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Watching the Bombs Go Off: Photography, Nuclear Landscapes, and Spectator Democracy

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Abstract:

This study examines the role of photography in the Atomic Energy Commission's representation of nuclear weapons testing during the 1950s. Pictures of fireballs and mushroom clouds functioned as part of an explicit AEC strategy to reduce the public to spectators. These photographs were designed to take the place out of the landscape — unlike the contaminated places near America's nuclear proving grounds, the pages of popular magazines were not subject to radioactive fall out. The seemingly neutral observations of the camera obscured the morphologies it appeared to represent. These arguments are developed primarily in terms of the militarization of space in Nevada, including a new geography of nuclear armament; the “story” of bomb testing produced though interaction of popular media with AEC objectives; and the social-theoretical context of photography, representation, and spectacle as politically malleable processes.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-8330.00045

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado

Publication date: July 1, 1997

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