World's Fair

These offer another set of landscape images (here were some others: one; two), these punctuated by the contrast of nuclear sky, horizon, and military maneuver. I saw them at this site, though that site was reposting images from the book How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb, by Peter Kuran. The Cal Lit Review site says this by way of couching the images:

Between 1945 and 1962, the United States conducted over 300 atmospheric nuclear tests above the ground, in the ocean or in outer space.

On August 5, 1963, the United States and the former Soviet Union signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, effectively banning the testing of all nuclear weapons except those tested underground. Atmospheric nuclear test blast photography came to an end.

The first one, below, is from the Bikini Atoll, July 24, 1946.

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This next is from the Nevada Test Site, May 25, 1953. Showing the photographic implements themselves, this one seemed especially striking to me even though the blast itself does not dominate the sky as the first one.
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This 15 megaton one, the Castle Bravo detonation of March 1, 1954, just doesn’t even seem real.

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And, finally for this post (though there are more at the Cal Lit Review site), this one too is striking for its inclusion of the soldiers (humanity), the blast (inhumanity), and the sky (supra-humanity). From May 1, 1952, 2100 marines were part of the exercise.

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For a really startling and sharply done view of the process of these tests and military exercises (if these images don’t do that for you), I’d say check out the documentary Atomic Cafe. All I can say is that it’s quite a memorable film.

Comments

  1. #1 Moopheus
    October 27, 2008

    The book 100 Suns also has a nice collection of restored test photos, if you’re into that kind of thing (like me). It isn’ quite true that test photography came to an end in 1963, since the Chinese continued above ground testing for a while after that. But their material isn’t seen often in the West.

  2. #2 aprudy
    October 28, 2008

    Nice shots, do we know if they are cropped to increase their dramatic effect? (I took a photography class once upon a time many years ago…) Also, per our previous exchange, the dramatic effect was at least temporarily understood as part of the technological sublime, no?

    I don’t know if it is true but I was told in my teens by my mom (who gave birth to me in 1961) that the straw that broke the atmospheric test bans back was the discovery of radioactivity from the tests in every mother’s breast milk… As Andy Szasz noted in his account of the rise of the (anti-)toxics movement, in EcoPopulism (1992?), in the US, you do not mess with moms and kids (I simply don’t know if apple pies were tested for radioactivity… there are a lot of apples grown downwind of Hanford Nuclear Facility after all.)

    Environmentalism – given the self-understanding most adherents have of themselves as advocating for nature – has, of course, a rather fraught relationship with the anti-war side of the anti-nuclear movement… and one thing I’ve always loved about my mom’s account (which I’ve scrupulously not sought to disconfirm) is the focus on 60s environmentalism as a middle class public health movement and suburban aesthetic focused on pollution… but understood to be a continuation of the (quite different) environmentalisms of preservationism and conservationism.

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