Sunday, September 26, 2021


Harold Eugene Edgerton, Atomic Bomb Explosion Before 1952

 Harold Eugene Edgerton

American, 1903-1990

Atomic Bomb Explosion before 1952

About 1952, printed later

Gelatin silver print; edition 23 of 25

This uncanny, amorphous ball represents the initial detonation of a nuclear test blast, arrested for one millionth of a second. In the 1940s Harold Edgerton devised the rapatronic camera (short for rapid action electronic), and the United States Atomic Energy Commission contracted his lab to use it to capture the various stages of atomic explosions. The rapatronic camera employs two polarizing filters and a Faraday cell-a coil that acts as a magnet when it comes in contact with an electric current. The cell, activated by a pulse emitted by the bomb just before it explodes, momentarily changes the polarization of the filters to let light pass through and reach the film inside the camera.

Gift of the Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation, 1996.568

Label text from the exhibition - Art Institute of Chicago: The Human Landscape

J Robert Oppenheimer - We Are Death

I'm reminded of the concern of the Manhattan Project scientists that they might literally undo the fabric of the universe with the first test blast on July 16, 1945. Oppenheimer was quoting the Bhagavad-Gita about becoming Death at the time of that first explosion. It would have been a curious moment, had it happened. The end of the world, from an experiment gone awry. All life unraveled with no warning, other than the eons of genocide reaching their endpoint. Instead, we have more of the same. A new weapon used in all the old ways. Or the threat of its use, our mutual assured destruction. A new technology that has changed things and yet not. Neither the greatest fears nor the greatest promises.

Background on the Atomic Bomb Explosion - Code Named Harry

HARRY, Operation UPSHOT-KNOTHOLE. 4:05am May 19 1953, Nevada Test Site, tower detonation at 300', yield 32 kilotons. Photographed by an automatic ultra high-speed camera, Harry's fireball is frozen approximately 0.0001 seconds after detonation, before the blast has engulfed the tower. The surface mottling and irregularity is a result of high-velocity bomb debris "splashing" against the backside of the slightly slower expanding fireball, which glows due to compression heating of the surrounding air. Harry tested a device designed by nuclear miniaturization expert Ted Taylor that resulted in the most efficient low-yield fission detonation ever. "Dirty Harry" was also a radiological disaster, creating the worst fallout contamination of any of the U.S. continental atmospheric nuclear tests. 1000 troops observed the fireball, which lasted an unusually long 17 seconds; the radioactive debris cloud rose to a height of 38,000' and then moved directly over St. George, Utah, 100 miles to the east. Deadly fallout inundated the entire town of 5000 nocent and unsuspecting residents, most of whom would later develop cancer. The Hollywood film The Conqueror, starring John Wayne and Susan Hayward, was shot the following summer in a canyon near St. George; 30 years later, 91 members of the cast of 220 had developed various cancers, and Wayne and Hayward would both die of it. Of the estimated cumulative total of 85,000 person-roentgens of external gamma ray exposure created by all continental tests from 1951 to 1958, Harry is thought to have contributed 30,000 alone. Fallout from three other tests in the Operation Upshot-Knothole series would prove especially deadly as well: Nancy, detonated on March 24, would kill 4390 sheep near Cedar City, Utah; Dixie, detonated on April 6, would cover Boston with radiation, and Simon (see #019), detonated April 25, would douse Albany, New York with unsafe levels of radioactive rain. Shortly after the Operation's conclusion a Utah Congressman demanded that all testing on the continental United States stop; public concerns about the dangers of fallout began to coalesce as a national issue. The Atomic Energy Commission publicly maintained until its dissolution in 1974 that no damage was done from either Harry or Nancy; internal documents declassified thereafter showed this to be a patent lie. Image from an Edgerton, Germeshausen, & Grier Rapatronic camera by U.S. Air Force 1352nd Photographic Group, Lookout Mountain Station.

text from Michael Light - 100 Suns

Notes on Edgerton Atomic Bomb Explosion Photograph

The exposure was made 7 miles from the atomic explosion using a 10-foot lens.

There is a 4x5 copy negative at the Harvard Art Museum

In addition to the Art Institute of Chicago, several other museums have copies of this print (MIT MuseumSmithsonian American Art MuseumDetroit Institute of ArtsPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American ArtNelson-Atkins Museum of ArtMinneapolis Institute of ArtNational Gallery of Canada). They are gifts of The Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation.

This page includes a diagram of the rapatronic shutter

See also this informational document at the Nevada National Security Site

And this about the "end" of nuclear testing at the United Nations International Day Against Nuclear Tests

Cataclysm - Definition and Etymology

a large-scale and violent event in the natural world.

a sudden violent upheaval, especially in a political or social context.

early 17th century (originally denoting the biblical Flood described in Genesis): from French cataclysme, via Latin from Greek kataklusmos ‘deluge’, from kata- ‘down’ + kluzein ‘to wash’.

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