Experts believe rare photos unveiled in Fife are likely to show the aftermath of the Nagasaki bombing

Image of the aftermath of the Nagasaki bombing
Image of the aftermath of the Nagasaki bombing

Experts believe rare black and white photographs unveiled in Fife to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima nuclear attack are more likely to be images of the aftermath of the Nagasaki bombing.

Specialists from international auction house Bonhams believe the snaps are very likely to be the original prints taken by Yosuke Yamahata, the famous military photographer.

The collection of 11 images went on display in an exhibition at the Secret Bunker in St Andrews which opened last week – exactly 70 years after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The photographs – which clearly capture the total devastation to the landscape and reveal the ghostly and harrowing images of survivors after the initial blast – first emerged ten years ago in Coaltown of Balgonie when they were unearthed by local man John Ferns.

His late father, Clifford Ferns, stumbled across the images when he found an undeveloped film from a second hand camera he bought while serving in the RAF in Iwakuni, 15 miles outside of Hiroshima six months after the bombings in 1946.

Now experts at Bonhams, based in New York, have shed further light on the collection, revealing a fascinating account of just how these pictures may have made their way back to Scotland.

Enquiries from some news outlets as to whether the images could be attributed to Yosuke Yamahata sparked an investigation, spanning the Atlantic, which led to further revelations about the prints.

Tom Lamb, a specialist in military photography at Bonhams, has been able to unequivocally put Mr Ferns’ collection into context.

He said: “These photographs started off life as propaganda against the Americans, who wanted very much to cover up what they had just done.

“Censorship was high and so the photos of the destruction were kept under shop counters and handed out surreptitiously, often swapped in under the counter deals with foreign troops for packs of cigarettes, or food, or anything that the Japanese could trade.

“It is extremely likely they were Yosuke Yamahata’s images. He took 130 images in the days that followed the bombing and only 80 of the original negatives survived.”

He continued: “The vast majority of Yamahata’s pictures were taken in Nagasaki, which these images almost certainly depict. The prints varied in quality and several collections made their way across the world as the servicemen returned home and were often kept in photo albums and diaries like those of Mr Ferns.

“The collections are still fairly rare and at auction, depending on the quality of the prints, they can fetch anything between £2000 and even upwards of £20,000.”

The team at the Secret Bunker are in the process of seeking further clarification from experts in Yosuke Yamahata’s photography to ascertain which of the 11 images can be attributed to him, or whether there are additional, unattributed, images from the mysterious second hand camera which is specifically mentioned in Mr Ferns’ hand-written account of his time in Japan in 1946.

The collection will be on display at the Secret Bunker until November 1.