Yesterday I finished reading John Hersey’s Hiroshima originally written in the year following the dropping of the atomic bomb and updated 40 years later with a further chapter chronicling how the lives of the six hibakusha Hersey spoke to had developed.
It is an interesting book to read in comparison to the testimonies in Paule’s book, From Above (http://www.paulepictures.com/blog/?p=4199), particularly with regards to the story of to the Rev. Tanimoto and his wife and daughter who were photographed by Paule. In the concluded chapter, Hersey makes the pilot of the Enola Gay, Captain Robert Lewis who met Rev. Tanimoto on an American edition of This is Your Life appear both mercinary and drunk during his apperarnce on the show. Contrastingly, the recollection given by Koko Tanimoto Kondo (the reverend’s daughter) in From Above of her encounter with Lewis on the evening of the show makes Lewis’ remorse and utterance ‘My God, what have we done’ far more genuine, human and sad. I wondered whether he was drunk because of nervousness, not out of bitterness over a paycheck…
Hersey’s book is a slim volume which it is tempting to read too fast. Or atleast that was my explanation for why alot of the horrific details do not always fully sink in. However, I wonder if, even if read slowly, we could ever really comprehend that level of devastation, destruction and grief. And perhaps this is where photography fills in a void. Alot of the photographs in Paule’s book need no text. (Says the woman who spent 3 months agonising over it.)
A little while ago I came across a selection of old Japanese postcards of Hiroshima post-atomic bomb in an antique show in Plymouth. Being used to the inoffensive, pretty postcard traditions for England (so pronounced ‘Picture postcard’ has become a cliche like ‘chocolate box’) I thought it was a very strange thing to have a set of postcards of. However, they are fascinating and haunting to look at. They have a strange, unsettling tranquillity about them which perhaps is because the are entirely devoid of human life. Hiroshima has been turned into a ghost town with the most important factor, the humans, removed from it.
Alot of the places depicted are also mentioned in Hersey’s text.