Nuclear photography: Making the invisible visible

Nuclear photography: Making the invisible visible
Carole Gallagher

Published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists November/December 2013 vol. 69 no. 6 42-46

In this essay, the author explores whether nuclear catastrophe is beyond the reach of art. A documentary photographer, she reflects on her own work capturing the lives of those who lived downwind of the nuclear tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site in the United States. Many years after being immersed in the project for a decade, and documenting the effects of 1,000 nuclear devices that had exploded above this population, the author finally arrives at the answer to her question.

American Ground Zero cancer Mormon Nevada nuclear test photography

When the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, two types of photographs captured this gripping moment: those that showed a mushroom cloud on the horizon, and those that depicted devastated cities and the many survivors who had been burned beyond recognition. From that year until today, 125,000 nuclear warheads have been constructed, and nine countries have nuclear weapon capability (Kristensen and Norris, 2013). So when thinking about art and destruction, it might be fair to ask: Is art at all effective in reminding the world of the destructive impulses that lead to war, and is art effective in subduing humanity’s urge—and possibly need—to fight wars? The answer, at least in terms of art in the nuclear age, is possibly no. Art, when produced at a distance—from an artist studio or loft, say—cannot stop nuclear proliferation. It cannot stop a war.

Read the rest of the essay here.