Alfred Eisenstaedt – Father of Photojournalism

Day 213 of Colourisation Project – December 6

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

You may not recognise the name or the face but you would certainly have to recognise one of the world’s most iconic images, V-J Day in Times Square, (also known as The Kiss).

Heralded by Time magazine as one of the ten greatest images in the history of photojournalism, today’s colourisation is of the the man behind that image, Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Alfred Eisenstaedt

Photographer Unknown – Alfred Eisenstaedt 1932 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Born this day, December 6, 1898, German photographer and photojournalist, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s pioneering images for Life magazine helped define American photojournalism, and established him as one of the first and most important photojournalists of the 20th century. His images are among photography’s most widely recognized and most frequently reproduced.

Eisenstaedt was a professional photographer for almost 70 years. Starting out in Weimar Germany, where he covered the rise of Adolf Hitler, his early images appeared in many European picture magazines. However, in 1935 the inglorious rise of Nazism, forced Eisenstaedt, a Jew to flee to the USA where he soon landed a job as one of the first four photographers hired by the new picture magazine LIFE.

Eisenstaedt shot for LIFE from its debut in 1936 until it ceased publishing as a weekly in 1972. He quickly achieved prominence as a staff photographer and over the next 50 years, was the leading LIFE photographer producing more than 2,500 picture stories and 90 covers for the magazine.

In his book, The Great LIFE Photographers, (2004) Robert Andreas wrote that Eisenstaedt “would put his subjects at ease, then get up close and take a few pictures—he didn’t need roll after roll—then it was on to the next person, the next happening, tirelessly pursuing the heart of the matter that he saw so easily and wanted very much for us to see too.”

Eisenstaedt indeed had an uncanny ability to seize the fleeting essence of the moment, as can be seen in the portraits of many of his subjects including such luminaries as John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein, Sofia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, and Winston Churchill, all of whom appeared on the cover of LIFE.

Taken with his trusty Leica IIIa, it is that photograph from the V-J Day celebration in New York City in 1945 of an American sailor kissing a nurse in the middle of Times Square, that is indelibly imprinted in the subconscious post war minds of all who have seen it. Eisenstaedt explains how this iconic image came about in his autobiography written in 1985, Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt: A Self-Portrait:

“In Times Square on V.J. Day I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make a difference. 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.”

Renowned for his ability to capture memorable images of important people, one such image (before he started working at LIFE) was that of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda taken in 1933 during during a League of Nations conference at the Carlton Hotel in Geneva.

Again, Eisenstaedt recounts in his autobiography, Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt: A Self-Portrait,  how this rather unsettling image of Goebbels came about:

“In 1933, I traveled to Lausanne and Geneva for the fifteenth session of the League of Nations.  There, sitting in the hotel garden, was Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda.  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?  Behind him is his private secretary, Walter Naumann, with the goatee, and Hitler’s interpreter, Dr. Paul Schmidt. . . . 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.”

Never formally trained, Eisenstaedt became a master of his craft and continued photographing right up until his death in August 1995 when died in his sleep. He was 96 years of age.

Eisenstaedt’s photographs have been exhibited at prestigious museums and galleries including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the International Center of Photography, the Philadelphia College of Art. His photographs are also in the permanent collections of the Royal Photographic Society, London; the International Center of Photography, New York; the George Eastman House, Rochester; and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.


 “…because you can hold a Rolleiflex without raising it to your eye; so they didn’t see me taking the pictures. I just kept motionless like a statue. 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.”    –   Eisenstaedt  [on LIFE shooting assignment of American soldiers saying farewell to their wives and sweethearts in 1944.]

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