The camera that Alfred Eisenstaedt used to take the photo the Kiss in Times Square on V-J Day went up for auction in 2013. It was a Leica Illa rangefinder and I would have given an arm and a leg if that would have even gotten me close to what it actually sold for, which was almost $150,000.
I have mentioned this photojournalist in another class before, but I am writing about him today because it still stands that Alfred Eisenstaedt is one of my favorite photojournalists of all time. Not only for his classic photos like the Kiss in Times Square that showed his brilliant composition and impeccable timing, but also for his courage.
This is Eisenstaedt with Marilyn Monroe:
Alfred Eisenstaedt was a photojournalist for LIFE Magazine. He worked with LIFE from 1936 to 1972.
And these are some of his famous works:
The Kiss in Times Square is a pretty well-known photograph. It graces posters, coffee mugs and t-shirts. It’s a brilliant portrait of a carefree kiss in celebration of a war being over. Photojournalism students have been told repeatedly to capture a moment. “Shoot what you feel, not what you see,” a mentor of a guest speaker said. This photograph is a perfect example of capturing a moment.
The other three photographs may not be as well known. Ben Cosgrove of LIFE Magazine said: “A few of them might be pictures that you’ve never seen before. But all of them share the unmistakable, deeply humane sensibility that defined the very best work of the man who made them.”
While I find these photos fascinating for their beautiful framing and interesting subject matter and stories, there is one photo that has stuck in my mind since the day I first laid eyes on it:
Alfred Eisenstaedt went to cover the League of Nations conference in 1933. A conference that also had Dr. Joseph Goebbels and Dr. Paul Schmidt in attendance. Dr. Paul Schmidt was “Hitler’s interpreter” and Dr. Joseph Goebbels was “Hitler’s minister of propaganda.”
Pictured here, looking at the camera, is Dr. Joseph Goebbels. His piercing gaze makes me queasy. The pure hatred seen within his eyes is truly terrifying and his uncomfortable posture creates a lot of tension. When looking at this photo, I can’t help but look into his eyes and the thoughts running through my head stop. All of what’s left of my thoughts are centered around how scary it must have been as a Jewish person to be standing in the presence of such a hateful man.
Eisenstaedt said this of the photo: “He smiles, but not at me. He was looking at someone to my left. . . . Suddenly he spotted me and I snapped him. His expression changed. Here are the eyes of hate. Was I an enemy?”
He finished his thought with: “I have been asked how I felt photographing these men. Naturally, not so good, but when I have a camera in my hand I know no fear.”
Eisenstaedt, to me, is the epitome of courage.