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Lot #73
Nagasaki/Osaka Original 1945 Photo Album

American MP in Japan—a remarkable 1945 Osaka photo album, highlighted by an iconic Nagasaki image captured by Yosuke Yamahata

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Estimate: $1500+
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American MP in Japan—a remarkable 1945 Osaka photo album, highlighted by an iconic Nagasaki image captured by Yosuke Yamahata

Historically significant collection of photographs compiled in Japan by an American MP in the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, consisting of approximately 225 photographs ranging in size from 1.25 x 1.5 to 6.25 x 4.5, most affixed within a disbound hardcover album. Within the album is one iconic photograph taken by Yosuke Yamahata, a Japanese military photographer, on August 10, 1945, a day after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki: a glossy 4 x 5.5 photo of a young boy in a robe with his mother, both holding rice balls, which was used as the cover image for the 1952 volume of Yamahata's photographs entitled 'Atomized Nagasaki.' The hundreds of other photos show the American MP himself and other MPs training and carrying out their duties in Osaka. There is a larger size photograph of this MP dated 'Dec. 1945 Osaka,' which would place him in Japan only four months after the bombings, and many of the other images depict them training and carrying out their duties; a candid photograph of Gen. Eisenhower and Gen. MacArthur inspecting troops is also in this album. Others show the beauty of the Japanese landscape, including Mount Fuji, as well as scenes of everyday life. In overall very good to fine condition, with album disbound, some toned tape to corners of photographs, and a few areas of emulsion or surface loss.

At some point between the end of September 1945 and July 1946, the Yamahata photographs [the others have been removed and are offered in separate lots] were probably seized by the unidentified American MP who was stationed in Osaka, and added to his personal album (many were also misidentified as 'Hiroshima'). Yamahata's photographs, of which he took a total of 119 on August 10, 1945, are the only extensive photographic record of the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and he had some of them published in the August 21, 1945, issue of Mainichi Shinbun. MacArthur and the American military soon occupied Japan, imposing strict censorship on any reporting or publishing of images of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, with orders to seize and destroy any evidence found, which would have included Yamahata's photographs. After the occupation forces left Japan, Yamahata was able to publish ‘Atomized Nagasaki’ and some of his photographs appeared in the September 29, 1952 issue of Life Magazine. However, soon after the publication of this book, Yamahata became disillusioned by the peace groups that were using his photographs for their own propaganda purposes and, for the most part, withdrew his images from circulation. It was not until 1995 that they reemerged when a controversial Smithsonian exhibition of the photographs, named ‘Nagasaki Journey,’ was scheduled and subsequently cancelled.

Following commentary from 'Nagasaki Journey,' Yamahata's published images are often contradictory. On examination of Yamahata's existing 35mm negatives, it became clear that one of his cameras had a defective frame advance mechanism. Furthermore, wartime scarcities and a government prohibition on civilian photography had resulted in a severe shortage of film stock; what remained even for military use was of varying quality, its unreliability further handicapping Mr. Yamahata's efforts. Either could explain the mixture of glossy and matte finishes of the photographs found in the American MP’s album. In preparation for this book in 1995, an evaluation of the existing negatives (both original and copies) was undertaken. Due to the degree of damage caused by light leaks, scratches, dust marks, emulsion flaking, and fogging, a decision was made to digitally restore the negatives. When the restoration was completed, new 4 x 5 negatives were taken which then produced the images used in the book. This is significant relative to the photographs found in the American MP's photo album, which are from the original negatives and show detail not retouched as in ‘Nagasaki Journey.’ For example, the iconic image of the boy and his mother with rice cakes that remains with this album has two black dots in the background; in the same image found in 'Nagasaki Journey,' the black dots have been retouched and removed. Yamahata's photographs of Nagasaki remain the most complete record of the atomic bombing as seen immediately after the bombing, and the New York Times has called his photographs 'some of the most powerful images ever made.'

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: March Auction
  • Dates: #523 - Ended March 07, 2018