“The thought of death may serve as a guide to a more genuine and more significant way of life.” -Alan de Botton

What does a nuclear weapon look like?

Could I photograph one?

And how to do justice to something whose power was once measured in hundreds of “suns?”

My only rule was that I had to be true to the subject and materials. Despite my preconceptions, their appearance belies the power and horror they contain.

I expected to stare into the abyss but what was staring back at me was carefully assembled industrial design, intricate, and at times shockingly banal, but more often quite beautiful. It was machined, methodical, and metallurgical. Rows of screws, joints of metal panels, stenciled numbers and instructions. There were also the imperfections: scratches, dings, marred paint, fingerprints. 

The title refers in part to a centuries-old sub-genre of still life painting. These still-lifes hung in homes as reminders of the brevity and fragility of life. A reminder that wasn’t understood as morbid, but one that was meant to lead to a greater enjoyment of life.

Given that as a species we have, on at least 10 occasions, been within 30 minutes of using these tools for omnicide, I present these images as a contemporary response to one of the oldest traditions in art.