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The University of Texas at Austin


Briscoe Center Publishes Flash of Light, Wall of Fire

Book offers students and scholars a unique perspective of nuclear war

Austin, Texas—The Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin announces the Anti-Nuclear Photographer’s Movement of Japan collection, a large archive of rare atomic bombing photographs. As reported this morning in The New York Times, most of the images have never been published in the United States. They form the basis of the center’s new book, Flash of Light, Wall of Fire: Japanese Photographs Documenting the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (UT Press, August 2020). Flash of Light will be followed in 2021 by an exhibit of the same name on the UT campus. The Anti-Nuclear Photographer’s Movement (ANPM) collection will also be made available to students and scholars for research and teaching, both online and in the Briscoe Center’s reading room.

“75 years later, public memory about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is fading on either side of the Pacific. Meanwhile, international tension between nuclear powers is on the rise,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “Both the Anti-Nuclear Photographer’s Movement collection and Flash of Light, Wall of Fire provide stunning visual evidence of what happens when even relatively small nuclear weapons are used against human beings and their built and natural environments.”

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Photo by Masami Oki, Hiroshima Photo by Eiichi Matsumoto, Hiroshima Photo by Satsuo Nakata, Hiroshima Photo by Yosuke Yamahata, Nagasaki Photo by Hiromichi Matsuda, Nagasaki : Photo by Yosuke Yamahata, Nagasaki Photo by Yosuke Yamahata, Nagasaki

The United States used atomic bombs against Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively. Thousands died instantly while thousands more suffered horrific burns and radiation-related sicknesses outside of the immediate blast zones. Fires raged uncontrollably across both cities, and many seriously injured people went without medical care for days. By the end of 1945, an estimated 140,000 people had died in Hiroshima, a city of 330,000, while an estimated 74,000 had died in Nagasaki, a city of 260,000. Thousands more were seriously injured, permanently disfigured, and mentally scarred while their cities lay in ruins. In the immediate aftermath, a number of Japanese photographers, some of them seriously injured themselves, worked to document the devastation. Many more came from across Japan, at the behest of their editors or government officials, in the ensuring weeks.

On August 15, Japan surrendered to the United States. Considering visual and written accounts of the atomic bombings to be military secrets, the US Army imposed a strict code of censorship on Japanese newspapers and magazines. As a result, many photographers hid their prints and negatives in order to prevent their confiscation. In 1952, America’s military occupation of Japan ended. Within a few years, a number of Japanese books documenting the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were published. However, only a limited number of these photographs have ever been published in the United States.

“The dominant visual impression of nuclear war in American culture is the mushroom cloud—that is, the view from a distance, from above. The great strength of the ANPM collection is that it forces us to comprehend the effects of nuclear war from the ground level,” said Carleton. “With only a few exceptions, the majority of images found in the ANPM collection have never been published in America. They are brought together for the first time in Flash of Light, Wall of Fire, and it is my hope that they will educate all of us regarding what actually happens when human beings use nuclear weapons against each other.”

The ANPM collection consists of 826 images (415 from Hiroshima and 411 from Nagasaki). They were taken by approximately fifty Japanese photographers during the fall of 1945. The ANPM began its collecting efforts in 1982. According to ANPM steering committee member Kenichi Komatsu, ANPM was founded to help bring about the “ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons and arms reduction” in the world. Their goal was to gather visual evidence of nuclear war and then organize, preserve, and exhibit that evidence. In 2018, Don Carleton led a small team of Briscoe Center staff to Japan in order to assess the ANPM archive and meet with ANPM leaders and members (including Kenichi Shindo, Keisuke Kumakiri, Tsuneo Enari, and Hisaaki “Hank” Nagashima) as well as to connect with fellow archives and museums professionals in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Flash of Light, Wall of Fire is published by the University of Texas Press. It is available for purchase on the UT Press site and from other booksellers including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound. Flash of Light, Wall of Fire includes an essay by Dr. Michael Stoff, an associate professor of history at the University of Texas of Austin, and an afterword by Michiko Tanaka, a Japanese journalist who grew up in Hiroshima.