The photographs here were made within a one-kilometre radius around the hypocentre of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, the heart of the Catholic community of Urakami, a valley to the north of Nagasaki City. The area was obliterated by the atomic blast. Almost everyone perished, with all residential dwellings razed to the ground. After the blast there were only carbonised human remains and scorched earth – “a world of ashes” (Dr Takashi Nagai, The Bells of Nagasaki). In the post-war era, many institutions re-established themselves on the same sites destroyed in 1945 – most prominently the cathedral. Only these architectural ‘echoes,’ coupled with the line of surrounding hills and mountains, maintain a faint spatial resemblance to the place swept away by the bomb.
For Precious Fragments, Palmer consciously moved on from A Surrounding Trace and the ‘timeless’ perspectives looking towards Urakami from the outskirts of Nagasaki, and into the community of Urakami itself: a place in which people had been going about their everyday lives on the morning of 9 August 1945, yet vanished in an instant at 11:02 a.m. The aim was to contemplate the community erased by the bomb. Spending the month of August in Urakami in 2014, Palmer began a working process closely aligned with cognitive psychologist Marigold Linton’s notion of involuntary memory – which at she terms ‘precious fragments’ or memories that arise spontaneously. Having immersed himself in the subject of the atomic bombings for a decade, Precious Fragments combines Palmer’s explorations of Urakami with his accumulated knowledge and experiences.With little remaining in the way of direct remnants of the place that was – as is the case with all Palmer’s previous works/projects – these photographs are evocative, not descriptive. The photographs are less about what is there to see and more about what they give rise to in the mind of the viewer.
Palmer’s works (still and moving) are about creating a ‘space’ of introspection which invites and facilitates contemplation to engender empathy in the viewer. The measured ambiguity of these photographs, their intimate scale and framing emphasise the fleeting and elusive nature of these views, visions, and of historical memory. For Palmer, the photographs are an attempt to rekindle a contemplative condition, to save memory from the oblivion of historical amnesia. As Palmer says, “I am troubled by the idea that a place, people, and such horror can be forgotten over time – this work rails against such forgetting.”