“It’s more important to click with people than to click the shutter”
Alfred Eisenstaedt was one of LIFE Magazine’s most notable photographers and photojournalists. You probably know him as the person who captured the iconic V-J Day kiss image in Times Square. Over his career he had more than 90 of his photos featured on the cover of the magazine, and over 2,500 of his photo stories published.
Eisenstaedt was renowned for his ability to capture images with speed and flexibility. Unlike most news photographers of the time, he favored small 35mm film cameras and natural lighting—not the large, bulky 4”x5” press cameras with flash attachments that his contemporaries lugged around. He was a pioneer of this style, and this led to his success as a portraitist. His subjects felt relaxed in the presence of a less obtrusive camera and Eisenstaedt was able to capture timeless, candid photos of some of the era’s biggest names. "They don't take me too seriously with my little camera," he said to New York Magazine, "I don't come as a photographer. I come as a friend."
Here are a selection of his most memorable images:
His most well-known photo, Eisenstaedt captured this image in New York City’s Times Square on August 14, 1945. A U.S. Navy sailor is pictured passionately grabbing a passing woman and dipping her in an embrace, in a celebration of the US’s victory over Japan. In the moment, the photographer didn’t ask for the details of his subjects, which led to years of speculation and false claims of their identity.
Eisenstaedt captured this picture of an ice-skating waiter at the rink of the Grand Hotel in St. Moritz. The skating waiters were a popular attaction at the hotel, serving guests with (almost) infallible grace and balance. "I did one smashing picture", Eisenstaedt wrote, "of the skating headwaiter. To be sure the picture was sharp, I put a chair on the ice and asked the waiter to skate by it. I had a Miroflex camera and focused on the chair."
While on assignment in Japan for six months, Eisenstaedt captured a series of images focussing on the tattoos of the Yakuza. The men often have extensive tattoos, known as irezumi all over their body, which are invisible when clothed.
This image shows student nurses gathered round the stairwell of Roosevelt Hospital in 1938, from a photo essay of Eisenstadt’s featured in LIFE. The choice of a career in nursing was in a transitional phase, with the magazine saying: “Once almost any girl could be a nurse. But now, with many state laws to protect the patient, nursing has become an exacting profession.”
Depicting the wasteland of Hiroshima, this is one of Eisenstaedt's most poignant photos. The American B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Japan on August 6, 1945, killing roughly 70,000 people. The survivors, such as the mother and child pictured, will have largely been doomed to radiation poisoning. The photograph was taken 4 months after the bombing, and portrays a powerful message of the human suffering that ensued.
This unforgettable image shows British Prime Minister Winston Churchill flashing the “V for Victory” sign in Liverpool, England in 1951. The gesture served to inspire and unite millions as a rallying emblem during World War Two, after being brought into public consciousness by Victor de Laveleye, the former Belgian Minister of Justice. Churchill was reportedly a difficult subject, bossing Eisenstaedt about and telling him where to place the camera to get a good picture.
This dapper, grandfatherly-looking fellow might seem like an unlikely candidate for a make-up artist, but the man wielding the eyebrow pencil is in fact Maksymilian Faktorowicz, founder of cosmetics empire Max Factor. Here he can be seen, captured by Eistendstaedt, drawing eyebrows on a blond model to achieve the “look” of the time. The entrepreneur found success after he developed a new consistency of make-up suitable for the medium of film, that wouldn’t cake or crack like traditional stage make-up.
Here you can see the female Ama divers of Japan. The women would free-dive down 20 feet to retrieve oysters and collect their pearls. In Japan, women were considered better divers as they have an extra layer of fat to insulate them and are thought to be able to hold their breath for longer than men. When Mikimoto Kōkichi revolutionized the pearl industry with his cultured pearls in 1893, he still used the traditional expertise of Ama divers in the harvesting process.
In 1972 Eisenstaedt photographed the Steele women: six generations of the same family in one uninterrupted line. The youngest is a baby girl of ten months, and her great-great-great-grandmother is 100 years old. In between are the baby’s mother, 19; grandmother, 37; great-grandmother, 53; and great-great-grandmother, 74.
Helen Martini, wife of a Bronx Zoo keeper, often became a surrogate mother to exotic baby animals, including panthers, leopards, and gorillas. In 1944 she became carer for a trio of tiger cubs who were refused by their mother, which she reared and hand-fed in her nearby Bronx apartment. She eventually went on to become the zoo’s first woman keeper.
The Mount Rushmore sculpture is carved into the granite face of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln were designed by sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Construction ran from 1927 to 1941, and this photo by Eisenstaedt shows some of the final work being done on Washington. Originally each president was intended to be depicted all the way down to the waist, but the project ran out of funds.
Eisenstaedt captured this glowering, tensed portrait of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister during a League of Nations conference in 1933. Eisenstadt explained that Goebbels had been smiling until he caught sight of the photographer, who he then fixed with a malevolent stare. Eisenstaedt himself was Jewish, and he and his family were forced to emigrate his home country of Germany due to oppression from the Nazis.
Margaret Bourke-White was another prominent LIFE Magazine photographer, who often worked closely with Eisenstaedt. Here he captures her complex photographic equiptment. Bourke-White was the first American female war photojournalist, and one of her photographs featured on the first ever issue of the magazine.