A view of the ‘Behind the Fence’ photo exhibit in the windows of the former CB Fox building on Central Avenue in Los Alamos. Photo courtesy Minesh Bacrania
View from across Central Avenue of the Minesh Bacrania photo exhibit. Photo Courtesy Minesh Bacrania
Two larger photos from the ‘Behind the Fence’ exhibit. Photo Courtesy Minesh Bacrania
The poster announcing the ‘Behind the Fence’ exhibit at the former CB Fox building on Central Avenue. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
It’s a project more than seven years in the making, the fulfillment of a dream by photographer Minesh Bacrania and it’s now featured in a unique exhibit called “Behind the Fence: The Manhattan Project at Los Alamos”. Bacrania is finally bringing images of World War II Project Y that are located in restricted areas of Los Alamos National Laboratory to the outside where they can be viewed in a different an unexpected setting – filling the windows of the unoccupied former CB Fox building on Central Avenue in downtown Los Alamos.
The project is a collaboration between Bacrania, Smithsonian Magazine, Los Alamos MainStreet and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
“I wanted to it to be accessible,” Bacrania said. “I’ve had people who grew up here tell me the Manhattan Project is where their dad worked and that they had no idea what it looks like.”
Los Alamos MainStreet Executive Director Jacquelyn Connolly said placing the images in the windows of the unoccupied building gave them the visibility Bacrania was looking for while doing something nonstandard that will be enjoyed by the public and really make a difference in terms of that area of downtown Los Alamos.
“There are some public art projects out there that will commission temporary work to go into a space like that for a period of time,” Connolly said.
She recalled temporary art projects that were place on safety fencing during construction of buildings and large murals on panels that were placed on buildings as they changed hands or were closed for repair.
“The understanding was that eventually those works would exist temporarily but they lasted a few years and parts of them were used for backdrops for special events. I’m interested in seeing what goes on here in Los Alamos as we get different developers with large-scale projects underway locally,” she said.
With the “Behind the Fence” exhibit, Connolly said she has been able to start the dialog and hopes to have a such displays a lot more frequently in the community. Bacrania’s work will be on display through December.
“If we do it right, people will feel like they can do a walkabout downtown,” Connolly said.
Connolly said when Bacrania first brought in a sample of the images, she thought they were really good and thought posting them like this would elicit a different a different kind of discussion. During the ScienceFest Discovery Day the photos were to be printed on vinyl and displayed outside with folks on hand to discuss the setting, the environment and the history. She feels looking at the photos displayed in the windows without the background information is a different experience.
“I think it’s pretty clear that you are looking at a landscape or an intervention from mankind and nature taking it back over but it’s pretty clear that something happened in this space. So you start to think about that kind of content and it says a lot, and there’s not a lot of opportunities when we don’t have any large scale galleries,” Connolly said. “My first desire was to put the exhibit pieces in a traditional gallery space and suspend them so that you could also walk among them.”
Bacrania said when he first heard Connolly’s idea, he thought it was good but he didn’t he had the energy to do it and after a while, he found that energy.
“This project was between Smithsonian Magazine and me. I pitched it to them. The Lab didn’t have any funding. I wanted to do this project. I tried asking the Lab on my own, it just didn’t make sense to them to do it. Once I had suggested the idea to the Smithsonian Magazine, then the Lab was very interested because of the national audience,” Bacrania said.
.Bacrania had completed an assignment for the magazine about a year beforehand which was a movie shoot about an archeologist, He had also sent his book of photos of the WAC Dormitory to the magazine’s photo editor who said he would like to run some of them in their American history section,
“I told them I had a better idea for him and I told him about this project and he was all excited about it. Then he got the magazine excited about it and I started getting people excited about it here. It took about six months to iron out the details and then we started at the beginning of 2022 and shot for pretty much the whole year. We finished in November,” Bacrania said. “My goal was to take people back behind the fence. I had originally thought maybe I would just put out a bunch of prints on vinyl on some posts around Ashley Pond or Fuller Lodge in the middle of the night.”
Smithsonian Magazine initially wanted to run the article in December but Bacrania suggested that they wait until the release of the “Oppenheimer’ movie and then it was decided to launch the project during ScienceFest.
“It’s really important for MainStreet. Our job is to activate spaces, to build community pride and to build economic impact, so anything you do in a downtown to a building that’s sitting empty, especially one that has a lot of community connection is great. You can look at that space and say how can we look at it? Can we look at it in a different light,” Connolly said.
Bacrania, whose prior work is very familiar to the Northern New Mexico community. He spent several years as an experimental nuclear physicist. His photography has been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Welt am Sonntag, Outsider, Preservation and Fortune.
More of Bacrania’s work may be seen at bacrania.net. To read about Bacrania’s book of photos from the historic WAC Dormitory Building in Los Alamos go to https://losalamosreporter.com/2020/12/08/28705/
A page from the July/August edition of Smithsonian Magazine. Courtesy Minesh Bacrania
The Quonset Hut/Photo by Minesh Bacrania
Unrolling the prints to mount in the window. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
The Battleship Bunker. Photo by Minesh Bacrania
Pond Cabin. Photo by Minesh Bacrania
Minesh Bacrania, right, checks one of the prints to be posted in the windows. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
A poster on the door announces the photo exhibit. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
K Site. Photo by Minesh Bacrania