From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, the port of Nagasaki served as an important window for Japan onto the outside world. The city’s long history of trade and cultural contact with Europe led to its early modernization under the Meiji Restoration. Transformed into a center for heavy industry and a contributor to the war effort, Nagasaki suffered the second of two nuclear attacks by the United States at 11:02 am on August 9, 1945. Despite devastating losses, the city quickly rebuilt, and its economy was booming by the 1960s.

Tomatsu Shomei was commissioned to photograph Nagasaki for a publication titled Hiroshima-Nagasaki Document 1961. On his first visit, it was hard for Tomatsu to “imagine the atomic wasteland.” During subsequent trips, however, he discovered traces of the painful past in the streets and quiet corners of the prospering city. His closeup shots of mangled objects preserved in a museum or a survivor’s desolate hospital room are striking examples of his subtle yet powerful documentary style.

Tomatsu Shomei (1930–2012)