Born in West Prussia, Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995) was inseparable from his camera ever since he was gifted one aged thirteen. In 1928 he began his photographic career at the agency Pacific Atlantic Photos’ Berlin, capturing key figures such as Hitler and Mussolini. He later moved to New York, where he spent the next five decades photographing for LIFE magazine, his images appearing on more than eighty covers. He was an extremely influential photographer and has since been called the ‘Father of Photojournalism’.
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Winston Churchill, Liverpool, 1951
Tree in Snow, Near St Moritz, Switzerland, 1947
Alfred Eisenstaedt was born into an affluent family on 6 December 1898, in West Prussia. His father, who owned a department store, retired in 1906 and in doing so moved the family to Berlin. Eisenstaedt was given his first camera aged thirteen, and was soon inseparable from it. However, in 1914, with the outbreak of the war, his newfound passion for photography was interrupted when he was recruited into the German army. After the war, he sought any paid job he could find, even becoming a button and belt salesman.
By 1925, Eisenstaedt had saved up enough money for a Zeiss camera and, by 1929, was earning more as a freelance photographer than as a salesman. Although his employer tried to warn him off photography, he left his job and took his first steps towards fame. He began his photographic career at the agency Pacific and Atlantic Photos’ Berlin office in 1928, from where he was sent on various assignments, photographing portraits of a wide range of sitters, from writers to royalty.
Eisenstaedt built a name for himself in Berlin and photographed figures such as Hitler and Mussolini at a meeting in Italy, and Goebbels at the 1933 League of Nations Assembly in Geneva. However, he soon moved to New York where he hoped there would be even greater opportunities for a photojournalist. There, he impressed the editor of LIFE magazine, particularly with his photographs of musicians, and over the next fifty years Eisenstaedt’s photographs appeared on more than eighty covers for LIFE. Not only did he photograph famous personalities but he also captured spontaneous moments including VJ Day, which shows a sailor kissing a woman in Times Square in 1945, that became his most well-known contribution to LIFE magazine.
Exhibitions and Awards
In 1954 Eisenstaedt held his first solo exhibition in New York and went on to win numerous awards, including the National Medal of the Arts award in 1989. Eisenstaedt was an extremely influential photographer and has been called the “father of photojournalism”.
Alfred Eisenstaedt died on 24 August 1995, aged 97.