Alfred Eisenstaedt, called the “father of photojournalism,” is well known for his ability to capture spontaneous moments. Eisenstaedt was born in 1898 and found photography during his teenage years, taking his first pictures at the age of 14 when he was given his first camera, an Eastman Kodak Folding Camera with roll film. He sold his first photography in 1927, unaware that professional photography existed. Eisenstaedt began his free-lance career for Pacific and Atlantic Photos’ Berlin office in 1928.
“Photojournalism had just started,” Eisenstaedt has remarked “and I knew very little about photography. It was an adventure, and I was always amazed when anything came out.”
By 1935 Eisenstaedt had acquired a Rolleiflex camera and immigrated to America. A year later he became one of the original staff photographers for Life Magazine. By now, he was a master of the candid photograph. Diminutive in stature, Eisenstaedt stood only slightly over five feet tall. He used a 2 1/4″ Rolleiflex “because you can hold a Rolleiflex without raising it to your eye; so they didn’t see me taking the pictures.” Eisenstaedt was speaking of the time he photographed American soldiers saying farewell to their wives and sweethearts in 1944 on assignment for Life. “I just kept motionless like a statue.” he said. “They never saw me clicking away. For the kind of photography I do, one has to be very unobtrusive and to blend in with the crowd.”
VJ Day in Times Square on August 15, 1945 provided the opportunity for Eisenstaedt to photograph the image for which he is possibly most famous. “I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight.” he explained. “Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make any difference. I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder…Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse.” Eisenstaedt was very gratified and pleased with this enduring image. “People tell me that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture.”
He had many exhibits and was the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of the Arts which he received from President George Bush in 1989 in a ceremony on the White House lawn. The photographer died in 1995 at the age of ninety-six.
The key to Eisenstaedt’s genius lay in his humility and humanity. “My style hasn’t changed much in all these sixty years,” he explained. “I still use, most of the time, existing light and try not to push people around. I have to be as much a diplomat as a photographer. People often don’t take me seriously because I carry so little equipment and make so little fuss. When I married in 1949, my wife asked me. ‘But where are your real cameras?’ I never carried a lot of equipment. My motto has always been, ‘Keep it simple.'”