An in-depth look at an esoteric facet of a popular subject, namely the technological innovations necessary to photograph nuclear weapons tests.
Written and researched by the Academy-Award-winning filmmaker behind Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie, this multimedia counterpart to the title’s existing print versions comes with sky-high expectations. In a design that mimics the precision of a nuclear scientist’s statistical chart, Kuran’s work chronicles not so much the development of atomic weapons, but the parallel development of the classified projects tasked with photographing the weapons on display. Kuran gives just enough detail to intrigue photographic laymen but isn’t afraid to describe some of the more eye-glazing technical aspects that make photographing an atomic detonation a singular event. For anyone doubting the functionality of e-books, this will make a believer of at least the nonfiction reader. Complete with gorgeous stills of megaton mushroom clouds, the electronic format also allows Kuran to incorporate film footage of gargantuan water columns rising from the South Pacific and another explosion’s pressure wave blowing apart a home miles from the blast. It’s a guilty pleasure, and as a historical or technological narrative or ethical treatise, it is left a bit wanting. But this is a picture book for the history buff of the 21st century. Full of Atomic-Age atmosphere, the photographs of the special cameras used in these endeavors reveal them to be as complex as we imagine the bombs must have been. The many pictures of skinny, diligent, high-waisted, goggled men in their baggy uniforms enjoying the lightshow give off an uncomfortable radiance that is both supreme camp and awesome dread. Whether a reader loves weaponry, photography or midcentury American kitsch, this is a true cultist’s delight, and Kuran’s love affair with the subject is on display. Readers will find the ability to control the speed and even time direction of the unique footage terribly addicting.
It’s a new age for nonfiction and this project brightly shows the way.