Japan: The Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima
Updated: Oct 19
Japan sadly bears numerous traces and remains of World War II, particularly in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In August 1945, the first atomic bombs in the history of humanity were dropped on these cities, resulting in more than 250,000 direct and indirect casualties. Causing indescribable damage for several kilometers around, these two bombs wiped Hiroshima and Nagasaki off the map in an instant. All buildings collapsed, were blown away, and turned to ashes, except for a few. They were preserved as witnesses to these events.
© O. Robert
Therefore, I wanted to photograph some of them to offer my own respectful perspective on this past. This includes the Hiroshima Dome, the One-Legged Torii in Nagasaki, and the Kaiten Training Center located in Kawatana, on the island of Kyushu as well.
Photography and the Reserve Duty
Landscape photography is a complex field of imagery. Regarded as the most challenging discipline in photography, it often carries its share of mysteries and questions. When it comes to capturing an image of a scene laden with a painful history deeply rooted in the collective memory, like a symbol of suffering, the photographer sometimes grapples with difficult questions.
How can an artist's eye, accustomed to aesthetic values, approach a place that bears witness to this painful past without detracting from its memory? How can one respectfully convey the heavy emotional burden it carries? Do I even have the right to express a personal sentiment about this past through my photographs?
I must say that these questions have not found answers. Sometimes, I even refrained from photographing certain scenes that, on the surface, held landscape interest simply because they were laden with a heavy and difficult-to-grasp history. I regret it at times.
Is respect, then, at such a cost? Perhaps. But is it reason enough to deprive a photographer of the opportunity to make a scene their own, to render its emotional essence as they perceive it? After all, the creative photographic process might be the most intimate way to bear witness to what one feels when words are no longer enough.
What is the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima?
The Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome, also known as the Peace Memorial or Genbaku (which means atomic bomb in Japanese), was formerly the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. This 25-meter-high building was entirely constructed of bricks and concrete. Its distinctive feature is the 4-meter dome, which had a metal frame supporting a copper-covered roof. Located along the Ota River, it is now, of course, protected by the government.
Preserved just as it was found after the devastating blast on August 6, 1945, the Atomic Bomb Dome retains all of its historical significance. However, the building has undergone multiple safety measures and artificial reinforcement to ensure its longevity for decades to come. It has also been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and undergoes inspections every three years. A commemorative ceremony takes place every August 6th, where the Japanese place paper lanterns on the Ota River, symbolically referred to as the "embers of the atomic bomb."
Book: Inspiration Japon
Given its proximity to the Ota River bank, the particularly urban context of the immediate surroundings, and the barriers that encircle it, photographing the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome is quite challenging. After numerous scouting attempts at different times of the day, I ultimately chose to photograph it at night. Here again, the buildings that punctuate the urban skyline make it difficult to isolate the Dome against a black background. To achieve this, I decided to photograph it from the rear. Not only is this view unconventional, but it also allowed me to include the canopy of trees all around.
From the sidewalk on the opposite side, the view is perfect, balanced, and devoid of any distracting elements. The nighttime lighting is orange. The warmth of this light suits the scene if you are shooting in color. Black and white works very well too, as the contrast is definitively provided by the nighttime sky, and the powerful lighting on the building reflects on the tree leaves.
Certainly, this viewpoint is not the only one that allows you to photograph the Dome and convey its evocative power and symbolism. It will largely depend on the time of year when you visit this historic site. However, in winter, you will have to contend with the urban environment. Due to the absence of foliage, the trees are less prominent in the image, and the buildings surrounding the Dome obviously no longer evoke the historical context.
Book: Le Japon, des chasseurs-cueilleurs à Heian
Getting to the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima
In any case, this place is filled with mystery and emotions, regardless of our photographic quest. It is worth a visit if you are in the vicinity of Hiroshima, just like the "Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum" opened in August 1955.
It is very easy to find the Dome once you arrive in Hiroshima. Many signs point the way in several languages from the city center.
For reference, it is a 30-minute walk from the main train station (2.5 km).
Final tip: If you are staying in Hiroshima, consider planning an early morning visit to Shukkei-en Garden. Dating back to the 16th century, it's one of the most beautiful gardens I've had the opportunity to photograph.
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