In keeping with my experiences at the Art Gallery of Ontario, I was duly impressed by their current exhibit, Camera Atomica. This year, art historian John O’Brian has curated a collection of photos in the first part of an eight-part series currently exhibiting at the gallery, with further exhibts to come. He brings his opinions, perspectives, and challenges to the heart of art in downtown Toronto.
Camera Atomica showcases some of O’Brian’s rawest work yet. His aim is clear and simple, making the exhibit both historically appealing and original.
The photo gallery displays three sections of the first part of the series: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Test and Protest, and Radiation and Uranium. However, the first room doesn’t compare to what follows in terms of depth and perspective, and the subject matter itself proves to play an even bigger role in the last two parts of the exhibit.
O’Brian doesn’t hold back in his efforts to display the intense, and sometimes powerful, outcome of human brutality. He’s not afraid to show the outcome of nuclear testing and the consequences of radiation, such as the severity of the Americans’ bombing of Japan in 1945.
The exhibit, one might find, is neither happy nor sad. Rather, it is merely a reflection of a collection of emotions. One particular example of this is shown through a photo of a boy, about 15, carrying his little brother on his back in the aftermath of the bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s tragic, and it seems they’ve lost the rest of their family and only have each other. The viewer can see what devastating consequences the event has brought, as well as the desire between the two brothers to help each other live.
Through the series, one can feel the bitterness of the Japanese people, but also their triumph, at least from the surviving members. This is also consistent throughout the third section, Radiation and Uranium. After the United States ran some nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site in St. George, Utah, residents were seriously affected. Some of their stories can be found in the series, photographed by Carole Gallagher.
The extremities of nuclear testing and bombs have been measured out to quite an extent through the photos put together by O’Brian. Not only does it allow the viewer to realize the barbaric effects of nuclear energy, but it touches on how fragile life itself is. We learn that human beings can come out of rough circumstances alive and yet go on with their lives. For example, the photo entitled Mr. and Mrs. Kotani: Two Who Have Suffered from the Bomb, show a couple laughing with their child even after an event that will never fade in their memories.
Camera Atomica runs at the Art Gallery of Ontario until November 15.