Berlyn Brixner

Berlyn Brixner

Berlyn B. Brixner (born May 21, 1911) was the head photographer for the Trinity test, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon in July 1945. Brixner was positioned away from the explosion and had 50 cameras of varying speeds running from different locations to capture the shot in full motion.

Early years

Berlyn Brixner was born in El Paso, Texas in on May 21, 1911. His mother had graduated from Western New Mexico University in 1898 and taught school in various small southern New Mexico communities. His father was a power systems engineer for mining operations, and had worked in Chile, Mexico and the Fanny Mine in Mogollon, New Mexico until the Army commandeered its boxcar-size generators at the beginning of World War II turning Mogollon into a ghost town.

On December 11, 1932, he fell into a volcano crater near Lanark, New Mexico and broke his ankle. Berlyn attended the University of Texas for four years without earning a degree, then worked and studied photography under Willis W. Waite, who operated a pathology laboratory in El Paso. In 1936, Berlyn worked as a regional photographer with the Soil Conservation Service at its four-state headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He married his first wife, Betty around 1940. His two daughters, Annette (born 1942) and Kathleen (born 1943) were born in Albuquerque. During World War II, he was hired at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to work on photography problems connected with the Manhattan Project in the Optics Engineering and High Speed Photography Group in Los Alamos under the direction of Professor Julian Mack, the group invented and constructed extremely high speed cameras.


Brixner's was assigned to shoot movies in 16-millimeter black-and-white, from every angle and distance and at every available speed, of an unknown event beginning with the brightest flash ever produced on Earth. "The theoretical people had calculated a some 10-sun brightness. So that was easy," said Brixner. "All I had to do was go out and point my camera at the sun and take some pictures. Ten times that was easy to calculate."

At ignition, Brixter remembers "The whole filter seemed to light up as bright as the sun. I was temporarily blinded. I looked to the side. The Oscura mountains were as bright as day. I saw this tremendous ball of fire, and it was rising. I was just spellbound! I followed it as it rose. Then it dawned on me. I'm the photographer! I've gotta get that ball of fire." He jogged the camera up. He said: "There was no sound! It all took place in absolute silence."

Later years

After the war, he stayed on LANL until retirement as head of the Optical group. In 1956 he married Audrey Chew (1915-1996) who was from Washington, DC.


His papers are archived at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He authored & co-authored over 45 papers describing major developments in camera engineering, optical instrumentation & fabrication techniques. His optical lens design was used to construct a high resolution telescope mounted on the Mariner 1969 and 1970 spacecrafts to Mars. He received the DuPont gold medal from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers and the Robert Gordon Memorial Award from the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.


  • Ultra High Speed Shutter (1953)
  • Continuous Recording High Speed Camera Frame (1954)
  • Wide Angle Optical System Having a Telecentric Stop (1966)

See also

  • Jack Aeby – photographer of the only successful color picture of the Trinity Test.


Further reading

  • Robert Del Tredici, At Work in the Fields of the Bomb (Vancouver, B.C. : Douglas & McIntyre, 1987). (Features an extensive interview with Brixner.)

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