Odamasa Store, Hiroshima

2006.1.68

United States Strategic Bombing Survey, [Distorted steel-frame structure of Odamasa Store, Hiroshima], November 20, 1945 (2006.1.68)

On November 1945, merely three months after the United States detonated an atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman sent 1,150 military personnel and civilians (photographers included) to assess, document, and record the extent of the destruction that the bomb had caused. The name of this operation and its team was the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. This board of experts had already assessed the damage of Anglo-American bombing on Nazi Germany, under the direction of Henry Stimson and ordered by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944. The Japanese surveys came afterward, and had a separate section dedicated solely to the atomic bombs. The whole survey and accompanying documents on Japan was published in 1947.

The photograph above was taken at the first “Ground Zero,” term used to describe and circumscribe the perimeter of damage caused by the bomb in Hiroshima. It depicts a colossal fallen structure that could resemble–if we imagine it prior to disaster–a bridge, or–anachronistically–a communications tower. In fact, it is the distorted infrastructure–the steel skeleton–of the Odamasa store. The survey had originally categorized it as a theater.

The nature of the distortion allowed the survey to conclude that this building had had strong roofing, and sides made of materials such as wood sheathing or corrugated iron. The typical damage to a building of this type was “crushing and mass distortion of the structural frame away from the blast.”[1] The damage was aggravated by fire in some cases. This building sustained terrible damage especially when compared with the buildings made out of corrugated asbestos, which showed little distortion or damage.

The nature of the group of photographs to which this one belonged is one void of a human presence: in fact, the division responsible for this specific type of documentation was the Physical Damage Division (PDD), whose task was the analysis of the remaining buildings, infrastructure, and industrial left-overs in the area. The structures were organized and accordingly annotated in relation to their distance to the epicenter, or Ground Zero (denoted GZ) and moving outwardly, from GZ1000 to GZ7000+. The photograph was located at GZ2000.

Laura A. González, ICP-Bard 2014


[1] Barnett, Erin, and Philomena Mariana, eds., Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945. Göttingen, Germany: Steidl and New York: International Center of Photography, 2011.  pp. 82-83.

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