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Photographing nuclear war

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

Growing up in Hiroshima, photographer Hiroki Kobayashi was 3 or 4 years old when the recurring nightmare began. Holding his father’s big hand by the pond. The sudden darkness. Big, gray clouds above them. A mushroom cloud?

His grandfather, orphaned already in the war, wouldn’t talk about the bomb that fell on their city 75 years ago yesterday. His grandfather’s cousin was killed in the atomic bombing.

For Nat Geo, Hiroki showed metal melted by the intense atomic-unleashed heat in Hiroshima, including this statue of Buddha (above left) and walls streaked by radioactive rain and ash (above right). Hiroki also wanted to portray Nagasaki, the second—and last—city wrecked by an atomic bomb, 75 years ago Sunday. (Below, a pocket watch that stopped at the moment of impact in Nagasaki). “I felt,” Hiroki told us, “that the this story would not be complete without telling both stories."

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Below, Hiroki photographed two camphor trees that guard the entrance to Nakasaki’s Sanno Shinto Shrine. Heat and debris from the blast stripped the tree bare and split the trunks in two. Although considered dead at the time, the tree’s scorched branches produced new buds. Today the trees stand as living, natural monuments to the bombing.

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Hiroki also wanted to show the resilience of survivors. Shoso Kawamoto (below) was orphaned at 11 when the Hiroshima bomb killed his parents. Like other hibakusha (bomb survivors), he suffered discrimination from other Japanese citizens and their unfounded fears. At 20 he fell in love with a woman, but her father forbade their marriage, saying that their children could be deformed from radiation. Now 86, Kawamoto never married, but he enjoys giving origami planes and cranes to youngsters who visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where he volunteers. Pull the tail, he says, beaming, and see the wings flap. Printed on the planes’ wings are the words “Hope for Peace."

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The governor of Hiroshima Prefecture wants the bombing sites (below, a small memorial in downtown Hiroshima) to be symbols both of technological horror and of the spirit of survivors. Either way, the memory endures, Hidehiko Yuzaki told Nat Geo. “You dig two feet,” he says, “and there are [still] bones.”

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Today in a minute

The power of images: How do we know about 11 emperor penguin colonies never glimpsed from space before? Satellite images of guano, the BBC reports. The satellite images raise the number of known emperor penguins by an estimated 5 to 10 percent, but they come with a caveat—these just-spotted penguins are in areas that are vulnerable to losing sea ice as the Earth continues warming.

From curiosity to terror: Videographers in Beirut were doing their jobs Tuesday, filming a Mass, or a joyful bride beaming outdoors before her wedding ... when two blasts changed everything. The priest fled the crumbling church; the shaken bride left the yellow roses at her feet. Photographers, videographers, and people with smartphones “recorded from hotels and restaurants, apartment buildings and balconies, unwittingly capturing in real time the destruction,” Siobhán O’Grady writes for the Washington Post.

She guided Andy Warhol’s Factory: The photographer Brigid Berlin, known for her Polaroid photography and collaborations with Warhol in 1960s and 70s New York, has died, the Guardian reports. Berlin hated the term artist, but she incorporated performance, sculpture, incessant instant photography, and a series of paintings. Often the people she photographed, as in a particularly memorable portrait of the actor Dennis Hopper in a cowboy hat, looked downbeat. “No picture ever mattered,” she once said of her work with the Poloraid camera. “It was clicking it and pulling it out that I loved."

Your Instagram of the day

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Comfort where you can get it: Long’uro scratches an itch at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary (@r.e.s.c.u.e) in northern Kenya. Says photographer David Chancellor: “The blanket is used to comfort the babies at night and soon carries a multitude of nice smells. During the day they’re hung from trees where the orphans spend the days playing, so for Long’uro it’s an opportunity to both scratch an itch, and smell a friend or two.” Elephant lovers, note: Wednesday is World Elephant Day, as our Rachael Bale notes here.

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The big takeaway

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What’s with that light? It began with a mistake. Photographer Reuben Wu was photographing one night in Death Valley when a pickup truck washed over his meticulous long-exposure image with its harsh headlights. Annoyed, Wu saw the image—and became fascinated. In the latest National Geographic, he talks about adding artificial light to places it doesn’t belong—lakes, canyons, tall rock pillars. Above, Wu illuminates rock formations near Arbol de Piedra, in Bolivia’s Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.

Subscriber exclusive: Behind the mysterious halo

In a few words

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The last glimpse

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A gentleman: W. Robert Moore traveled to China in 1931 to pick up the glass plates of Nat Geo’s Maynard Owen Williams that documented the audacious 8,000-mile Citroen-Haardt road expedition from Beirut to Beijing. While waiting for the shipment from Williams, Moore explored on his own with his large format photographic equipment. He spent significant time in Beijing, photographing one of the last Manchu funerals. That’s according to our senior photo archivist, Sara Manco, who selected this image. Says Manco: “I love the modern feel of this photo and how perfectly set the woman’s hair is.”

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This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link for us? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!