Hiroshima, photographer unknown, 1945, via International Center of Photography
Earlier this month The Design Observer Group commemorated the 64th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima by republishing the following essay by Adam Harrison Levy along with a new collection of photographs of the city following its obliteration by atomic bomb. The photographs are from a collection of 700 images by an unknown photographer that were literally found in the trash in the late ’90s by some guy out walking his dog in the rain. What’s particularly interesting about these images is the U.S.’ suppression of such documentation:
Thirty-one days after the blast, a team of U.S. scientists flew over the city. “There was just one enormous, flat, rust-red scar, and no green or grey” Philip Morrison told The New Yorker in 1946, “because there were no roofs or vegetation left. I was pretty sure then that nothing I was going to see later would give me as much of a jolt.”
The world has very few photographs of what gave Morrison that unforgettable jolt. This is no accident. On September 18, 1945, just over a month after Japan had surrendered, the U.S. Government imposed a strict code of censorship on the newly defeated nation. It read, in part: “nothing shall be printed which might, directly or by inference, disturb public tranquility.”
The U.S. government was ostensibly wary of the emotions of grief and anger that could be unleashed in Japan as a result of the circulation of images of the destroyed city; it was probably just as concerned to keep the physical effects of its new and terrible weapon a secret. But this suppression of visual evidence served a third purpose: it helped, both in Japan and back home in America, to inhibit any questioning of the decision to use the bomb in the first place.