Alfred Eisenstaedt, VJ-Day in Times Square, New York, 1945
Alfred Eisenstaedt’s jubilant photograph of a man and woman locked in a tight embrace, set against the backdrop of Times Square on V-J Day has become one of the most recognisable images of the twentieth century.
Eisenstaedt was born in West Prussia in 1898, and began taking photographs as a freelance photographer in Berlin in 1928. The following year he committed to photography full time, working for both the Associated Press and Illustrierte Zeitung. During these early years Eisenstaedt documented the build-up to the Second World War from the opposing side, quickly establishing his reputation as a photojournalist. His best-known early works include images of the first meeting between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini as well as a sneering portrait of Joseph Goebbels at the League of Nations in 1933. Born into a Jewish family, Eisenstaedt emigrated to the United States in 1935 to escape the growing persecution of Germany’s Jewish population. Arriving in America, he and his family settled in New York. His reputation as a noted photographer travelled with him from Europe and in 1936 he was offered a position as one of the first staff photographers for the newly established LIFE magazine.
Upon hearing the news of the Japanese surrender on 15th August 1945, Eisenstaedt left his office with his Leica and joined the euphoric crowds of people who had spilled onto the streets to celebrate. The photographer described the moment he captured his most famous photograph years later, ‘I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, looking for pictures. I noticed a sailor coming my way. He was grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all – young girls and old ladies alike. Then I noticed the nurse, standing in that enormous crowd. I focused on her, and just as I’d hoped, the sailor came along, grabbed the nurse and bent down to kiss her.’ The moment passed very quickly, and amongst the crowds and chaos, Eisenstaedt did not have the opportunity to find out the names of the pair.
A week later, the image was published in a twelve-page spread in LIFE magazine titled ‘Victory Celebrations,’ with Eisenstaedt’s photograph being given a full page. Since the photograph’s publication, numerous people have come forward claiming to be its subjects, however, the distinct angle from which the photograph was taken obscures either subject’s face from view. Nevertheless, the photograph has become a symbol of triumph and celebration for a unique and extraordinary moment in history.