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‘One bomb too many’

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Janire Najera’s new work > Photographer encapsulates The Black Hole owner ‘Atomic’ Ed Grothus’s legacy in book

By Tris DeRoma

In the waning days of The Black Hole in 2012, hundreds, if not thousands, of people stopped by to purchase what was left of the military surplus store’s inventory during a massive liquidation sale.

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The store’s founder, prominent anti-nuclear activist Ed Grothus, died in 2009, and his family no longer had the resources to keep the well-known store and institution to anti-nuclear activity in New Mexico open.

As visitors came to purchase or take away the many pieces of castoff equipment from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, one visitor came to give something back to the store that served as a rallying point for those against nuclear warfare and those that weren’t afraid to put the activities going on at the Los Alamos National Laboratory under a microscope.

Janire Najera, a photographer and visual artist who lives in the United Kingdom, dropped by at first because she was curious.

“I was in New Mexico preparing for another project which entailed a month long road trip following the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles when a friend shared with me a local newspaper article about the liquidation sale of The Black Hole,” Najera said.

“I had never been to the store myself but had heard lots of things about it and its owner Ed Grothus through friends and colleagues in the area,” she said.

During her visit, however, something urged her to document the items on display.

“I simply couldn’t believe what I saw. I felt really overwhelmed with the astonishing array of scientific and electronic equipment on display that far surpassed the quantity and variety of any museum collection related to machinery I had previously seen,” Najera said.

“Walking through the aisles I felt a strange need to photograph the objects as a way of recording them before they become inaccessible, partly out of the need to capture the simple beauty of the objects themselves, and partly as a mechanism to record their historic relevance,” she said.

One thing led to another and Najera soon found herself creating a photo book on Grothus and his legacy.

“After photographing The Black Hole, I became aware of his archive and this is when a new journey started for me, navigating through more than 50 years of correspondence between Ed Grothus and politicians, scientists, the media and fellow activists,” Najera said.

Najera got to know Grothus’ family and the story of how became a well-known anti-nuclear activist.

“By this point I knew really well Ed’s family and I felt drawn to their stories regarding their childhood and the influence that their father have had in their lives,” Najera said. “I felt I could learn a lot from their positive approach dealing with Ed’s legacy with in turn made me more driven to tell their father’s story through the documentation of his collection. Plus Ed’s story still is relevant in the world we live in today.”

Najera’s book, “Atomic Ed,” is available through pre-order on Najera’s website janirenajera.com/store.

“Hopefully the books will be shipping in October 2018,” Najera said.

The book will only be available in hardcopy as Najera prefers people “to experience it physically instead of digitally.”

The 17 x 23.5 cm, 196-page book includes archival materials, letters and images from The Black Hole. It contains 83 photographs and 47 letters.

In the course of her research for the book, Najera met many of the people that knew Grothus personally or at least supported his vision. She also learned there were plenty who were not supportive of the former LANL employee and his antinuclear activities.

When asked by the Los Alamos Monitor if she thought Grothus was appreciated by the county and the Los Alamos National Laboratory for his alternative point of view when it came to nuclear weapons, she had this to say.

“It is not my place to say as I didn’t live in Los Alamos myself during that period. But from the feedback I got from talking to lots of people and family and friends of Ed Grothus and the documents I have found I would say that not everybody understood or respected Ed’s vision,’ Najera said.

 Shortly before the publishing of this article, Barbara Grothus, Ed’s daughter, appeared in Los Alamos Municipal Court Monday over a dispute with the county over the 60-ton obelisks that are still being stored at the former Black Hole site on Arkansas Avenue.

Najera didn’t know about the court hearing, but in the Los Alamos Monitor interview, that took place before the hearing, Najera saw the obelisks as symbols to Grothus’struggle to establish an alternative truth in Los Alamos about nuclear weapons and how they were used in World War II.

“He had made two obelisks as a public art installation reminding us of the threats associated with nuclear weapons. Still today, both obelisks are stored in shipping containers because the County didn’t want to erect them in town,” Najera said. “When in fact they would attract tourism and make Los Alamos a more open city by allowing for different points of view to be expressed and not just focus on the same old discourse. Ed had followers all over the world that travelled to Los Alamos just to visit The Black Hole and talk to him so it would be great to have in the city a reminder of how relevant The Black Hole had become over the decades.”

Najera has exhibited her work internationally and published her first book, “Moving forward, looking back” in 2015.

Najera has exhibited the photographs from her visits to The Black Hole.

“I have had two solo exhibitions of ‘The Black Hole- Atomic Ed’ in the UK and Spain (Ffotogallery in Wales and Logroño City Hall) and feedback has been really positive,” Najera said. “I exhibited the photographs I took at The Black Hole before I had access to the archive. So I hope to create a multimedia installation in the near future with these photographs and display them alongside the artefacts, images, newspaper cuttings, letters and audio files I collected from Ed’s archive.”

Najera also said her research on Ed has garnered interest from the media worldwide

“The project has been featured in CNN News, The Guardian, PBS, etc. so I have found that there is an interest and admiration for Ed’s activism and legacy,” Najera said.

Her book on Atomic Ed is a perfect example of her reasons for being a visual artist. 

“Through my work I hope to re-think and develop imagery that questions the histories and environments we belong to.

My documentary practice is concerned with highlighting communities that have been displaced through changing social and economic climates,” Najera said.

To find out more about the book and Janire Najera, visit janirenajera.com.