Biography of Alfred Eisenstaedt - The father of contemporary photojournalism.

"Biography of Alfred Eisenstaedt - The father of contemporary photojournalism." submitted by RomeTour Editorial Team and last updated on Friday 29th April 2011

Legendary kiss V–J day in Times Square Alfred Eisenstaedt

Alfred Eisenstaedt, who was born in Dirschau, in Prussia, on 6 December 1898. The finger on the camera’s shutter was that of Alfred Eisenstaedt, a “Life” magazine photographer, who is considered to be the father of modern photojournalism. This famous image, along with a rich repertoire of Eisenstaed’s work, 100 black and white photographs in all, are displayed in the Museo di Roma in Trastevere until 9 September.

He is the son of a merchant, and would have followed in his father’s footsteps if his uncle had not given him a camera, an Eastman Kodak no. 3, for his fourteenth birthday. From these beginnings the young Alfred’s interest in photography developed into a passion however, such that he became one of “Life” magazine’s most famous photographers.

He enlisted in the army in the age of 17, and his leg was seriously injured in April 1918.

Just a few years later, in 1922, after having establisheda level of financial security as a trader of buckles and buttons, he bought his first photographic equipment. He then began development his own photographs in the bathroom of the house.

During a holiday in Czechoslovakia in 1927 he took a photograph of woman playing tennis. It had a long shadow of the player in the distance. The photograph was sold to Der Welt Spiegel four years later for three marks. It was then that Eisenstaedt decided to leave his job and dedicated himself completely to photography.

Eisenstaedt was successful enough to become a full-time photographer in 1929. Four years later he photographed a meeting between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Italy. He began working as a freelance for Pacific and Atlantic Photos, (which became Associated Press). He used the new Leica 35 mm in this period. His subjects were politicians, famous artists, and social events such as the St. Moritz winter season. He was invited to Italy in 1933 in order to immortalise the first meeting between Hitler and Mussolini. Two years after Hitler came to power, Eisenstaedt moved to America. Together with Margaret Bourke-White, Thomas McAvoy and Peter Stackpole, he took part in "Project X" in New York, this was organised by the of Time magazine, Henry Luce: on the future publication of LIFE magazine (23 November 1936).

The first edition of “Life” dedicated five pages to Eisenstaedt’s photographs and in the magazine’s second week his photograph of Westpoint military academy was on the cover. Eisenstaedt documented America during the years of conflict, as well as its growth and revival after the depression of the 1930s. At the end of the war he took the photograph which was destined to become one of the most famous in the history of photojournalism: The Kiss in Times Square on victory day. Eisenstaedt remembers the kiss like this “He was walking along the road grasping any girl who came his way, it didn’t matter whether they were old or young, thin or fat. I wasn’t satisfied with any of those images however. Then I suddenly saw something white being clinched, I turned and clicked the camera’s shutter at the exact moment the sailor kissed the nurse.

He became an American citizen in 1942. He undertook a number of assignments in various countries around the world, his photographs recording unrepeatable situations in the post-war years.

There was Japan devastated by the atomic bomb; he took a photograph of a mother with her child among the ruins in the place which was later to be visited by Emperor Hirohito. They were collecting vegetables, having planted seeds among the ruins a short time before this. When he asked the woman if he could photograph her she bowed very low and posed. Her expression was a mixture of perplexity, anxiety and resignation. She bowed once again in my direction after I had taken the photograph.

Eisenstaedt travelled to Korea once again with the American troops. He also went to Italy and England. He never tired of documenting people and events. He was even more convinced of the possibility of learning something from every photograph.

The portrait was an important part of his work too, his subjects included: Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, JFK playing with his daughter Caroline, Albert Einstein, and Ernest Hemingway. His photograph of Sophia Loren in a negligee, which was on the cover of “Life”, caused many readers to cancel their subscriptions to the magazine.

Eisenstaedt had more than eighty of his photographs on the cover of LIFE in the years that followed, and he continued to receive greater recognition for his work. The city of New York dedicated a day in his honour “Alfred Eisenstaedt Day”, and he received the Presidential Medal of Arts and the Master of Photography Award in 1988.

He continued to work for LIFE, installing himself in his office, just five blocks from his home, at nine o’clock every morning. He filled his day by reordering his photographs and preparing prints for his exhibitions. In numerous interviews in his later years he said that he still felt like a thirty-year-old, despite having the body of a man of ninety.

Alfred Eisenstaedt passed away in New York on 24 August 1995.

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