PICTURING THE BOMB:
PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE SECRET WORLD OF THE MANHATTAN PROJECT
Collected and edited by Rachel Fermi and Esther Samra
At the Pasadena City College Art Gallery
October 5 – November 12, 2011
FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Photographers Rachel Fermi (a granddaughter of the physicist Enrico Fermi) and Esther Samra curate an exhibition of photographs from the secret world of the Manhattan Project, the mammoth scientific undertaking that created the first atomic bomb.
The photographs from the Manhattan Project were taken by trained photographers who documented experiments — including the greatest one of all, the explosion of the first atomic bomb, codenamed Trinity, in the barren New Mexican desert — but they were joined by others who photographed the construction and operation of the vast uranium and plutonium plants, made official ID photographs, or casually photographed life around them. All the photographs produced within the Manhattan Project were considered secret, and many of them, when they were eventually seen by the world, cast a strangely compelling aura: the austere, Platonic form of a plutonium button, the crazy, Christmas-tree wiring of the first test bomb, the luminous snowball glow of the Trinity explosion.
Rachel Fermi and Esther Samra are the co-authors of Picturing the Bomb: Photographs from the Secret World of the Manhattan Project, published in 1995 by Harry Abrams. Picturing the Bomb was the first and only pictorial history of the atomic bomb, and contains many images – both from private and public archives – that were either discovered or declassified specifically for the book.
Fermi and Samra spent five years collecting photographs from many different sources across the United States. Scientists and army personnel gave their family snapshots, thousands of images were found in public, corporate and government archives, and the photographers who documented the Manhattan Project offered unprecedented access to their personal collections and recollections.
For this exhibition, Fermi and Samra have used this extensive archive to create paired images from the Manhattan Project. “Juxtaposing photographs is a means of generating multiple narratives,” they write in the brochure that accompanies the PCC show. “Vast differences of scale, the beauty of science and the complex role of scientists, the division between the personal and political, the transformation of land, and the ambiguity and manipulation of power, both physical and social – all these ideas and more are laden and remain stubbornly unresolved in both the photographs seen here and in the Manhattan Project itself.”
Rachel Fermi is a photographer whose work has been exhibited in the United States and abroad, and is a granddaughter of physicist Enrico Fermi. She holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art and currently teaches photography at Pasadena City College.
Esther Samra is a writer and historian of photography. She also holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art and has taught history of photography at the New School, Parsons School of Design, and the School of Visual Arts, New York.
This exhibition is presented in conjunction with the Pasadena AxS festival organized by the Pasadena Arts Council around the theme of “Fire and Water.” (More information is available at www.axsfestival.org). Pasadena City College is a participant in ArtNight Pasadena, October 14.
The exhibition is made possible through the support of the Pasadena Art Alliance, ThePasadena City College Foundation, and the PCC Division of Visual Arts and Media Studies.
Related link: http://www.pasadena.edu/artgallery