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August’s Artifact Article

Reversed print perspective.
August 1, 2020
Original and reverse prints of Jack Aeby's photo of the July 16, 1945 Trinity test.

Original and reverse prints of Jack Aeby's color photo of the July 16, 1945 Trinity test.

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Throughout the Manhattan Project, photography was used as an essential form of documentation and professional and hobbyist photographers both contributed thousands of images to the story of the world’s first atomic weapon. Today, many of those photos are safely housed in the Lab’s archives. Hundreds reside within the Bradbury Science Museum, and countless others are stored in collections around the globe. However, one well known and often referenced photo occupies a special place in history, and at the Museum.

Jack Aeby’s July 16, 1945 photo of the Trinity Test is unique for a few reasons. First, it was the only color photograph taken of the event. Second, Mr. Aeby wasn’t an official photographer for the Manhattan Project and when asked how he ended up capturing the dramatic image said simply, "it was there, so I shot it." Third, the photograph has been published in both its original and its reverse print forms—and Jack was happy to sign both!

The signed Trinity Test photograph in the Bradbury’s History Gallery is, like many others, a reverse print of the original negative. So, why does a reverse print exist at all? Simply put, Mr. Aeby was not an official observer at the Trinity test. Instead, he was invited as an informal photographer and he and his party were located south of the test—at Base Camp—rather than on the northern side with the official observers and photographers. However, as the only color image of the event, Mr. Aeby’s photo was in high demand so he made a reverse print that allowed the image to look as if it was shot from the official observation location.

For more information about the Bradbury Science Museum’s artifact collections, please contact our Collections Specialist at wstrohmeyer@lanl.gov.