An exhibit that opened this month at an Oak Ridge museum includes photos documenting the aftermath of U.S. bombing raids in Japan in August 1945 during World War II.
The exhibit at the American Museum of Science and Energy is titled “Japan 1945: Images by U.S. Marine Photographer Joe O’Donnell.” It was organized by the Tennessee State Museum from O’Donnell’s original negatives. It opened Feb. 1 and will be on display through July 28.
“There are 22 compelling images of O’Donnell’s included in this exhibition,” a press release said. “According to O’Donnell’s commentary, both written and oral, his images provide a reflection of the human cost of war, the world’s entry into the nuclear age, and his hope that nuclear warfare would not be repeated.”
The press release said O’Donnell enlisted in the U.S. Marines Corps in 1943 at the age of 20 and was assigned as a photographer with the 5th Division. In 1945, he was given the order to document the aftermath of U.S. bombing raids on the Japanese cities struck by atomic bombs, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the several months he spent on assignment, he also photographed cities such as Sasebo, one of the more than 60 Japanese cities that had been firebombed, the release said.
Throughout this time, O’Donnell took thousands of official photographs and shot several hundred with his own camera. This camera, as well as other objects from his career as a photographer, are also presented in the exhibition, the release said.
Here is more information from the press release:
When he returned home from the war, O’Donnell put the negatives of his own photos in a trunk and locked them away, emotionally unable to look at them until after 50 years.
In an article O’Donnell wrote for American Heritage magazine in 2005, he described his experience as a young Marine sergeant, whose unit was the first to enter Japan after the bombings. Because access to the sites was limited, he walked 10 miles across the devastated Japanese countryside to reach Nagasaki. Once there, O’Donnell bartered 20 packs of cigarettes for a horse he named “Boy.” He lived in an abandoned house with the horse, which he used to navigate the rubble.
“Not only do O’Donnell’s tragically beautiful photographs capture a hell on earth, they also embody his profound compassion and respect, making his haunting images precious not only as documentation but also as works of art,” Donna Seaman said in a recent review of O’Donnell’s work for Booklist magazine.
After the war, O’Donnell was employed as a photographer with the United States Information Agency, an organization created in 1953, where he photographed American presidents, world leaders, and important White House events. A case displaying objects from O’Donnell’s personal collection is included in the exhibition.
In the 1980’s O’Donnell moved to Nashville, where he continued to take photographs, exhibit his work and lecture until his death in 2007.
The American Museum of Science and Energy is located at 300 S. Tulane Ave. in Oak Ridge. It is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors (65+), $3 for students (6 – 17), and no charge for children (5 and under). AMSE members are free.
For more information, visit www.amse.org or call AMSE at (865) 576-3200.