It looks like a photo of a ballet dancer posing against a desert landscape, but it turns out there's much more to this photo.
See what looks like a white balloon just above her right hand? That's the cloud produced by one of several nuclear weapons tests the U.S. government conducted in 1953. Thanks to a post by science historian Alex Wellerstein on his blog about nuclear secrecy, Restricted Data and subsequent reader responses, we know this particular test was known as DIXIE, the dancer's name is Sally McCloskey, and the photo was taken by photographer Donald English.
According to Wellerstein, the photographer worked for a Las Vegas news bureau and did a series of photos of McCloskey dancing in front of the cloud in an attempt to make his pictures of the testing stand out from many others being produced at that time:
I’d have one girl, Sally McCloskey, we did a little series that was called Angel’s Dance. And she was a ballet dancer, not a showgirl, and she did an interpretive dance to the mushroom cloud as it came up and we shot a series of pictures and sent it out on the wire and they called it Angel’s Dance. We just did anything we could to make the picture a little bit different because the newspapers would run the mushroom cloud pictures, but they were always hungry for anything that had any kind of a different approach.
Other shots from the series ran in the Oakland Tribune on June 28, 1953. We wonder what Sally McCloskey was thinking when this photo was taken.
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