Hoffman, Bernard

Bernard Hoffman (1913–1979) was an American photographer and documentary photographer. The bulk of his photographic journalism was done during the first 18 years of the revamped Life magazine, starting in 1936.

Bernard Hoffman_02

Communications Post Ft Bragg

Winnie the Welder, 1943

During this time he produced many photo essays, including a shoot with Carl Sandburg in 1938. He is, perhaps, most known as the first American photographer on the ground at Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945, providing some harrowing glimpses into the destructive power of the bomb.

Hiroshima, 1945, two months after the August 6 bombing.

Bernard Hoffman wrote on September 3, 1945, to LIFE’s long-time picture editor, Wilson Hicks:

“We saw Hiroshima today—or what little is left of it. We were so shocked with what we saw that most of us felt like weeping; not out of sympathy for the Japs but because we were revolted by this new and terrible form of destruction. Compared to Hiroshima, Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne are practically untouched . . . The sickly sweet smell of death is everywhere.”

Note from Hoffman

Urakami Cathedral (Roman Catholic), Nagasaki, September, 1945.

After leaving Life in 1951, Hoffman went on to establish Bernard Hoffman Laboratories, a company dedicated to improving the technology for professional photography. The lab was well-known enough that in 1963 he was brought on to process film from the Kennedy assassination, leading to support for belief in the infamous “shooter on the grassy knoll.” Following the sale of the lab in 1973, he spent his retirement years running photography workshops with his wife, Inez. Hoffman died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1979.

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