The Ballerina and the Nuclear Bomb
So I’ve been researching archival photos of nuclear bomb tests (it’s a long story). This has been going on for a few days, and I’ve been digging around the Internet trying to find both images and videos that are in the public domain.
One of the resources I came across was the website of the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (Nevada Office). There, I found a lot of images via their photo library and some interesting videos in their historical test films section.
While digging around, I came across photos from Operation Upshot-Knothole, a series of eleven nuclear tests conducted between March 17th and June 4th, 1953. About 100 photographs in, I encountered this image:
Taken on April 6th, 1953, the image shows a woman dancing in the foreground while a nuclear bomb is detonating in the background. The notes on the image identify the blast as Upshot-Knothole Dixie, an 11-kiloton airdrop shot that was detonated at 6,000 feet (here’s another view of the blast).
The other photos in the library show cars and buildings, before and after the test explosions. There are images of the nuclear explosions themselves, large mushroom clouds that make the surrounding mountains look like hills. There are images of soldiers, weraing radioactive gear and gas masks. There are Congressmen and scientists gathered in small groups, men at chalkboards and tabletops, looking serious and grim with the task at hand.
And then there is this woman, in the midst of it all. Dancing alone, with a bomb behind her.
I’m sure it’s documented somewhere, but I’m fascinated by this image. Who was she? What sequence of events led to this photo being taken? Was she invited to the test, or did she ask to be one of the observers? Was the idea ot dance during the explosion itself her idea, or someone else’s?
Her story, or rather the lack of a story, is what’s fascinating. Because we are a storytelling species, I love how the mind tries to make sense of the image – how it tries to piece together a series of conversations or decisions, that ultimately led up to the photograph we see today.