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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Sixty years ago tomorrow, a young man named Jack Aeby snapped one of history's most important photographs, the only color picture of the first atomic bomb test. Aeby was a 21-year-old amateur photographer. He was working as a technician on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. On the morning of July 16th, 1945, he was granted permission to photograph a top-secret test; it was code-named Trinity.

Mr. JACK AEBY (Photographer): It was very hard to get color film during the war. A friend of mine cut me off a three-foot chunk of a hundred-foot roll he had, and I took it to Trinity and used that as the last roll of film I put in the camera.

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. The countdown went to zero. The whole world lit up all of a sudden. I snapped three pictures on that roll of color film in rapid succession, just as fast as I could wind it forward and shoot. I developed the film myself in Los Alamos, and about the middle picture was about correctly--and I must admit, by serious accident--correctly exposed.

(Soundbite of vintage newscast)

Unidentified Man: A star-shaped crater marks the New Mexican desert near Alamogordo where the first atomic bomb was tested. The crystallized sand has the appearance of green glass.

Mr. AEBY: I knew it was a good photograph, but I hadn't the slightest idea that there was going to be only one color photograph of the detonation.

(Soundbite of vintage newscast)

Unidentified Man: Press representatives get a personally conducted tour by General Groves.

Mr. AEBY: It wasn't long till General Groves wanted the negatives. Other than the people at Los Alamos, the next three people who saw the picture were Winston Churchill, Mr. Stalin and Harry Truman.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Amateur photographer Jack Aeby is now 82 years old. His recollections come to us via Sound Portraits in New York. To see the picture of the test, you can go to npr.org.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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