The German news magazine Der Spiegel has an incredible, and disturbing, story about photographers and filmmakers who worked for the US government in the Cold War years, chronicling atomic bomb test blasts… from 3.1 miles from ground zero, just outside the blast zone and considered a safe distance. One surviving photographer, George Yoshitake, shot photos of a mushroom cloud with nothing but a baseball cap to protect him from fallout.
The work of about 40 photographers and cameramen in the 1352nd Photographic Group of the US Air Force, in both the Nevada desert and remote islands in the Pacific Ocean, was considered Top Secret at the time, and the surviving cameramen are just now starting to tak about their experiences, thanks to a documentary filmmaker’s efforts to capture their stories. Many of the images and films shot by these men have become iconic images of the era, and used in dozens — maybe hundreds — of other films and articles.
How crazy were these men to put themselves so close to nuclear annihilation to document such a horrible weapon? “We could see how the shockwave came rolling across the valley floor,” says Yoshitake in the article. “We hung onto our cameras so we wouldn’t fall over.”
Yoshitake also says his worst memory was photographing the results of a blast on animals placed in the blast zone. I have to wonder if Yoshitake — like many Japanese Americans — had family members from the Hiroshima region of Japan, and if the thought ever crossed his mind that his relatives may have been in harm’s way when the first atomic bomb was detonated above Hiroshima at the end of WWII.
The Der Spiegel article (it’s in English) is fascinating, and also features a gallery of eight of the images.
(Thanks to Kateopolis’ Tumblr blog, where I first saw this)