Image/Data/Interview – ZJ

Untitled, posted with permission by Alan Leeman.

Eniwetok Atoll Image Analysis

            The photograph that I selected is an untitled photo that I found on the website that is dedicated to the Eniwetok Cleanup Crew.[i] This photograph is credited to Alan Leeman, who took hundreds of photos during his time at Eniwetok and gave to Girard Frank Bolton III, who posted it on the website.[ii]  I requested Mr. Leeman if I could use this photograph for this assignment and he agreed. I also spoken to him to ask permission to post onto to this website page (Alan Leeman, email to photograph owner, November 1, 2019) (Alan Leeman, phone call to photograph owner, November 2, 2019).  My focus is on Eniwetok, with my focus on the cleanup and the aftermath. I do not have much information about Mr. Leeman, with the only exception of the note that Bolton said he got from Leeman saying that he worked at Runit six days a week during his six-month stint at Eniwetok and “We [Leeman and his fellow soldiers] set up the rock crusher, blasted the reef for rock, set up the decontamination station, built the cement storage, and so on.”[iii] Despite the lack of information about Leeman, the photograph itself speaks about the environmental injustice that occurred at Eniwetok. This photo demonstrates how the United States’ attempt to clean up Eniwetok after the nuclear tests stopped was near impossible because of the weather that occurs at Eniwetok made certain safety precautions impossible.

            Leeman’s photo has a focal point which is misleading, considering what else is around it. The first thing that drew my attention was the man in the radiation suit in the center of the photo.[iv] The radiation suit comes to view first because it is bright, which shines brighter probably because the sun is out and there are no clouds in the sky. The suit covers the man head to toe, and you can only partially see the man’s face. The only part of the body that is visible is his nose.[v] His body language also tells the viewer something about what this man was probably thinking. He seems to be uncomfortable in that suit because of how his arms are and he how he is standing.[vi] The material of the suit is not light, and the weather on the day that this photograph was taking probably may it hard for the man to be comfortable wearing. It is an example of how impractical safety measures were for the cleanup at Eniwetok.

            The contrasts between the man in the radiation suit and the other individuals around him also backs up how impractical safety efforts were during the cleanup at Eniwetok. There is a second man who is standing next to the man in the radiation suit that showcases the contrasts. You can see that the man is shirtless, and his body is red.[vii] The shirtless man probably did put on sunblock, or it could simply be the fact that his skin was naturally darker and that his exposure to the sun gave him a tan. However, I interpreted his red body not a tan, but more of a sunburn. Another contrast between the shirtless man and the man in the radiation suit is the amount of clothes they are wearing. The shirtless man was only wearing short pants and possibly boots; it is impossible to think that these men could not get away with working barefoot. At the same time, I cannot imagine how hot the ground must had been to allow the cleanup crews to go barefoot. It is unknown if the shirtless man is wearing a hat, because the top of the head is covered by the truck in the back behind the two men, along with the driver who come out as black in the photo.[viii] In short, there are numerous contrasts in this photo that raises questions about safety precautions during the cleanup process and raises questions about what is absent in this photo.

            The overwhelming presence of individuals in this photo and the number of contrasts that appear are striking. However, this photograph lacks with one aspect when it comes to civilization and that there are no living structures visible. It is possible that this photograph was taking at Runit, which was decided by the military as too dangerous to be habitable.[ix] However, I do not know exactly because the photograph does not capture any signs that could put down a place. The lack of living structures and the heavy prominence of made-man inventions such as wheeled vehicles and radiation suits also points another contrast in this photo. However, the absence of one object can be use as evidence of not only the questionable safety measures that were in place, but also what were the priorities at that time in Eniwetok.

            It is evident that this photograph highlights the impracticalities of certain safety measures during the cleanup of Eniwetok. The contrasts of the equipment wore by the men raises questions about what the policies were at other cleanup sites that have occurred in the United States after 1945. At the same time, scholars need to consider what images can say that words or statistical data cannot about a historical moment. It is also important to think that a photograph is one of the few ways to freeze history at a moment in time.


[i] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph, Atomic Cleanup Vets Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Mission Survivors, https://i0.wp.com/www.atom iccleanupvets.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/PICT0167.jpg?w=1280&ssl=1.

[ii] Girard Frank Bolton III, “Pictures from a Runit Glow By Nighter – Alan Leeman,” Atomic Cleanup Vets Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Mission Survivors, December 13, 2015, https://www.atomiccleanupvets.com/2015/12/13/pictures-from-a-runit-glow-by-nighter-alan-leeman/.

[iii] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[iv] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[v] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[vi] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[vii] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[viii] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[ix] Chad Blair, “Nuclear Victims: Will We Help Vets Who Cleaned Up After Atomic Blasts?,” Honolulu Civil Beat, January 6, 2016. https://www.civilbeat.org/2016/01/nuclear-victims-will-we-help-vets-who-cleaned-up-after-atomic-blasts/; Dave Phillips, “Troops Who Cleaned Up Radioactive Islands Can’t Get Medical Care,” The New York Times, January 28, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/28/us/troops-radioactive-islands-medical-care.html.

Tags: Water, Soil, Toxics, Pollution, Energy