I was taking the IRT downtown on a busy afternoon recently. On the 68th St platform I ran into Ivone Margulies, a colleague in the Film and Media Studies Department at Hunter College I hadn’t seen in a while. When the train pulled in we were lucky enough to find seats. As we sat in the busy car I asked her how things were going. Ivone, a film scholar who has written on Chantal Akerman, updated me on her book on cinematic realism. I, a documentary filmmaker, told her about a film I have been working on for the last several years, called Hiroshima Bound. In the film I use my own childhood memories of parents involved in research on nuclear weapons and high energy physics to explore the role of Hiroshima in American memory and my own sense of what it means to be responsible for that historical legacy. I have been particularly interested in flushing out the history of visual representation, examining the legacy of Japanese and American photographers who took still and moving images in the days and months right after the events of July 16, 1945.

After a couple of stops a young man who had been sitting just across from us stood up and approached us. “Everybody in New Mexico should go there!” We looked up. “I went. My English teacher took us. But nobody knows about it.”

“You’re from New Mexico?” I asked.

This young man in his early twenties, Latino, in a suit jacket that was a tight fit over a big body was super earnest. And almost sweating with passion. Speaking loudly,  from necessity, and partly from conviction, he told us that he came from Las Cruces, near the south end of the White Sands Proving Grounds.

“You can’t really get in. But she took us to the Trinity site.”

This was an event he both remembered and felt strongly about. In fact, you could say there were two events, the original explosion, and his own trip many years later. He reiterated how important it was for people to be aware of the legacy of the Trinity bomb, exploded July 16,1945 at the White Sands Proving Grounds in southern New Mexico, and still reverberating today.

As the young man told us his story, a well-dressed middle-aged woman sitting nearby took the opportunity to join the conversation. “I was there. I was at Los Alamos.”

Ivone and I looked at each other.

“I taught at Cornell, and I had a friend, a particle physicist who got us in.”

“When was that?”

“That was in the Seventies.” She went on about how her friend was developing lasers for the military because that was where you could get a research grant at that time.

I told her that I was also interested in the instrumentalization of science that she described, and the bending of research to defense-related goals. That I was trying to figure out how to portray that in a film. As the 6 train continued to rattle its busy way downtown she went into more detail.

“I saw it twenty years later in the first Iraq War. The fuses on the smart bombs… I’d seen them in development.” The woman couldn’t let go of her story or it wouldn’t let go of her.

“ …They let us in because I was there with one of the scientists.”

This is the F train. Manhattan. New York City. The winter of 2013. The young man and the academic both got off at Union Square.

This is a country that is waiting for a chance to talk about this story, about this killing myth. A country that somehow feels these events still bound in passion despite sixty years of myth-making and trauma.


Trinity Memorial • White Sands NM







Next Stop White Sands | 2013 | Uncategorized