Who was Alfred Eisenstaedt?
Alfred Eisenstaedt was a prominent German photographer who rose to worldwide fame with his work for ‘Life Magazine’. His famous picture of a sailor kissing a nurse on the V-J Day celebration in New York remains an iconic image capturing the happiness and joy Americans felt when the World War II came to an end. A highly talented man, Eisenstaedt possessed the uncanny ability to capture memorable images of news-worthy happenings and thus earned the title of "the father of photojournalism". He has captured several of the historical events that shaped the world in the 20th century and has also photographed many a famous personality ranging from dignitaries to film stars, politicians to religious leaders, and artists to common man. His popularity was largely due to the fact that he was unfailingly able to capture the magic of a fleeting moment in his images and convey a thousand emotions through his photographs. He realized his passion for photography the day he set his hands on a camera as a teen and then he quickly went from one success to another. A German by birth, he emigrated to the U.S. during the Nazi regime. Deeply devoted to the art of photography, he experimented with different lenses, filters and lighting effects.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born in West Prussia, Imperial Germany, on 6 December 1898 as the son of Joseph and Regina Schoen Eisenstaedt. His father owned a department store.
He was a creative child and took a fascination to photography early on in his life. He received his first camera when he was 14—it was an Eastman Kodak Folding Camera with roll film—and he was hooked to this art form.
He studied at the Hohenzollern Gymnasium in Berlin.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
He served in the German Army from 1916 to 1918 during the World War I and was wounded in both the legs. After the war he began working as a belt and button salesman during the 1920s.
During the 1920s he also began exploring his interest in photography in earnest and started working as a freelance photographer for the Pacific and Atlantic Photos’ Berlin office in 1928. He was greatly influenced by the works of the pioneering documentary photographer Erich Salomon.
He became a full-time photographer in 1929. He was very skilled in the use of the 35-mm Leica camera and created many works in this format which went on to achieve widespread popularity. One of his major projects during the 1930s was covering the rise of Adolf Hitler.
In 1932, he clicked an image of a waiter at the ice rink of the Grand Hotel. This image became very famous for the perfect timing of the shot which he had so painstakingly planned and executed.
He was very well-known for capturing the poignancy of the moment in his photographs. Once on a trip to the opera house La Scala, Milan, in 1934, he saw a young society girl sitting next to an empty box. He took a photograph of the girl from the box which resulted in yet another one of his memorable images.
He migrated to the United States in 1935 and would remain there for the rest of his life. He was employed by the ‘Life’ magazine in 1936 as one of the first four photographers hired by the newly started publication. He worked here till 1972.
He enjoyed a highly productive and successful career with ‘Life’. Over the period of his long tenure with the magazine, he created over 2,500 photo-essays for them. Also 90 of his photographers appeared on the magazine covers.
In 1954, he held his first one-man exhibition at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.
Every year he went to the island of Martha’s Vineyard for his annual August vacations. There he would experiment with photographic techniques with different lenses, filters, and prisms. He was especially enthralled by the lighthouses there which he loved to photograph.
He published several anthologies of his photographs which include ‘Witness to Our Time’ (1966), ‘People’ (1973), and ‘Eisenstaedt: Germany’ (1981).
He is most famous for clicking the photograph known as ‘V-J Day in Times Square’ which shows an American sailor kissing a young woman on 14 August, 1945—Victory over Japan Day—in Times Square. This image became an icon representing the jubilation felt by the Americans at the end of the World War II.
Awards & Achievements
In 1989 Eisenstaedt was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George Bush.
Personal Life & Legacy
He met Kathy Kaye, a South African woman, and married her in 1949. The couple had no children and remained together till Kathy’s death in 1972. At the time of their marriage, even Kathy was surprised by the famous photographer’s simplicity!
In spite of all his achievements and success, he was known to his friends as a simple and unassuming person.
After living a long and productive life, he died in 1995 at the ripe old age of 96.
The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism established the Alfred Eisenstaedt Awards for Magazine Photography in his honor in 1999.