Yamahata was born in Singapore; his father, Shōgyoku Yamahata (山端祥玉, later to become known as a photographer) had a job there related to photography. He went to Tokyo in 1925 and eventually started at Hosei University (Tokyo) but dropped out in 1936 to work in G. T. Sun (ジーチーサン商会, Jīchīsan Shōkai, aka Graphic Times Sun), a photographic company run by his father. (He would become its president in 1947.) From 1940, Yamahata worked as a military photographer in China and elsewhere in Asia outside Japan; he returned to Japan in 1942.
On August 10, 1945, a day after the Nagasaki bombing, Yamahata began to photograph the devastation, still working as a military photographer. Over a period of about twelve hours he took around a hundred exposures; by late afternoon, he had taken his final photographs near a first aid station north of the city. In a single day, he had completed the only extensive photographic record of the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. These photographs appeared swiftly, for example in the August 21 issue of Mainichi Shinbun.
After the GHQ's restrictions on coverage of the effects of the atomic bomb were lifted earlier in 1952, Yamahata's photographs of Nagasaki appeared in the September 29 issue of Life. The same year, they appeared in the book Kiroku-shashin: Genbaku no Nagasaki. Some also appeared in the exhibition and book "The Family of Man".
Yamahata became violently ill in 1965, on his forty-eighth birthday and the twentieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the duodenum, probably caused by the residual effects of radiation received in Nagasaki in 1945. He is buried at Tama Cemetery, Tokyo.
Restoration work was done on Yamahata's negatives after his death. An exhibition of prints, "Nagasaki Journey", traveled to San Francisco, New York, and Nagasaki in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the bombing.
Yamahata's photographs of Nagasaki remain the most complete record of the atomic bombing as seen immediately after the bombing. The New York Times has called his photographs "some of the most powerful images ever made".
Examples of Yamahata's works in the public domain.
Books of Yamahata's works
- Kiroku-shashin: Genbaku no Nagasaki (記録の写真：原爆の長崎). Daiichi Shuppansha, 1952.
- Genbaku no Nagasaki (原爆の長崎). Tokyo: Gakufū Shoin, 1959.
- Nagasaki Journey: The Photographs of Yosuke Yamahata August 10, 1945. San Francisco: Pomegranate, 1995. ISBN 0-87654-360-3.
- Nagasaki yomigaeru genbaku shashin (長崎よみがえる原爆写真). Tokyo: NHK, 1995. ISBN 4-14-080231-6.
- (Japanese) Yamahata Yōsuke (山端庸介). Nihon no shashinka 23. Tokyo: Iwanami, 1998. ISBN 4-00-008363-5.
- Hirakata and the Biographic Dictionary state that Yamahata's original given name was 啓弌, but do not specify its reading. A likely reading is "Keiichi".
- (Japanese) Hirakata (平方正昭). "Yamahata Yōsuke". Nihon shashinka jiten (日本写真家事典) / 328 Outstanding Japanese Photographers. Kyoto: Tankōsha, 2000. ISBN 4-473-01750-8. Despite the English-language alternative title, all in Japanese.
- Kaku: Hangenki (核：半減期) / The Half Life of Awareness: Photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tokyo: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, 1995. Exhibition catalogue; captions and text in both Japanese and English. Fifteen pages of Yamahata's photographs of Nagasaki; also works by Ken Domon, Toshio Fukada, Kikujirō Fukushima, Shigeo Hayashi, Kenji Ishiguro, Shunkichi Kikuchi, Mitsugi Kishida, Eiichi Matsumoto, Yoshito Matsushige, Shōmei Tōmatsu, and Hiromi Tsuchida. Text and captions in both Japanese and English.
- (Japanese) Nihon no shashinka (日本の写真家) / Biographic Dictionary of Japanese Photography. Tokyo: Nichigai Associates, 2005. ISBN 4-8169-1948-1. Despite the English-language alternative title, all in Japanese.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Yōsuke Yamahata.|
- Photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- Nagasaki Journey, The Photographs of Yosuke Yamahata, presented by the San Francisco Exploratorium