During the frostiest days of the Cold War, the United States harboured thousands of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles in a network of bases hidden underground. Although the threat of nuclear Armageddon is, for the most part, shelved (for now) and the accompanying arsenal is largely defunct, much of the infrastructure still remains, giving visitors a glimpse into the fear of living under the mad logic of Mutually Assured Destruction.
“Initially the project was an exploration of Cold War nostalgia," says photographer Adam Reynolds, whose series No Lone Zone documents two such places: the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota and the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona. “Both sites tie into the Cold War tourist industry which is a kind of strange niche market that is picking up steam as the nuclear issue resurfaces in our collective consciousness.”
This series builds on one of Adam’s previous projects called Architecture of an Existential Threat that explored the interiors of bomb shelters throughout Israel and left him with a strong desire to explore the infrastructure of political conflict. Its name, No Lone Zone, refers to the Air Force’s mandatory two-person buddy system in place at all ICBM sites, to prevent sabotage when in charge of such catastrophically destructive weapons.
The decision not to include people in the shots was partly aesthetic and partly practical. “For No Lone Zone I was shooting with a 4×5 camera, and wanted to keep everything in focus,” Adam tells It’s Nice That. “Sometimes the exposures were extremely long. I also wanted to photograph these areas as spaces without people to allow the viewer to enter the space on their own terms.”
Adam chose a 4×5 camera to capture these “Shrines to Armageddon” because of the attention to composition it affords a photographer. Having shot Architecture of an Existential Threat with a 35mm DSLR, he “then intentionally cropped down to a 4:5 ratio, just to kind of reference that classical architectural style, and then once I got my hands on the real deal, I’ve been shooting on that ever since.”
In many ways, the sites’ underground locations were useful to Adam. Shooting the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in midwinter was only possible because of its sheltered position. "I’d wanted to do surface level shots in the snow to reference the nuclear winter but it just too darn cold. It was -7°F,” he explains. “Luckily since these sites are underground, you don’t have to worry about losing the natural light. You could stay until midnight if you wanted to.”
Probably the most unexpected thing Adam found in the underground time capsules was a game of Battleships set up by the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site staff. “Oddly the Minuteman site is run by the National Park Service, the same park service that operates Yosemite and the Smokey Mountains,” Adam explains. The tongue in cheek comment on the egotistical impulses behind nuclear warfare was a perfect opening image.
”The series acts as a reminder that the nuclear issue really consumed everyone during the Cold War and since the war ended people just stopped remembering that we have thousands of these things waiting to shoot off,” adds Adam. “As the Cold War itself has faded from memory, so too have the lessons and fears these weapons once elicited in the general public.”
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