Tomatsu’s Trauma: Nagasaki

The Image from Tomatsu’s Book, 11:02 Nagasaki.

Shomei Tomatsu’s images from his book, 11:02 Nagasaki, are some of the most haunting images that I have come across. This bottle, from the book, is so surreal and abstract, yet highly mimetic. The beer bottle is a symbol of freedom, leisure, and enjoyment, but Tomatsu’s image is a haunting reminder of the subversive quality of war. War has a way of turning the established hierarchy and symbology upside down, and in this case, it is the universal symbol of the beer bottle.

It is the everyday, the banal, that crafts civilian experiences of the war, and Tomatsu’s photograph brings that to the forefront. Nagasaki was not a battlefield, but the Atomic Bomb made it one. The remanants of the battlefield exist in fragments, and the memory of it is so highly distorted that shapes and appearances no longer adhere to the rules of Euclidean geometry.

From the photograph, a lot of information can be gleamed about the blast. The shockwaves and thermal waves came from the RHS of the photograph. If the curvature of the bottle is extended into a full circle, it would be possible to infer the source of the wave emission for the particular energy that deformed the bottle, and this does not necessarily need to be the epicentre of the blast. From the bottom of the bottle, it can be inferred that the bottle was probably standing, and the blast did topple it over. The colour of the bottle is bleached, offering no indication of the original state of the bottle itself.

The spread in the book, showing the bottle in perspective.

What makes this photograph an even better representation is that it does not depict a person. The conflict over “whether representational forms should be allowed to continue unchanged by the events they described” (Armageddon In Retrospect, Simon Baker) takes place in this photograph. The bottle represents the human world, but the background is indecipherable. If the bottle’s bottom melted into the surface upon which it was photographed, I would say that a human structure was so drastically morphed into highlights and shadows, that the only way to truly represent it would be through the morphed, unnatural form of the bottle.

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