Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day 69: Dark Matter

cover of 100 suns, by Michael Light
(image of Sugar by U.S. Air Force 1352nd Photographic Group, Lookout Mountain Station)

My new book, 100 Suns, organized by Michael Light, draws 100 images from the Los Alamos National Library and the U.S. National Archives. The title 100 Suns is a quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer at the site of Trinity (see Day 26). The images are a collection of "documentary" photographs of nuclear tests conducted by the United States between 1945-1962. The images in the collection are divided between locations: "desert" (Nevada) and "ocean" (various islands in the Pacific).

Each image has a caption in the back of the book detailing the time, size, and fallout effects of the blast. The captions are heralding.

The image on the cover is a bomb that was named "Sugar" by its creators. It was detonated on November 19, 1951 at the Nevada Test Site. According to its caption, Sugar vaporized 50,000 cubic feet of soil and created a crater 90' wide and 21'deep. As was the standard then, troops observed the blast from over 5 miles away before moving in closer.

The caption also reads,
"Ever-higher towers, and finally balloons, were used in successive Nevada operations to try and calm an American public increasingly aware of the profound dangers from fallout, while behind closed doors even some of the A.E.C.'s own commissioners argued for moving all testing to the Pacific."

I am simply in awe of our nation's nuclear history, most of which was new to me until about a year ago. Since then, I have become increasingly obsessed with many aspects of this history, including this point: while it is widely known that we are the only nation in the world to have actually "used" these bombs on other nations, it seems little known (including the American people, especially of my generation) that the United States has "tested" over 1000 of them- 700 above or within our own soil. The effects of these tests are incredibly far reaching, literally.

I simply do not know what this covert, yet blatant, bombing of "our" own earth means about American psychology, but I am certain that it reaches towards something bigger than human life, is dark, and is uniquely ours.

Michael Light will be at a conference that I will be live blogging from this October at the Nevada Museum of Art (more on this soon). I hope I have a chance to talk with him about how these images are undeniably aesthetic- could the experience of visual pleasure lend insight into why so many of them were unleashed?

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