Conflict:Time:Photography at the Tate Modern – Hiroshima Memories

I know, it’s a bit odd to write about Hiroshima in January. The time to remember the atomic bomb that was dropped there, bringing the War in the Pacific to an end, is August, the anniversary of the event. But I’ve been thinking about Hiroshima because of a visit to the Conflict:Time:Photography exhibition at the Tate Modern which shows the legacy of war as artists and photographers have captured it in retrospect. Looking at the recollections of Hiroshima in the show brought back my memories of visiting the city.

It’s a long time since I went there; so long that I don’t have any of my own photographs of the place. In those far-off days, taking loads of photographs was something only Japanese tourists did, one of those odd Japanese habits that the English found faintly amusing. Well, we’re all Japanese tourists now.

The most interesting thing about Hiroshima today is how normal it is. It’s a modern, thriving city, a few hours on the bullet train from Tokyo. That, in itself, is strange. They said it would take fifty years after the bomb was dropped before it would be safe to go back to Hiroshima because of the remaining radiation.

Hiroshima today Courtesy: City of Hiroshima

Hiroshima today, Courtesy: City of Hiroshima

They haven’t rebuilt the centre of the city, where the bomb was dropped, though. Instead there’s a park – the Peace Park.  And in the centre of the Peace Park is the Atomic Dome – practically the only building that survived the blast, due to it’s unique domed shape. I can’t tell you how affecting it is to stand next to this building and imagine the experiences of people on that day.

Hiroshima dome before the bombTo give you an idea of what it was like when the bomb dropped, there is a harrowingly detailed account of it in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, including two scale models of the city – one showing it before the blast, the other after it.

But back to the Tate. The idea of their exhibition is to show the passage of time by ordering works in terms of how long after the event they were created. So at the very beginning is this photo of Hiroshima, which dates from less than twenty minutes after the explosion.

© The estate of Toshio Fukada

© The estate of Toshio Fukada

Later there are photos of radiation survivors from twenty-five years after, and later still are photos by Hiromi Tsuchida of objects in the memorial museum that survived the blast, like this lunch box. The peas and rice inside are carbonised; the body of its owner was never found.

© Hiromi Tsuchida

© Hiromi Tsuchida

In a way, the before and after photos I’ve used in this post bookend the exhibition by starting before the blast even happened and ending in the present day. Hiroshima unscarred before the bomb and Hiroshima rebuilt after the bomb – not a war zone but a city. An uplifting thought to take away from a exhibition about war.

The Tate exhibition is not just about Hiroshima, though that’s what I’ve focused on. It contains work from the mid nineteenth century to the present and ranges across the world, from the Crimea in 1853 through the first and second world wars to Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Afghanistan. It challenges us to look back, and consider the past from the different vantage points of elapsed time. Well worth a visit.

Conflict:Time:Photography continues at the Tate Modern until 15 March. Tickets are £14.50.

13 thoughts on “Conflict:Time:Photography at the Tate Modern – Hiroshima Memories

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I have only been to Hiroshima once and that was some 32 years ago. I do remember walking in the peace park, listening to the recorded narrative in the museum and bits of the exhibition but I would like to go back and see it again. There is bound to be loads of coverage of WWII this year, its being the 70th anniversary since it ended. I think we would need it so that everyone will want to continue to live in a country w/o war though our current administration seems to think otherwise.


  2. I just returned to Hiroshima this autumn, after having been 6 years ago during our first year in Japan. Sometimes, out of sight of the A-Bomb Dome, you forget that this city has such a tragic history. Which is why the museum is so important – soon, once all the hibakusha are gone and can’t tell their stories, it’ll be the main record of what happened there.


  3. One of the great tragedies of the human race… if we have discovered something we can’t stop ourselves from trying it out. Japan’s agony may have saved the rest of the world later in the century. I would probably not have existed without Hiroshima as my father was a POW in Thailand, but I would still rather it had never been dropped.


  4. Pingback: Kirk Palmer – Remembering absence | Sequins and Cherry Blossom

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