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Jeff Brouws photographs atomic America

Nuclear missile silos and rural life co-exist in Jeff Brouws' Pictet Prize-nominated photographs
Jeff Brouws, After Trinity (1987-1988)
Nevada Test Site 1, bank vault destroyed during "Priscilla" atomic test in 1957, Frenchman's Flat, Nye County, Nevada (1988)


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We're happy to report that one of our favourite photographers, Jeff Brouws, has been nominated for the 2012 Prix Pictet, the world's leading photographic award in sustainability. Brouws's Proximity series (part of his larger After Trinity project focussing on nuclear weapons) was selected by Francis Hodgson, photography critic for the Financial Times and former head of the photographs department at Sotheby's.

Atomic weaponry entered the photographer's consciousness as a young student when he read Hiroshima, John Hershey's moving account of the lives of six survivors of the nuclear attack on the Japanese city. His interest was sparked further during a trip to California's Death Valley in 1987 when he came across large areas which had been commandeered by the US Government for military purposes. 

"My conspiratorial fantasies ran wild about what might lay sequestered behind these tracts of mountainous desert regions, withheld as they were from public view," he tells Phaidon. "I wanted to consider the out-of-sight, out-of-mind 'hidden-ness' of contemporary nuclear facilities, test ranges and missile silos - which are often shrouded in a geographic void."

"Essentially the idea with the photos is that I approached the subject of nuclear weapons like a visual anthropologist. I photographed historic sites, remnants, contemporary sites, and then delved into artifacts: the Operation Cue film stills, the civil defence material - even ventured into the politics of museum and historical display at the Bradbury Science Museum. Eerily, there is no mention of the Hiroshima or Nagasaki victims that I can recall."

"The photographs also ask additional questions and challenge prevailing notions of absolute power and military might. In political terms: will nations with nuclear capability finally conclude these weapons have never been the means to a peaceful world, just the eager armament of a war without winners? Or in economic terms: is the six trillion dollars spent on nuclear weapons development since 1941 by our military-industrial complex worth it? What is the price we have paid, in human costs, for this illusion of safety?"

Jeff Brouws, After Trinity: Proximity I (2009)
Jeff Brouws, After Trinity: Proximity I (2009)

By photographing active ICBM Minuteman Missile silos and their adjacency to everyday places, Brouws also sought to document the shocking proximity of these weapons of mass destruction to small-town American environments. 

"By pitting routine daily life - the working of the grain elevator, the keeping of bees, the ebb-and-flow of the local convenience store - against the industrialised missile silo sites I want to contrast the surreal destructive power these weapons have when compared to the fragile and familiar everyday prairie landscapes that lie just a few miles distant," he says.

"These missile silos and their 'nearness' to the commonplace lives of ordinary citzens aren't the visual equivalent of a tsunami or earthquake, but rather represent scenes of a quieter, below-the-radar disaster waiting to happen. If ever used, their impact on humanity would have a devastating effect, far exceeding the carnage of any natural disaster. For example, Silo N-5 is just another typical Minuteman III missile with four nuclear warheads on-board. It's stationed a mere 300 feet from Colorado State Highway 14. Its proximity to a public road is sobering. Hidden in plain site we drive by these silos unaware, without raising questions. Nevertheless, to stop, get out of your car, and gaze through the fence at a lime green missile hatch containing a warhead with the equivalency of 1200 Hiroshimas gives one pause for thought." Click through our gallery of Jeff's photos above.

A selection from the After Trinity project will be on view at the Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica, California from May 26 until July 14, 2012.


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