California Literary Review

Images from How To Photograph an Atomic Bomb


October 22nd, 2007 at 9:45 am

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VIP observers are lit up by the light of an atomic bomb, Operation Greenhouse, Enewetak Atoll, 1951.

How To Photograph an Atomic Bomb
by Peter Kuran
VCE, 142 pp.

Castle Bravo detonation, March 1, 1954. 15 megatons. Largest nuclear test conducted by the United States.

Troop maneuvers during Operation Tumbler-Snapper were covered extensively by the media including a color featurette entitled “Operation A-Bomb” produced by RKO-Pathe. Twenty-one hundred marines participated in the test. May 1, 1952.

Dominic Truckee, 210 kilotons, Christmas Island Area, June 6, 1962. Speed Graphic camera. Film, Ektacolor.

Five volunteers sent to witness the Genie air strike at ground zero

“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.”

-George Yoshitake

Crossroads Baker, 21 kilotons Bikini Atoll, July 24, 1946.

Plumbbob Hood, 74 kilotons, Nevada Test Site, July 5, 1957.

Cameramen photograph shot of Grable at the Nevada Test Site, May 25, 1953.

Nuclear Testing Timeline

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.

Nuclear testing milestones:

07/16/45 Trinity test in Alamogordo, New Mexico

06/30/46 Crossroads Able at Bikini Atoll, first atomic test after World War II

07/24/46 Crossroads Baker at Bikini Atoll, first underwater test

01/27/51 Ranger Able, first atomic test within the US, at the Nevada Test Site

05/08/51 Greenhouse George, first thermonuclear test

10/31/52 Ivy Mike, first experimental thermonuclear device

05/25/53 Upshot-Knothole Grable, first and only test of an atomic cannon

05/20/56 Redwing Cherokee, first airdrop by US of a thermonuclear weapon

07/19/57 Plumbbob John, first and only air-to-air missile test of an atomic weapon

09/19/57 Plumbbob Ranier, first detonation contained underground

09/01/58 Hardtack Teak, first detonation in space at 77 kilometers, on a Redstone rocket

11/04/62 Dominic Tightrope, last atmospheric test conducted by the US

09/23/92 Julian Divider, last nuclear test conducted by the US

  • Gus

    great pics loved em

  • http://pooopooo.poo terererer

    i think war is poo, we should be nice not mean!

  • Andrew Reed

    Your compilation is presented in a dispassionate (apparently objective) way, but leaves me feeling deeply saddened witnessing a prime example of the foolishness of our species, particularly considering the date (1992) of the last nuclear test. I have some problems with the title of your piece because (a) the article contains nothing about the equipment or techniques or problems encountered, (b) the title seems to make light of a truly disturbing chapter of our history. I think you have started an important work here, but you need to more carefully consider your subject and then consider the viewpoint from where you wish to stand. I hope this is helpful.

  • jez

    @andrew reed: i think you’re getting a bit hysterical about – and missing the point of – this series of photographs.

    “the article contains nothing about the equipment or techniques or problems encountered”

    i’m sure five minutes with google would find you more information than you’d ever need on that subject…

    “the title seems to make light of a truly disturbing chapter of our history.”

    Yeah, I didn’t like that U2 album, either…

    Yes, we all know of the horror of nuclear weapons. But surely we can just appreciate the unique and strangely beautiful sight of a nuclear test without having to go on with yet another diatribe on the evils of atomic weapons.

  • Baskin & Cabins

    Yeah, there definitely is a strange beauty to nuclear test photos. Obviously every one is aware of them and what they are capable of. Thanks for the post.

  • Simon

    I believe the photos are absolutely stunning! Perhaps it would be wise to not introduce politics into a photgraphy site?

  • Pete

    Amazing pics! Does anyone have an idea when another test is being done. Hopefully never.

  • notterererer

    I think war is poo. They should be nice to us. But since they aren’t about to start being nice to us, we are, sadly, forced to be meaner than they are going to be to us, and just psychotic enough for them to think we might actually use them.

  • alfredo

    the atomic bomb is not good

  • tim

    if this is the testing that our goverment and other goverments are doing, it is kind of scary knowing that these will be some of the last videos, and pictures we will see because of all the fighting in the world. it takes one finger to press a button that will start a nuclear war. but it will take millions or even billions of people to rebuild our world, and to rebuild our lives after the devastation caused by our leaders. it is only a matter of time and if i were you i would start counting down because that time will be coming very soon. now is the time to react and to do something before mankind is eliminated.

  • Terry Szlucha

    I was stationed on Christmas Island during the Tests in 1962. USAF

  • Jon

    Nuclear Bomb tests have always amazed me, I think only Because it is a scary situation that all it takes is one person and thats basically it for mankind, but these pictures are taken well!!

  • David (eBay blog)

    What a great pics!

    I would _really love_ to see more pics of atomic explosions, especially from Soviet nuclear tests.

    Best regards,

  • bubba hotep

    those pictures are *&%$ awsome that would like totally burn the hair off your $%#

  • Erik deJong

    To David (Ebay

    If you would like to see some more photos of nuclear tests, you should definitely check out the book “100 Suns” by Michael Light.
    It should be what you are looking for.


  • poop


  • grape

    those nuclear bomb pics are awsome

  • Andew Rule

    Points well taken about nuclear bombs and war being bad. But, consider that the vast majority of these bombs exploding in the atomosphere were not in agression. They were mostly scientific tests. Although the purpose was to build more effective weapons, science was advanced, indeed were scientific ventures. In that sense, these have a beauty of their own.

    Hopefully, much of the knowledge gained can be used to make swords into plowshares.

  • xpez2000

    These pics certainly possess a hyper-polarizing aesthetic.

    Simply put, they are supremely evil yet extremely seductive.

    These comments remind me that all signs exist within an intellectual terrain that cannot escape the expansiveness of the human experience.

    With this in mind, it is only conceivable to ignore the politics of these images if you decide observe the images as a person with a limited intellectual capacity. The moral controversy that surrounds these images are what make the images so compelling to begin with.

    If viewers are only interested in observing these images as purely formalistic images completely divorced of any meaning / interpretation / connotations, they would probably be equally thrilled if these images were macro photographs of soapy dish water swirling around a glass jar.

  • fancy fukuyama

    the aesthetics of war cannot be depoliticized. the fascist in us all is pleased by the form of the photos. by not complicating the subject matter and speaking to the experience of the brown colonized people who’s tropical and dessert lands were used as environmental sacrifice zones, is simply, to majorly get off on war pornography.

  • fancy fukuyama

    “Points well taken about nuclear bombs and war being bad. But, consider that the vast majority of these bombs exploding in the atomosphere were not in agression.”

    andrew rule, i believe the western shoshone of the los alamos area and the people of the bikini atoll felt that these were acts of aggression. 700% rise in lukemia rates in children born after 1942 on indian reservations in nevada should attest to that.

    expezz2000 says “If viewers are only interested in observing these images as purely formalistic images completely divorced of any meaning / interpretation / connotations, they would probably be equally thrilled if these images were macro photographs of soapy dish water swirling around a glass jar.”
    you’re right. they’d probably also be thrilled to see micro images of the way peoples skin curled back from the bone from the heat of the atomic blasts in hiroshima and nagasaki. or a micro image of a child who’s Iraqi or Gulf War veteran parents had DU poisening and was born with its intestinal tract on the outside of its body.

    yeah. it’s art.

  • pradeep

    awesome pic, but dont ecourage nuclear and atomic bombs……..

  • nate

    war is great bomb everyone who isnt usa

  • Lawrence

    I find the photos awe inspiring, interesting, fascinating and also scary (especially the incredible trust of those who were in the test zones).

    The comment about leaving politics out of these photos is rather naive, like images of Bergin/Belson and forgetting the gypsies, Jews and homosexuals who died there. Inherent in the photos is the politic but that ought not blind anyone or make them seek a year zero solution.

    The world we live in is the world we have made; we are better seeking beauty in the terror than hiding from it in the shadows of shallow rhetoric and fear mongering.

  • Himanshu karna

    I would like more pics of atomic explosions, especially from Soviet nuclear tests.

  • Azmodon

    so fancy fukuyama, where can I find your rant about guns? – their invention and progression… you know, having killed a lot more people than a nuke.

    Or how about poison gas used both in and out of war.

    Is meat murder to you too? or do you just like to do the whole “well it could be offensive to someone therefore I’m offended” thing because you can’t understand different perspectives?

    Have fun trying to answer all that without being dimunative or attempting to bash me :)

  • =gary=

    Greetings, Peter

    I have to thank you for your contribution to a much broader understanding of the nuclear weapons history of the Cold War. I greatly appreciate what you have done to track down declassified footage, and to give it your own expert touch to restore it to “better than new” conditon.

    As an amateur graphics editor, I am amazed at the quality that you have brought to these scratchy, dusty, decaying films. And as a former Cold Warrier (Submariner), I am very thankful that I never had to participate in delivering such devastating weapons against our fellow human beings.

    Obviously, you aren’t forcing some kind of political “agenda” on anyone, but instead, you are simply making this historical footage available to all of us – and leaving it up to us to find our own meaning.

    Judging from a few of the other comments here, I’m guessing that some of these folks have never had the opportunity to view your award-winning documentary, “Trinity And Beyond – The Atomic Bomb Movie.”

  • Sfc E R FOX

    “I was there”, in fact for most of the Pacific and Nevada detonations as a motion picture cameraman.
    I enjoyed the comments and of course the photographs.
    Aug. 2009

  • John A. Stovall

    For those interested in more images of nuclear test from both the United States, United Kingdom, France and the former Soviet Union.

    See the Nuclear Weapon Archive.

  • india

    i am only 10 but enjoy this good infomation i am going to do a lot of reserch on differnt websites and compare them

  • moby doug

    It would be fascinating to read the medical histories of the poor trusting guys who watched these explosions, from close in, with no more protection than sunglasses. Wow. The mind reels. And think of those 2100 obedient Marines who were ordered to do maneuvers in the shadow of an exploding bomb. How many tumors, fatal and otherwise, did they get? How many genetic defects, mutations, did their offspring suffer? All but one of these explosions took place AFTER Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so the brass HAD to know, from the evidence of the Japanese survivors, of the damage atomic radiation could do. No wonder there were so many horror movies in the ’50’s featuring mutant atomic monsters. People were terrified of atomic attack AND of fallout from “friendly” tests.

  • Benson Nable

    I notice your timeline leaves out testing by the Soviets, Chinese, N Korea etc, etc. Was this because of their strict secrecy or is there another reason to focus only on the US?

  • Joe

    My grandfather was one of the photographers in New Mexico, and I believe at Trinity. If there was any overlap between his enlistment and that of ERFox, his name was John (or Jack) Moore.

    When he died in 1975, my grandmother, in a complete cold-war induced panic, went out to the garage, and torched most of his memorabilia. (Photos, commendations, etc.)

    We still have some pictures of the bunkers, but I don’t think we have any of the plumes.

  • RaulJones

    Nukes rock. Fact. Now, get over it.

  • fancy fukayama1234

    these pics are cool \m/(>.<)\m/ rock on nukes

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  • mark

    I think all nukes are safe. We should have Nuke powered cars by now. Why don’t we ? And Plutonium plated testicle
    sheilds. For that extra measure of protection. The Human race has yet to enjoy the benefits of Nuke Joy.

  • http://yok yasemin

    ke?ke bu atom bombas? yarat?lmasayd?da bu insanlar?n bas?na bunlar gelmeseydi.

  • nunya

    I say hell yeah to nukes!!!! Blow them up!!!!!

  • Genie

    interesting that everything the US does is for “defense” and yet only US has dropped bombs all around the world. Face it folks, we are the world’s threat.

  • John Lease

    This was insane to have people ‘watching’ this.

  • Reason

    Yes, and you know better than those that faced WWII.

  • Roberta X

    “Brown colonized people?” So, not Japan,then?

  • Valet2

    Too expensive. And this would crash the economics.

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