The Ash Garden: Hiroshima Under A Rain of Ruin
Hiroshima represents many things to many people, but scores would argue that on August 6, 1945, it became a radioactive graveyard. Stepping into the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and museum decades later triggers a dizzying collapse of space and time. In the presence of vitrines displaying a matted patch of hair or the charred remains of a child’s smock and melted eyeglasses, standard narratives wither away. Countering the axiom “The bomb saved lives by ending the war,” the museum and nearby memorials commemorate some 200,000 A-bomb victims. Beyond the park are many “A-bomb Disaster Markers,” most bearing photographic plaques of ruins as they appeared in the aftermath of the bombing. In 2013, Katy McCormick traveled to Hiroshima to photograph these memorials.
The Ash Garden, a book of the resulting images, allows movement through the interwoven strata of space and time defining Hiroshima. Using a forensic approach reminiscent of the early post A-bomb surveys as a foil for the hopeless task of “measuring” the bomb’s effects, the proposed publication presents a sampling of 27 “A-bomb Disaster Markers” sequenced as they lie, from ground zero to Miyuki bridge, some 2,300 meters away (photographed by Yoshito Matsushige on August 6, 1945). This systematic arrangement provides a conceptual framework for reflecting upon Hiroshima’s history as the testing ground for uranium bombs, while also probing the limitations of photographic representation to intimate the invisible. While the plaques testify to the effects of the bomb, they also attest to the strategic selection of Hiroshima as a target. Having been purposefully spared from conventional bombings, it provided an ideal testing ground to gauge what happens when an atomic bomb is detonated over a populated city.
Following a prologue comprised of once-classified U.S. military documents on the planning and effects of the attack, McCormick’s photographs are arranged in three chapters. Identically sequenced within all three, each commemorative marker is represented from three interconnected perspectives gradually revealing their broader context. Chapter one limits the field of view to the historic images found at each site. The slowly degrading reproductions mounted on the plaques attempt to transport the viewer to 1945 by referencing both the moment they were taken and the events of August 6th, thereby inciting the beholder to imagine the holocaust. With their surfaces partly obscured by traces of rain and dirt, these images also reference the temporal present. It is this multi-layering of time, memory, and perception that is probed in The Ash Garden. This is done by using decontextualized close-ups, full views of the markers, and establishing shots arranged in order to foreground the temporal distinctions between August 6th, the time of the historical photographs, and that of McCormick’s representations. A final section, titled “Artifacts,” shifts the perspective from the streets to the Peace Memorial Museum in order to connect the documents and the photographs to remembrance and commemoration.
This book aims to engage the intellect and provide evidence, engender questions, and open up ambiguities. A publisher is sought in order to bring this book to its full potential as an artwork and as a means to examine Hiroshima, which Dr. Robert J. Lifton calls the American “raw nerve.”