The Hiroshima Photographs: Ground Zero 1945

The Nuclear Weapon “Little Boy” Exploding on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

Rooftop View of Atomic Destruction, Hiroshima, October 31, 1945

The Landscape of Hiroshima, Looking Northeast, October 27, 1945

Ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall , October 24, 1945

Distorted Steel-Frame Structure of Odamasa Store, Hiroshima, November 20, 1945

Ruins of Chugoku Coal Distribution Company or Hiroshima Gas Company, November 8, 1945

The Hiroshima Photographs: Ground Zero 1945

Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945 is a new exhibition of once-classified images of atomic destruction at Hiroshima presently on display at New York City’s International Center of Photography. The collection of photographs both repels and fascinates the viewer, with its powerfully ugly portraits of an unpeopled and obliterated city. The photographs were originally part of a governmental analysis of the atomic bomb’s effect on concrete, wood and steel, and this catalog of devastation was meant to be seen only by postwar architects and engineers tasked with erecting the “bombproof” cities of the future.

The Hiroshima photos have a strange and contorted history. In the mid-1990s, the owner of a diner in Watertown, Massachusetts, was walking his dog when he spotted a beat-up suitcase sitting in a pile of trash. It turned out that the photographs inside had once belonged to Robert L. Corsbie, an engineer and expert on the effects of the bomb. Just how those photos wound up in his possession remains unclear. Corsbie belonged to a cadre of ordnance experts, engineers, photographers and draftsmen who were sent by President Truman to analyze the nuclear devastation.

The Hiroshima photographs are fundamentally different from the more familiar World War II pictures of European cities, such as Cologne, where the stones of the cathedral rise from the debris, and blown-out buildings loom like hollow-eyed zombies. Those ruins have a perverse but palpable grandeur, a gothic desolation that is missing from the scenes of Japan’s ravaged emptiness. In hauntingly stark contrast to the images of European destruction, the Hiroshima photographs are eerily mute. There are no people, only twisted metal, blistered walls and miles of rubble. Except for a few skeletal structures poking out of flattened wreckage, the city simply vanished. Hiroshima didn’t look like a bombed city; it looked instead as though a monstrous steamroller had passed over it and just squashed it out of existence. The Japanese city centers, constructed mostly of wood, simply went up in smoke when bombed.

Wary of the conquered people’s anger and grief, the US government imposed strict censorship in September 1945, confiscating pictures and ordering that no image be printed which might, directly or by inference, disturb public tranquility. It was not until 1952 that Life Magazine published a handful of photographs taken in the first days after the attack. Even now, such images are rarely displayed. That is why this cache of photographs is so important. Once part of a classified archive, then buried in a basement, thrown away and resurrected, it counteracts the universal tendency to aestheticise violence. There is nothing awe-inspiring here, or even poignant, just plain devastating facts.

Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945

Grave of the Fireflies: A Japanese Anime Masterpiece

Grave of the Fireflies is an acclaimed Japanese anime masterpiece, a dramatic animated film written and directed by Isao Takahata. The film tells the story of two children from Japan’s port city of Kobe, who have been made homeless by the WWII American firebombing of the city. The film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Nosaka Akiyuki, who was a boy at the time of the firebombs, whose sister died of hunger and whose life has been shadowed by guilt. Roger Ebert considers Grave of the Fireflies to be one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made, describing the film as “the most profoundly human animated film I’ve ever seen.”

Grave of the Fireflies: A Japanese Anime Masterpiece

Photo-Gallery: Hiroshima, Ground Zero 1945

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Shadowplay: The Ghosted Images of the Unforgettable “Shadows” of Hiroshima

Shadowplay: The Ghosted Images of the Unforgettable “Shadows” of Hiroshima

Shadowplay is an animated stop-motion short film, which was written, animated and directed by Dan Blank. The film was the winner of the 2002 Los Angeles Film Festival Best Short Award, the 2002 Student Academy Award (Bronze) and the 2003 Student Emmy Award (Gold). In August of 1945, in a closing chapter of World War II, a blinding flash lit the sky over Hiroshima.  In that searing light, huge slabs of concrete worked like emulsion paper, creating silhouetted photographs of that split-second of power.  Only shadows were left of  the people who had been going about their everyday lives: a man washing a window, one casually entering a bank and another about to whip his horse.  No other word more aptly describes these ghosted images in Hiroshima other than “haunting.” Shadowplay is the story of Akio, a shadow of a young boy, who wanders around the devastated city searching for his family, while trying to make sense of the unfathomable atrocity.

We should be reminded of these images when there is talk of nuclear threats or weapons of mass destruction.  Like the chalk outlines at a modern-day crime scene, the faceless poses of Hiroshma should make us realize that this could have been anyone, anywhere.  For those of us who never lived through World War II or the Atomic Age, the shadows are a timeless, unforgettable portrayal of life stopping.  I hope that you’ll find this film to be a touching, respectful and heartfelt film about the horrors of war.

Dan Blank introduced the film to his audiences with these words: “For an American making a film about a Japanese tragedy, it seems that my film could only be aimed at a global audience, for all sides of conflicts worldwide….I hope the images in ‘Shadowplay’ move you the way they moved me. Thank you.”

Shadowplay: The Ghosted Images of the Unforgettable “Shadows” of Hiroshima

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