Groundbreaking AGO exhibition Camera Atomica
traces photographic legacy of “the bomb”
and nuclear energy
TORONTO —Wherever nuclear events have occurred, photographers have been present to record what happened; few aspects of the nuclear environment have escaped the camera’s gaze. Opening at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on July 8, 2015, Camera Atomica is one of the first exhibitions of atomic imagery to chart the entire post-war period, from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the present. Featuring over 150 photographs, from 1945 to 2012 including work by Harold Edgerton, the Canadian Atomic Energy Board, Robert Del Tredici, NASA, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Kenji Higuchi, Carol Condé and Karl Beveridge, the exhibition is accompanied by a selection of atomic-era artifacts. Camera Atomica will be on view at the AGO until Nov. 15, 2015.
Guest curated by John O’Brian, Professor and Faculty Associate of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia, Camera Atomica explores the crucial role that photography has played in shaping the public’s perspective of atomic energy and weapons. Sophie Hackett, the AGO’s associate curator of photography provided internal curatorial support.
“In subtle but provocative ways this exhibition addresses some of the most controversial issues of the post-war era including nuclear proliferation, toxic waste disposal and climate change”, says O’Brian. “Beyond demonstrating the reach of atomic energy, this exhibition speaks to the power of photography—how it has influenced our perspectives over generations and helped shape a legacy of social anxiety.”
The entrance to the exhibition is marked by a hanging chandelier made with uranium glass that glows green. It was created by artists Ken and Julia Yonetani. One of 29 chandeliers created as part of the Yonetanis 2012 installation Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations, the chandelier represents Canada. The work, which poses no risk to human health, is suspended from the ceiling. The green glow it emits is the result of a UV light shone on thousands of uranium glass beads, which hang in place of crystals.
The works in the exhibition are organized thematically in three sections and are loosely chronological, moving forward from 1945 to the present: Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Test and Protest; and Uranium and Radiation. Opening with a series of images by Berlyn Brixner of the first atom bomb test explosion in New Mexico in 1945, the initial section addresses the advent of the atom bomb through documentary images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a series of survivor portraits, including several by Shomei Tomatsu on loan from the Museum of Modern Art, New York
The second section of the exhibition – Test and Protest – covers the period from the first nuclear test at Alamogordo in 1945 to intensified anti-nuclear protests that began in the early 1980s. Some of the works in the section reflect the exponential growth in artistic output around the subject of nuclear proliferation and safety that occurred following the election of President Ronald Reagan and the heating up on the Cold War in 1980. Works by artists Bruce Conner, Nancy Burson, Hiroshi Hamaya, Richard Misrach and Michael Light are among those featured in this section.
The final section highlights nuclear energy as environmental hazard, medical tool and national industry. Featuring Edward Burtynsky’s striking image Uranium Tailings #12, Elliot Lake, Ontario, this section also includes Emmet Gowin’s lunar-like aerial views in Nevada and Montana and David McMillan’s photographs of Chernobyl’s ruined landscape over many years. Stills from Carol Condé and Karl Beveridge’s 1986 art film No Immediate Threat deal with the plight of workers at the Bruce Ontario Nuclear site. Robert Adams’s portraits of daily life lived in the shadow of the Rocky Flats nuclear power plant provide an uneasy reminder of what’s at risk. Sandy Skoglund tackles this topic with humour in her iconic work Radioactive Cats (1980).
A discussion room, designed to evoke a fallout shelter, concludes the exhibition, replete with posters, articles and details about local engagement with atomic energy.
Guest curator John O’Brian will give a free public talk on July 8, 2015, in the AGO’s Jackman Hall at 5:30 p.m. This will be followed by a free public reception from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in Walker Court to celebrate the opening of the exhibition.
A 304-page soft cover catalogue accompanies the exhibition and will be for sale at shopAGO for $25. Co-published by the Art Gallery of Ontario and Black Dog Press, Camera Atomica includes over 250 illustrations and essays by John O’Brian, Hiromitsu Toyosaki, Julia Bryan-Wilson, Blake Fitzpatrick, Susan Schuppli, Iain Boal, Gene Ray, and Douglas Coupland.
The exhibition is included with the price of general admission and is free to AGO members. More information on the benefits of AGO membership can be found at www.ago.net/general-membership
Camera Atomica is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Gordon Edwards’ voice is one of three voices that have been recorded for visitors to the exhibit to listen to.