“One rainy night eight years ago, in Watertown, Massachusetts, a man was taking his dog for a walk. On the curb, in front of a neighbor’s house, he spotted a pile of trash: old mattresses, cardboard boxes, a few broken lamps. Amidst the garbage he caught sight of a battered suitcase. He bent down, turned the case on its side and popped the clasps.”
What he found inside the suitcase were seven hundred and one black-and-white photographs depicting scenes of a devastated city.
Lost to the public for over sixty years, the pictures were taken by the “Physical Damage Division”, a special team of 150 men that was part of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. a group commissioned by Harry Truman to analyse the effectiveness of the United States bombing campaigns in Europe and Asia.
During late November and October, 1945, this team would leave the warship they lived on, drive to Hiroshima, and document the impact of the nuclear blast that had destroyed the city. This sort of information and imagery was censored by the American government at the time: “nothing shall be printed which might, directly or by inference, disturb public tranquility.”
The fascinating story of these photographs is told in a Design Observer article from May of 2011. The pictures were also the subject of an exhibition by the International Center for Photography in New York.