Those looking to judge the historical wrongs of American nuclear testing often discover an overwhelming surplus of images that amount to a series of incoherent visual fragments, leaving us with an abundant historical record and barriers to interpreting that record. This essay meets this challenge through discerning a new role for photography in the bombing of the Marshall Islands. In revisiting the function of the camera in the staging of these nuclear experiments, we find a model for the United States’ larger relationship to the post-WWII Pacific. Through a process we call “experimental imperialism,” U.S. nuclear tests utilized both cameras and international law to render living beings and the spaces they inhabited as lab-like specimens.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 5 2021


  • nuclear
  • photography
  • imperialism
  • colonialism
  • sovereignty


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