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V-J Day Photo
V-J Day in Times Square
1945 08 14
“I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight… I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then suddenly in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse. If she had been dressed in a dark dress I would never have taken the picture. If the sailor had worn a white uniform - the same. I took exactly four pictures. It was done within a few seconds.” Alfred Eisenstaedt
This article is about the VJ Day photo, and not the official Victory over Japan Day
V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt - Story Behind the Photograph
It was Tuesday noon August 14, 1945 when Radio Tokyo broadcast a statement by Emperor Hirohito. The Second World War ended four years after the United States entered the war. President Harry S. Truman had just announced the end of the war. The day was called “Victory over Japan Day.” Times Square was crowded with people celebrating. How many frames does it take to shoot an iconic photograph? Ten, twenty, a hundred? You definitely need a big, expensive camera with a super-fast lens for that. Well, Alfred Eisenstaedt had a different idea.
he “Victory over Japan Day in Times Square”, known as “V-J Day in Times Square”, is a photograph taken in 1945 by Alfred Eisenstaedt. He was an American photographer and photojournalist who was born in Germany. After he emigrated to the US in 1935, he worked for the Life magazine, which featured more than 90 of his photographs on its cover and published more than 2,500 of his photo stories. He was one of the most important and most active photojournalists of the 20th Century.
It was Tuesday noon August 14, 1945. Times Square was crowded with people celebrating. Alfred Eisenstaedt was walking in the crowd with his Leica IIIa. Commissioned by Life Magazine to bring back pictures from the celebration, he was looking for the perfect moment, which is exactly what he found at 5:51 pm.
“I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight… I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then suddenly in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse. If she had been dressed in a dark dress I would never have taken the picture. If the sailor had worn a white uniform - the same. I took exactly four pictures. It was done within a few seconds.” He said. The contrast between his dark uniform and her white dress is what gives the picture the extra impact.
When Eisenstaedt talked about his photographic process he said the big part of his success was luck. “But you do have to keep your eyes open, too.” He said. His camera, the small Leica IIIa, was also a reason why he wasn’t taken very seriously. “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."
Life magazine printed the picture on its cover. It became Alfred Eisenstaedt best-known photo.
Eisenstaedt shot a total of four frames. When we look at the composition, we can see he picked the one where the bended body of the nurse is on the diagonal, and her calf is parallel with sailor’s arm.
As you can see, both faces are hidden, which is great in terms of GDPR, but it turned out to be problematic when they actually wanted to find out the identity of the couple. To figure out the exact time 3 astrophysicists examined the connection between sunset in Manhattan and the clock position. Together with the testimony of witnesses, they were able to turn down many pairs who claimed to be the photographed couple. There were different pairs coming to Life’s office claiming they were the ones for more than 30 years.
Photo journalist Victor Jorgensen captured the same scene from another angle. That photo was published in New York Times the next day. The title of that photograph is “Kissing the War Goodbye”. This photo is actually not protected by copyright, since Jorgensen was a U.S. Navy photo journalist. Therefore, the photograph is in the public domain.
The mystery was solved in 2012 when a new book “The Kissing Sailor” was published. George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman were revealed to be the actual pair. His tattoos and scars, which matched the scars and tattoos in the photograph, were the key factors in confirming the identity of the sailor.
“The excitement of the war being over, plus I had a few drinks, so when I saw the nurse I grabbed her, and I kissed her.” He said. She was a dental nurse from Austria who emigrated to the USA in 1939.
An interesting thing is that there is another person identified in the picture. The girl, Rita Petry, was dating Mendonsa at that time and later married him.
Friedman later said in an interview. “I felt he was very strong, he was just holding me tight, and I’m not sure I — about the kiss because, you know, it was just somebody really celebrating. But it wasn’t a romantic event. It was just an event of thank God the war is over kind of thing,” adding that “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed me.” She said.
There is also a 7.6m tall sculpture created by John Seward Johnson in 2005. The sculpture was displayed in several cities.
However, there is also a little controversy about the picture. The composition is also being interpreted as a photo documentation of a sexual assault. The art critic Michael Kimmelman said the composition is a reflection of that time’s mood. The pair represents the returning troops and those who would welcome them home. Shortly after George Mendonsa died, the statue was vandalized with # metoo graffiti. What I think about it is that even though I condemn this type of behavior against women, the acts should be judged in the context of times and situations of when they happened.
Alfred Eisenstaedt died at the age of 96 in 1995. He was an incredible photographer and took many amazing pictures. However, he believed “The Kiss” to be the best shot in his career.
Now, I have to say I love photography equipment. I like reading reviews, checking it out in the store or eventually buying it. However, as you can see you don’t need big and expensive equipment to take an iconic shot. It is nice to have, but it is not necessary.
After all, “All photographers have to do, is find and catch the story-telling moment.” – Alfred Eisenstaedt.
V-J Day in Times Square is a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt that portrays a U.S. Navy sailor embracing and kissing a total stranger—a dental assistant—on Victory over Japan Day ("V-J Day") in New York City's Times Square on August 14, 1945. The photograph was published a week later in Life magazine, among many photographs of celebrations around the United States that were presented in a 12-page section entitled "Victory Celebrations". A two-page spread faces a montage of three similar photographs of celebrators in Washington, D.C., Kansas City, and Miami, opposite the Eisenstaedt photograph that was given a full-page display on the right hand side.
Eisenstaedt was photographing a spontaneous event that occurred in Times Square during keen public anticipation of the announcement of the end of the war with Japan (that would be made by U.S. President Harry S. Truman at seven o'clock). Eisenstaedt said that he did not have an opportunity to get the names and details, because he was photographing rapidly changing events during the celebrations. The photograph does not clearly show the face of either person involved, and numerous people have claimed to be the subjects. The photograph was shot just south of 45th Street looking north from a location where Broadway and Seventh Avenue converge. Donald W. Olson and his investigative team estimate that the photograph was taken at 5:51 p.m. ET. In their history pages, Life has noted that the Eisenstaedt photograph was taken with a Leica IIIa camera.
Wikipedia, last update 2023.03.10
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