In July 1946, the United States tested two nuclear bombs at Bikini, a small island in the Marshall Islands. My father, Will Whitmore, was a civilian participant in this project, Operation Crossroads. The devastation of the small island, the displacement of 167 Bikini Islanders and the demise of their culture have haunted me for years.
In 1959 my father died of cancer likely caused by radiation exposure during Operation Crossroads. The boxes in which his Bikini memorabilia were stored, however, remained closed for decades. When I opened the boxes in 2018, I discovered his six-month daily journal in which he describes his Bikini experiences, photographs, newspaper clippings, a 16 mm news film, and letters to me when I was six. During the last three years, I have organized and photographed this material.
I have also located archival images of the Bikini people, read anthropological reports from the 1940’s and 50’s and written several essays. The research I have conducted indicates 11 of the original Bikini Islanders are alive today and one-third of Marshall Islanders has migrated to the United States.
February 28-March 1, 2020, I attended Nuclear Remembrance Day in Springdale, Arkansas where 15,000 Marshallese people reside. I met Bikini descendants, the Coordinator for the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese and many other Marshallese people who have invited me to return to Springdale to continue my project.
Although the Bikini Project began as a personal endeavor and a case study involving Operation Crossroads, the project informs contemporary global issues such as the displacement of indigenous people and the banning of nuclear weapons.
To launch the Bikini Project, I would like to photograph and interview the 11 survivors of Operation Crossroads and to visit the Marshall Islands. Funding from the grant would contribute to travel, logistical and translation expenses.
Images are digitally rendered presented as 13”x18” archival pigment prints.