Peter Blum is pleased to announce the exhibition The Atomic Explosion, June 9 through July 29, 2011, at Peter Blum SoHo, 99 Wooster Street, New York.
The Atomic Explosion comprises of 66 vintage photographs of nuclear testing and detonations mainly performed by the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, predominantly at the Nevada Test Site and at the Marshall Islands. A few photographs also show the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
The need for testing and developing the atomic bomb began in the late 1930s in response to the rise of the Third Reich and the fear that Germany would develop a weapon of mass destruction. The United States initiated the Manhattan Project, headed by the physicist Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the atomic bomb. During the 1940s and 1950s over 200 atomic bombs were tested. Most famously atomic bombs were used for the attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ended World War II.
The photographs in the exhibition were used for documentation, press or taken by eyewitnesses. The photographer is often anonymous. We merely see a photograph of the event, sometimes accompanied by a plain description. The images range from the powerful explosions to shattered crater landscapes to viewers and soldiers watching the explosions from afar.
Formation of the Plume (column) in the 'Baker' Test, 1946 depicts the detonation of the atomic bomb used in the Baker Test. It illustrates the beauty of the image versus the power of the explosion. This test was part of a series of tests called Operation Cross Roads, which was conducted in the Summer of 1946 in the Bikini Atoll, an island group in the Pacific Ocean.
A selection of photographs in the exhibition includes a mere description of the facts of the bombing. An example is the photo entitled Atomic Test, Nevada (Annie, Operation Upshot/Knothole), 1953 which has as description: “Las Vegas, Nev., 3/17/53 - This is the viewpoint from which photographers saw a huge cloud arise from today's Atomic test. (…).” The contrast between the neutral description of the event and the knowledge of what nuclear bombing has caused is shocking.
The photographs, with their frankness and striking beauty, represent what could be considered a key legacy of Twentieth Century technology. It shows the power of humans to exploit the laws of physics to destroy nature and humanity. In this sense the photographs in the exhibition are truly astounding and horrific at the same time.