Rare Collection Likely to be Original Prints of Famous Nagasaki Images
Experts have claimed that collection of rare black and white photographs unveiled at Scotland’s Secret Bunker last week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing are more likely to be images of the aftermath of the Nagasaki bombings and are very likely to be original prints of the famous military photographer Yosuke Yamahata.
The collection of rare and haunting photographs emerged 10 years ago, thousands of miles from the devastation, in a small Fife town when local man, John Ferns of Coaltown of Balgonie, revealed the incredibly rare photo collection that captures one of the most infamous acts of war in recent history. According to a record in a photo diary dating back to 1946, Mr Ferns’ late father, Clifford Fern, had reportedly stumbled across the undeveloped film of photographs after buying a second hand camera while serving in the RAF in Iwakuni, 15 miles outside Hiroshima, six months after the bombings in 1946.
Mr Ferns wrote in his diary account of the photographs that the camera’s original owner had succumbed to the radiation shortly after taking the photos. The photos capture the utter devastation to the landscape and decimation of buildings, but also the ghostly and harrowing images of survivors of the initial blast.
Experts at international auction house Bonhams have shed further light on the collection, which are believed to include images taken by the renowned military photographer Yosuke Yamahata, and reveals a fascinating account of just how these pictures may have made their way back to Scotland.
Enquiries from some news outlets as to whether the images could be attributed to Yosuke Yamahata sparked an investigation, spanning the Atlantic, which led to further revelations about the collection.
Tom Lamb, expert in military photography at Bonhams in New York was able to unequivocally put Mr Ferns’ collection into context.
“These photographs started off life as propaganda against the Americans, who wanted very much to cover up what they had just done. Censorship was high and so the photos of the destruction were kept under shop counters and handed out surreptitiously, often swapped in under the counter deals with foreign troops for packs of cigarettes, or food, or anything that the Japanese could trade.
“It is extremely likely that they were Yosuke Yamahata’s images. He took 130 images in the days that followed the bombing and only 80 of the original negatives survived. The vast majority of Yamahata’s pictures were taken in Nagasaki, which these images almost certainly depict. The prints varied in quality and several collections made their way across the world as the servicemen returned home, and were often kept in photo albums and diaries like those of Mr Ferns.
“The collections are still fairly rare and at auction, depending on the quality of the prints, they can fetch anything between £2000 and even upwards of £20,000”
The team at the Secret Bunker are in the process of seeking further clarification from experts in Yosuke Yamahata’s photography to ascertain which of the 11 images can be attributed to him, or whether there are additional, unattributed, images from the mysterious second hand camera which is specifically mentioned in Mr Ferns’ hand-written account of his time in Japan in 1946.
The exhibition opened last week, exactly 70 years since the attack on Hiroshima, and will be on display until 1st November. There are copies of 11 images on display, and the exhibition will also be showing the critically acclaimed and controversial film, The War Game (1965), commissioned by the BBC and directed by Peter Watkins, which depicts the fictional aftermath of a nuclear event.
The film was banned from being released by the BBC for over 20 years, though it did appear as a cinematic release which earned the film an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1966. It was eventually broadcast to the public on 31 July 1985, forty years after the Hiroshima bombing took place.