Photographing the Dawn of the Nuclear Age

Jack Aeby's photo of the first atomic test, July 16, 1945.

hide captionJack Aeby's photo of the first atomic test, July 16, 1945.

Courtesy Beth Teel
Jack Aeby

hide captionJack Aeby was an amateur photographer and technician on the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear bomb.

Courtesy Beth Teel

From Sound Portraits

Recollections from Manhattan Project scientists, an atomic history timeline and more photos of the Trinity explosion.

Sixty years ago, Jack Aeby snapped one of history's most important photographs — a rare color picture of the first atomic bomb test. Aeby was a 21-year-old amateur photographer working as a technician on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M.

On the morning of July 16, 1945, he was granted permission to photograph a top-secret test bombing, code named Trinity, in the New Mexico desert.

Color film was difficult to get during World War II, but a friend gave him a three-foot chunk from a long roll. Aeby, now 82, remembers getting the shot:

"I'd walked out just a bit north of base camp. I used a chair as a tripod, sat in the seat with the back facing the detonation area, and rested the camera on the back of the chair. I managed to choose a wide-open exposure and aimed it in the proper direction."

As fast as he could wind the film forward and shoot, he snapped three pictures in rapid succession. "By serious accident," he says, one of the three was correctly exposed.

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