In his series “Man Lives Through Plutonium Blast,” on view at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado in a show closing September 23, Peter Brown Leighton explores themes from his 1950s childhood through what he calls “imaginary vernacular images,” digital collages that transform found snapshots into unsettling and surreal fictional narratives. In the images, often set in domestic spaces, Leighton creates scenes that resemble dark family snapshots. A woman in curlers holds her tiny dog and glowers at the camera; a man crouches in a cardboard box; a girl stands on a couch between a pensive woman and a man in a mask. Other images draw on the vast spaces and familiar locations found in vacation snapshots. An unsmiling couple pose in front of Mount Rushmore—their grave expressions matching the stone presidents behind them. In another, a couple stands on a snowy field in shorts and bare feet, while smoke billows from unseen explosions behind them. A man holding bunches of balloons stands on the roof of a dilapidated chicken coop. Together, the images present a sort of ominous, absurdist version of a period known for its prosperity and conformity.
Throughout the series, Leighton references the shadow cast by the atomic bomb, from the opening image of a newspaper headline about a nuclear explosion (from which the show gets its title), to the closing shot of a mushroom cloud imposed on a city. In a statement, Leighton describes his early childhood in Japan not long after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, events that his parents never mentioned. He also describes a later trip to a sci-fi movie about a giant created by exposure to nuclear energy, an experience that shaped his understanding of “how perilous the world I lived in was,” he writes in a statement about the series. The images, he writes, “encapsulate storylines, spilling over with question marks and exclamation points, populated by men, women, and children fallen from grace, living at a time in which an end to the world as they have known it circles high overhead, just beyond reach and comprehension.”
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