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Lot #2062
Nagasaki Original First Generation Photograph Album

World War II photograph album including 24 images of Nagasaki, the day after the atomic bomb devastated the city

Estimate: $50000+
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World War II photograph album including 24 images of Nagasaki, the day after the atomic bomb devastated the city

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 250 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 are 24 photographs 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 (twelve of which the MP has mistakenly identified as “Hiroshima”). At some point between the end of September 1945 and July 1946, these were probably seized by the unidentified American MP who was stationed in Osaka and included them in this album with hundreds of other photos of himself and other MPs training and carrying out their duties. 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 show himself and other MPs 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 as well as scenes of everyday life.

The photographs by Yamahata, which include twelve glossy and twelve matte-finish photos, show the immense destruction of buildings, vehicles, and the people of Nagasaki as a result of the atomic bomb. Two of the most famous images he took are present: one of a mother breastfeeding her child, which appeared in Life Magazine in 1952; and one of a young boy in a robe holding a rice ball, which was used as the cover image for the 1952 volume of Yamahata’s photographs entitled Atomized Nagasaki. This photo album also includes 'panoramas' of two pictures side to side as Yamahata intended. 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. Due to the extreme and graphic content of some of these historic images we will not be posting these images either in this catalogue or on our website. However we will send all images to those interested in this lot.

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 Atomize 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 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 glossy and matte finishes of the photographs in this album. In preparation for this book in 1995 an evaluation of the  existing negatives both original and copies was under taken. 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 this book. This is significant relative to the photographs seen in this MP’s photo album which are from the original negatives and show detail not retouched as seen in ‘Nagasaki Journey.’ Compare looking at one of the most iconic images of the little boy next to his mother both holding rice cakes. You will notice in the MP’s album this image has two original black dots in the background. However the same image in ‘Nagasaki Journey’ those black dots have been removed making the 24 original photographs in this album as possibly the only known to exist. 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: Remarkable Rarities: Elite 100
  • Dates: #484 - Ended September 25, 2016