by Shomei Tomatsu
In his career as a photographer, Shomei Tomatsu has shot many powerful images, documenting post-war Japan. One of his most famous series of photographs was a selection of photos he shot of Nagasaki following the bombing. He charted not only the still present damage to the city itself but through dramatic black and white photographs the scars on the human victims of the bomb.
Fifteen years after the bomb fell, Shomei Tomatsu was asked by the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs to document the city and its inhabitants, Tomatsu took the job despite knowing little about the city or the bombing. The series, entitled “Nagasaki 11:02,” shows the effects of the A-bomb and the ever-lasting imprint it would leave upon Nagasaki. The photographs illustrate the damage both physical and psychological caused to both people and objects and cover a diverse number of areas. The photograph from which the series takes its name is a watch that was dug up 0.7km from the epicenter of the explosion and which stopped at 11:02 a.m on the 9th of August 1945 (the exact moment the bomb fell).
Other photographs include images of the survivors of the bomb known as the “hibakusha” illustrating their extensive scarring to the camera and images of foetal victims, now specimens in jars. His photos continue to show poignant damage at sites around the city such as destroyed statues of angels at Urakami Cathedral. The impact of this project upon him was so powerful that he continued to visit Nagasaki yearly and eventually moved there in 1998. The photographs capture the horror of the blast and its continuing influence over the city and the victims of the bombing.
The most famous image from this collection, strangely given the powerful nature of the images of the victims of the bombing is of a melted bottle. The melted beer bottle is perhaps one of the most surreal photographs from the series and it takes on dreamlike qualities. The photograph, taken at the Atom Bomb Museum, shows a warped and distorted bottle deformed by the heat and radiation and highlights the power and devastating results of the atomic era. These photographs are deeply affecting and one cannot be failed to be moved by the images rendered so starkly in black and white.