Camera Atomica

Exhibition runs July 8 to Nov 15, 2015

Photographs have played a crucial role in shaping perceptions of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. Camera Atomica — guest-curated by writer, curator and art historian John O’Brian — is the first substantial exhibition of nuclear photography to encompass the entire postwar period from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi in 2011.

The election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980 accompanied an intensification of the Cold War, and artists and photographers responded in large numbers to the escalating risk of a nuclear confrontation. The politics of the Cold War also coincided with a cultural debate around photography and its claims to represent what is “true” or “real.” Much post-1980 nuclear photography reflects altered understandings of the limitations of photography and the dangers of the nuclear arms race.

Camera Atomica addresses pressing issues in the post-war era – nuclear weapons proliferation, toxic waste disposal and climate change – as they are represented in photography. Organized thematically, it brings together vintage and contemporary photographs, press and fine arts photographs, scientific and touristic images and advertisements and propaganda from a wide range of sources. A discussion room, designed to evoke a fallout shelter, concludes the exhibition, replete with posters, articles and details about local engagement with atomic energy.

Beginning with Wilhelm Röntgen’s discovery of the X-ray in 1895, the exhibition includes more than 200 works, including an installation by Ken + Julia Yonetani, Ken Domon and Shomei Tomatsu’s photographs of hibakusha (survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), David McMillan’s photographs at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and Sandy Skoglund’s darkly humorous Radioactive Cats, as well as works by Nancy Burson, Edward Burtynsky, Philippe Chancel, Carol Condé and Karl Beveridge, Bruce Conner, Robert Del Tredici, Carole Gallagher, Blake Fitzpatrick, Kenji Higuchi, Michael Light, Dean Loomis, Richard Misrach, Ishiuchi Miyako, Barbara Norfleet, Andrea Pinheiro, Shimpei Takeda, Donald Weber, Garry Winogrand and official U.S. Army and press photographs from the AGO’s collection. Also featured is a recently acquired work by James Welling, from his series The Glass House.

This exhibition is curated by Professor John O’Brian

Image Credit: U.S. Military Operation Priscilla, taken at the moment of the shockwave, 1957 / Camera Crew at Exact Moment of Shockwave Arrival, Nevada Test Site 1957 Image courtesy VCE, Inc.