NYTimes >> Science

October 21, 2003


Through the Lens, the Severe Beauty of Nuclear Test Blasts


These mushroom clouds, rising bug-eyed over the desert, spreading like an alien sun over the ocean,

are the nagging headache behind what passed for reality for a generation.


From July 1945 until November 1962, American scientists and the military, exploring the apocalyptic

new powers they had unleashed over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the war, exploded 216 bombs in the

atmosphere, according to public records. Afterward, until 1992 when they were banned, the explosions

went underground.


In a new book, "100 Suns," published this week by Knopf, the photographer Michael Light has retrieved

images of these blasts from government and scientific archives and presented them in all their stark and

severe beauty. They document a menace that continues even though we can no longer photograph it.


As Mr. Light reminds us, some hundred thousand nuclear weapons have been built and remain on the earth.

That is what makes these old photographs "utterly relevant" today.


"Photographs only tell us about the surface of things, about how things look," Mr. Light writes. "When it's

all we have, however, it's enough to help understanding. It exists. It happened. It is happening. May no

further nuclear detonation photographs be made, ever."