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How I learned to Stop Worrying

How This Artist Finds Abstract Art in Footage of Nuclear Explosions

Matt Bierner used a massive archive of nuclear tests to create strip photos that show nuclear explosions over time.

Daniel Oberhaus

Daniel Oberhaus

A few months back, the Lawrence Livermore National Lab released a treasure trove of recently declassified footage from mid-twentieth century nuclear tests. The videos were a humbling reminder of America’s nuclear legacy and the lingering danger of nuclear conflict.

Yet for photographer and digital artist Matt Bierner, it was an opportunity to turn evidence of the most dangerous weapons ever made into art.

Bierner wrote a simple script that would sample a single column of pixels from each frame in a given video. These pixel columns would then be stitched together to form a single image, an artistic technique known as strip photography.

Image: Matt Bierner

The result is a photo of the nuclear tests as seen over time, rather than a single moment in time that is typical of a normal photograph. The mushroom clouds that are emblematic of nuclear explosions disappear into surreal swirls of dirt and radiation.

“Many of these films are surprisingly beautiful pieces in their own right, at least if you look at them abstractly,” Bierner wrote in a blog post about the photos. “Kind of makes you wish they were still setting these damn things off, if only for their artistic potential.”

Operation Dominic, composed from this video. Image: Matt Bierner
Operation Hardtack, composed from this video. Image: Matt Bierner
Operation Hardtack, composed from this video. Image: Matt Bierner
Operation Teapot, composed from this video. Image: Matt Bierner
Operation Hardtack, composed from this video. Image: Matt Bierner

You can see more nuclear test strip photos on Bierner's website.