The Big Picture: Here Lies the World’s First Nuclear Reactor
See Jeremy Bolen’s irradiated photos of the site, buried under a marked grave at a forest preserve in Chicago’s southwest suburbs.
Published Aug. 13, 2014, at 3:06 p.m.
By Jeremy Bolen, an artist in Logan Square
“When I was in graduate school for my MFA, I became interested in high-energy particle physics and its relationship to art and photography. Heightened modes of observation, searching for the invisible, and extending our sensory capabilities are all ideas present in the three disciplines.
“I was working at Fermilab, and that research led me to this space. It’s in a forest preserve near Palos Heights, in an area called Red Gate Woods, and in those woods is Site A, where the first nuclear reactor ever created was buried in 1955. There’s also a site called Plot M, where all the waste from that experiment was buried while it was actually happening. Six stones designate where the waste is buried. The stones in the photo mark that area.
“Physicists rethought the way different modes of observation have occurred, how the way we record information alters the information we record. For me, there are interesting parallels between that and photography. Studying the site, I started to think about the potential of recording the invisible presence of unknown energy emanating from these experiments. I decided to actually bury film that was never developed; I wanted to create a tension between the visible light spectrum and the spectrum we can’t perceive. So in April 2013, I took a roll of film, photographed a couple of the stones, and buried the film inside the boundaries marked by the stones for a month. Then the film was developed. From what I understand, and from the experiments I’ve done, those bands of coloration you see on the strip of film are from the energy in the area. Crazy, right?
“Surrounding it is material from the site: dirt and flora. It’s not a photograph; it’s actual material placed onto the photographic paper, creating a tension between the actual and the representational, the visible and the invisible.”
Note: According to information from the U.S. Department of Energy provided by Cook County, “the area surrounding Site A and Plot M continues to undergo annual monitoring and remains safe by all measurements.” The DOE did not respond to inquiries by presstime.