another documentary "The Atomic Filmmakers: Behind the Scenes". He has now written this book containing documents and photographs relating to the history of US atomic weapons tests between 1945 and 1962. He also presents information about the photographers and their techniques and equipment.
The book contains amazing photographs from some of the 300 atmospheric tests conducted by the US during that period. Kuran writes that there were relatively few images and film clips of Trinity, the first test explosion, and the combat use of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The government was intent on perfecting nuclear bombs, and "photography was the best way of being able to capture data".
For the 21-kiloton, Crossroads Baker detonation near Bikini Atoll on July 24, 1946, special 100-foot towers were erected on the island for photographers to get unobstructed views. One black-and-white image captured on an 8-by-10-inch negative shows a ship standing on end after the device, positioned 95 feet beneath seawater, erupted in a plume that raised 1 million tons of water in a column 300 yards wide. A cloud could be seen rising 6,000 feet up.
A year later, atomic bomb photography was assigned to the Air Force's 4881st Motion Picture Squadron. The squadron, which later was redesignated as the 1352nd Photographic Squadron, operated out of a secret production facility in Hollywood, California, known as Lookout Mountain Studios. The squadron photographed tests in the South Pacific, and at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Edgerton, Germeshausen and Grier devised ultra-high-speed strobe techniques for producing split-second images of nuclear fireballs erupting, which allowed scientists to tailor their design of bombs.
I cannot adequately describe these photographs. You really have to see them to understand their visual impact. But it is easy to describe the unsettling familiarity people displayed while watching and photographing these tests. Many of the photographs are visual proof; here George Yoshitake puts the casual approach into words:
"One afternoon I was at Lookout Mountain right here in Hollywood, and I got a call from a Woody Mark. He said `George, I need you out here tomorrow for a special test.' I got there that night and he said, `Tomorrow morning you're going to go out with five other guys and you're going to be standing at ground zero.' I said, `Ground zero?' He said. `Yeah, but the bomb's gonna go off 10,000 feet above you.' I said, `Well, what kind of protective gear am I going to have?' He said `None.'
"I remember I had a baseball hat, so I wore that just in case. He gave me a still camera, and two motion picture cameras. These were 35mm Eyemos. I set up the two Eyemos, and had little trip wires that I could trip with my foot starting about 5 seconds before the blast. And the still camera, I also had a trip wire so that I could trip it. I could get one exposure only. The five other guys were scientists and they volunteered to be there. I wasn't a volunteer. I didn't find out until I got there."
There are absolutely extraordinary images in this book and is great gift for anyone interested in the topic.
Hardcover: 142 pages
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Shipping Weight: 2.25lbs
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