PetaPixel

Haunting Photographs of Nagasaki Taken One Day After the Atomic Bomb Dropped

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This week, 24 incredible, powerful, haunting photographs will be going up on the auction block at Bonhams in New York. These are photographs that are newly-discovered, and many of them have never been seen before as they were taken with a faulty camera and never made it in front of the public eye.

They are photographs of Nagasaki, Japan, taken by celebrated Japanese military photographer Yosuke Yamahata the day after an atomic bomb was dropped on it and Hiroshima.

When the bomb was dropped on the 9th of August, 1945, Yamahata was actually on an assignment near Nagasaki. As soon as he heard the news, he hopped on a train with a writer and painter to go document the devastated city.

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His assignment was to document the city in pictures that would be used for military propaganda, and so he spent that day taking a total of 119 photographs of the destruction that the atomic blast had left in its wake.

Unbeknownst to him, one of his cameras had a faulty shutter mechanism, and so many of the photographs turned out unusable for his purposes (12 of the images at auction are thought to be from this camera), but many of the ones that did turn out appeared, on August 21st, in Mainichi Shimbun.

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However, the images didn’t remain in the public eye long. Once American forces arrived, censorship ensued and the images were pulled.

Yamahata was able to hide the negatives, many of which have become iconic in the intervening years, but these particular photographs were found in a photo album of an MP that confiscated them from a citizen in Osaka. It appears he had no idea of the significance of the photographs he had taken and preserved.

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Speaking of what he saw in Nagasaki, Yamahata called it a “hell on earth.” And, in fact, capturing these images likely cost him his life in the end. Yamahata died in 1966, at age 48, from a cancer that it is very likely was caused by his exposure to radiation in Nagasaki.

And yet, he realized the importance of these images, despite what capturing them ultimately did to his body. As quoted by The Independent, in 1952 he wrote:

Human memory has a tendency to slip, and critical judgment to fade, with the years and with changes in life-style and circumstance. But the camera, just as it seized the grim realities of that time, brings the stark facts of seven years ago before our eyes without the need for the slightest embellishment

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The photographs at auction this week — these images of a reality many would rather turn away from — are expected to fetch between £15,000 and £21,000, or approximately $25,000 to $35,000. To learn more about the photographs you see above, or explore them in more detail, head over to the Bonhams website by clicking here.

(via The Independent)


Image credits: Image(s) copyright Shogo Yamahata, provided courtesy of Bonhams.


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  • Vlad Dusil

    The terrifying devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was documented in the 2007 HBO special White Light / Black Rain. I recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.

  • Chang He

    They must have updated the price. The website now says £15,000-21,000, which is $25k-35k

  • Joey Duncan

    Thanks! I’ll check that out.

  • DLCade

    All of the media coverage must have spiked the expected price, thank you for the heads up, we’ll update right now!

  • Martin Garcia

    I was wondering…should his negative been affected with all the radiation at Nagasaki?

  • Chang He

    It probably was. But slower films are less affected, and since this was 1945 he was probably using ISO 25-ish film for these shots.

  • james

    The bombs were 3 days apart, not the same day as the article suggests.

  • Jimmers

    As of this date, to my knowledge, the USA is the only country to use nuclear weapons in war. Amazing huh?

  • Jimmers

    We didn’t care much about collateral damage then I guess. We are so political correct now!

  • Tobias W.

    It’s difficult to read the intended sentiment from your statement. ‘Amazing’ however is not the word I’d use, as it might imply a certain amount of national pride in favor of the USA for what by today’s standard was essentially one of the biggest war crimes ever: dropping nuclear weapons of mass destruction on three cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians.

  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

    Actually, there is one other country.

  • Vlad Dusil

    I am pretty certain it was only the USA who did use nuclear weapons during war time against its enemies. Do tell…

  • ims63

    This is not a war crime, and no, I’m not an american. I’m a british born Canadian and my father is a 91 year old WWII veteran, he fought in southeast asia for the british. I say this is not a war crime because people like to say it is without any reference to the time, without any context. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were both valid military targets, both contained large military bases. In addition to that the americans were trying to bring a quick end to the war, something that they predicted, as best they could at the time, would continue for the next 5 years. An invasion was out of the question, the cost in lives would be estimated at least 2 to 3 million people per side, which is far greater than the initial explosions of the bombs killed. There wasn’t enough information about radiation at the time, and to unravel that information would take time they didn’t have. The war had to end, fast. The Japanese did not surrender initially, they didn’t think the Americans had more than one bomb. The Americans proved them wrong. The Japanese surrendered, part of the conditions of surrender was for the Emperor to inform his people that he was not a God, just another human being as they were. The Japanese people believed their emperor was a god, many would have fought and died for their god, too many. This is why the americans used the bomb. A swift and decisive end to a potentially long and brutal war, that would have caused more deaths. This was not a war crime, it was the use of a new weapon to bring a swift end to a brutal war, a war many at the time believed could get much worse. Be thankful it wasn’t the Japanese, or the Germans at the time who developed and used a nuclear device. Neither would today, but they were very different people back then.

  • Omar Salgado

    This is an imperialist justification. C’mon, we weren’t born yesterday.

  • Christian Feeger

    Although this is a cogent explanation at a macro level, I believe it is worth bearing in mind that wantonly killing little children is always an unspeakable “crime”. It is barbarous and cold-blooded, irrespective of who does it. That is why war is such an evil thing. There is no glory in these acts. Just a deep sense of pain that war compels ordinary people to do such unthinkable things.

  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

    Okay, I mis-remembered. I thought there was a limited yield artillery shell used in the Egyptian desert, similar to the Vela incident.

  • DesertTumbleweed

    Thank you for your father’s service.

  • Wuz nt Me

    It always seems as if in an effort to demonize the USA people too easily forget all the other details involved. The Japanese waged a campaign of rape, murder, atrocities, and destruction wherever they went. They were brainwashed by their leaders to believe all other races were either animals or demons and there were no consequences for there actions.
    There were numerous bombing raids against japan that far exceeded the death and destruction caused by the atomic bombings. The atom bombs were just the straw that broke the camels back. It is more amazing to me personally to think of what it took to get Japan’s leaders to stop their carnage against others and their own people.
    That doesn’t mean I condone the use of the atomic weapons or that I think they deserved it but, they had to be stopped somehow and not just for the sake of the USA but for the sake of the millions of people they would have gone on to kill.

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se/ Erik Lauri Kulo

    Oh, I would worry about it still. People use this justification and has been attempting to revise the history ever since those bombs were dropped.

  • james

    Speaking of racism.. Don’t forget the internment in the U.S of Japanese Americans. If you were 1/16th or more Japanese, even if an american citizen you were put in a prison camp. Sounds like what a certain German leader did to the Jews eh? In wars, there are always atrocities on both sides. There are good guys and bad guys on both sides but it’s the winners who get to write the history.

  • Wuz nt Me

    Nothing I said implied the US was blameless in any way. I was just pointing out that people like to make it look The US is the only one to blame.
    The US interment camps also held Poles, Germans and several other nationalities including their American born children.
    Those camps violated several parts of the constitution and numerous american laws.

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  • Syuaip

    Oh. My. God.

    The photos. The feel. So sad.

  • JcPhotoMedia

    are you a moron? the US would not be the imperialist in this story. The US did not invade China, Korea, South East Asia. Nor did the US attack Japan. If you call WWII imperialist aggression on the part of the US then you were born yesterday at best.

  • JcPhotoMedia

    i totally agree that war is barbaric – that is why when forced to fight the fight should be ended as quickly as possible. If it were up to me the US would stay out of 99% of the wars that we end up involved with. WWII is an exception to that rule. 2 in 10 POW’s in Europe died in captivity. 7 out of 10 in Japan. The Japanese (and I can respect this) did not believe in surrender. It was the worst thing possible. The death toll that would have resulted in 3-5 more years of battle in Japan would have exceeded anything that was accomplished through the bomb. Japan should have surrendered after the first bomb. The problem with liberals (and I’m pretty damned socially liberal) is that you can not win with them. Fast forward to today – save our girls etc. IF the US was to step in the gov’t would be attacked for war crimes when they kill many “civilians” during the ensuing battle. argh

  • Bill Binns

    Would it have been ok if we used plain old incendiary bombs? Because that was plan B. Followed by a full scale invasion that would have killed just as many Japanese (if not more) plus 100,000 American G.I.’s.

    Compare these photos to photos of Dresden after it was fire bombed. Not much difference except for the lingering radiation.

  • Matt

    The horror of nucular bombs is not so much the devistation, although that is what most people focus upon. As you point out, there were other attrocities commited by all that were just as bad. The real horror is that it requires so little effort. The fire bombings took hundreds of bombers to achive the destruction that now can be done with one plane. What this means is that the total amount of destruction we can inflict is, well, total. It would not take a lot of effort to wipe out whole countires. That is the horror.

  • yanipoo

    Forget war crime. Maybe it’s not, maybe it is. But it’s no doubt a crime against humanity. As in any overt cruelty of other humans. No one can argue that this is not inflicted cruelty on someone… hundred of thousands of someones.

    Having said that, my grandmother thought the Americans were heroes for dropping the bomb because no one was able to stop the Japanese. Before everyone freaks out, my grandmother was not white, was not American, but a Chinese woman who saw untold terrors and a refugee due to the Japanese invasion.

    I side with the crime against humanity and no one will know if the bomb was necessary. But if it wasn’t for the Americans, one can fairly say that Hitler would have prevailed and so would the Japanese.

  • Mark Katz

    As unethical as the internment of Japanese Americans was, it did not result in them being gassed to death. 6 million Jews and countless Gypsies, Homosexuals and anyone different than the Nazi’s. You can’t possibly compare the two. Please read up on history before you make such a bad comparison.

  • Bay

    Extremely well said. For those interested in this conflict, Jeff Shaara’s “The Final Storm” provides an excellent narrative of the conflict in the Pacific theater, the bomb, and the mentality of the Japanese that helps understand this decision in an historical context.

    These pictures show a small piece of the combined horror of WWII, and I hope that by keeping such images in our memory we can help prevent history from repeating itself.

  • Mike Walker

    10K Chinese civilians were estimated to be dieing every day because of the Japanese occupation of China. The Japanese had tried to kill every POW they had before liberated territories were occupied, and they got most of them. They had plans to kill all the ones they had repatriated to Japan. There are written records of that, they were used at the war crimes trials. The atomic bombings saved many lives, including Japanese lives. The Japanese war plan was to accept losing half their population but forcing the US to sue for peace. When they realized the futility of the war, the government thought about surrender, there was a coup, but after the second bomb few still thought there was a point. Thinking about the bomb without context is a total waste of time.

  • james

    hey Mark, I am aware of history and the disgusting things that the nazis did…it’s just that history is not as black and white as you would like it. We are all the same, living within our man made borders, on an amazing planet that could provide for our every need…but for greed.
    Also, one can compare things that are similar, but not the same.

  • http://www.korioi.net/ Korios

    So the bombings were “the lesser of two evils”. Macciavelli would have been proud..

  • http://www.korioi.net/ Korios

    Exactly.

  • http://www.korioi.net/ Korios

    The US is not the only one to blame but it is the only one to have dropped not one but two nuclear bombs, on largely civilian targets. The bombings were also part of an experiment about how much damage and how high a number of casualties can a nuclear bomb inflict in a real world setting. That is one of the reasons two different nuclear materials were used (uranium and plutonium), to determine which one was more effective.

  • Gosseyn

    you mister just won the pragmatic a$$h*le award :)

  • Wuz nt Me

    I’m not sure I get your point. Are you just trying to say that being the first to use the bombs makes the US worse than the japanese, the Nazis and everyone else…
    I think we all agree that everyone involved did some horrible things. If you need for the US to stand alone as the worst of all of them then… I don’t know what to say.
    We were, after all, in a race against others to develop the bomb. As my family was living in the US at that time I am at least grateful that the first bombs weren’t used here by our enemies. Someone was going to use them first.
    As I pointed out, everyone involved killed as many and possibly more people than those two bombs did and the war went on. With two bombs we ended the war. Would it have been any less tragic if we obeyed some death speed limit and killed as many or even more people over another couple years?

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  • Joseph Crews

    I get your point, Mike Walker. We are justified in doing evil because other people commit evil acts. Does your religion teach this?

  • Joseph Crews

    to Jimmers: We still don’t care about “collateral damages”. We used depleted uranium in the Bush War against Iraqi civilians, and we execute people summarily without trial or hearing, using Drones today.

  • UBK

    1. One bomb on Hiroshima would have been enough, that the Japanese didn’t surrender immediately was due to faulty communication. Dissent among their High Command concerning the word ‘Unconditional.’ Hirohito – The Sun God, could never under any circumstances be tried as a war criminal.
    2. Nagasaki was a secondary target, Kokoda being overcast, they wouldn’t have been able photograph the effects. It was NOT a military target
    3. ‘Big Tom’ had a different trigger device, it was also dropped as a warning to Russia, to prevent Russian troops advancing, as they had already occupied Manchuria and taken one of the Japanese islands off Sakhalin – which has not been returned. Technically both countries never having signed a peace agreement are still at war.
    4. Another reason the second bomb was dropped was to prevent the massacre of thousands of allied troops still in Japanese hands.
    5. The fire bombing of Tokyo earlier caused far more loss of life.
    6. Read ‘Hiroshima Joe,’ one of the saddest stories ever, or any account of an allied POW who experienced the destruction of Hiroshima.

    Humans ? When will they ever learn ? When will they ever learn ?

  • UBK

    The slaughter of entire families as carried out historically in mediaeval times, notably in Japan; ensured there was no survivor to reach maturity and exact revenge. Quite common practise in O.T. times, the writers of which found the practise so efficient they see no reason to compromise.
    Christian, it is the very nature of the human beast. Consideration for others outside the family, clan or tribe only became part of the human psyche after Paul wrote his letters to friends in other parts of the Roman Empire. As a secularist I consider the New Testament the greatest work of fiction ever written, but no matter whether Christ was or wasn’t a fictional character, the MESSAGE was the important thing ; to show compassion, charity and forgiveness for others outside the home circle – The Good Samaritan etc., stories I suspect were lifted from Buddha and Kung Fu Tze – Confucius. was the introduction of CONSCIENCE, the one thing to lift mankind one step above his animal level ; to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” requires no diety nor rituals, subjection nor dominant interpreters. churches, synagogues, mosques nor temples.

  • UBK

    America’s crime against humanity, was to use DU shells against a country that has never possessed nuclear weapons.