Nagasaki, one day after the explosion of the atomic bomb


When the atomic bomb exploded above the town, Yosuke Yamahata, one of the most well-known Japanese military photographers, was working nearby. As soon as he heard the terrible news, he made his way to Nagasaki to take pictures of the devastation, which would later be used for propaganda purposes. He took 119 pictures that day using several cameras, one of which had a faulty shutter. Many of the photos taken with this camera were unusable, or so everybody assumed. The better images were published in Mainichi Shimbun but were taken out of circulation by the US-American occupation troops one or two days later. Unpleasant works of this kind were censored and confiscated.


Image source: auction house Bonhams

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Image source: auction house Bonhams

Yamahata managed to hide many negatives and to preserve the memory of the destruction caused by one of the two atomic bombs ever deployed. Living through and documenting “hell on earth”, as he described the flattened town of Nagasaki in later interviews, eventually cost him his life. He died of cancer in 1966. He was only 48 years old.

Why I’ve told you all this? Well, last week 24 of the 119 photos went under the hammer at the auction house Bonhams in New York City. Twelve of these photos had never been seen by the public – they were only recently found in the photo album of a US-American MP who had confiscated them in Ōsaka during the occupation of Japan. It is believed that they were taken with the defective camera.

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