In fact, these are photographs of atomic explosions, recorded in the first few microseconds of detonation (a few of the fireballs in these pictures could be as little as 100 feet in diameter, while others are considerably larger). In Pictures of the Body: Pain and Metamorphosis, art historian James Elkins writes
that representations of the human body will always be “unencompassably
strange and irretrievably unruly,” and that’s an equally apt
description of these images.
In the end, though, I don’t know if the pictures are really explainable. But frankly, I haven’t been able to stop looking at them. Elkins notes that the scientists who first discovered human sperm under the microscope experienced a similar kind of “visual desperation,” struggling to reconcile the images with their tidy ideals of humanity. As analogical thinkers, he writes, we naturally try to compare things to other things. And it is possible to find recognizable elements in these otherwordly blast images: bubbles, Swiss cheese holes, maybe an eye, some antennae, and an organic kind of symmetry. It looks like a tiny little organism. The fact that this is an enormous bomb blast skewers the mind in horror. How can the means by which we coldly annihilate each other possibly be familiar?