Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Iconic Photograph: V-J Day in Times Square

V-J Day in Times Square, a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, was published in LIFE in 1945 with the caption, In New York's Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.

V-J Day in Times Square is a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt that portrays an American sailor kissing a woman in a white dress on Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day) in Times Square, New York City, on August 14, 1945. The photograph, taken with a Leica IIIa, was published a week later in LIFE magazine among many photographs of celebrations around the United States that were presented in a twelve-page section titled Victory. The photograph is known under various titles, such as V-J Day in Times Square, V-Day, and The Kiss.
"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," Eisenstaedt recalled in his book Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt (1985).
"V-J Day in Times Square" contact sheet

By looking closely at the contact sheet of these four frames, we can see that Eisenstaedt remained in the same position as the couple passionately kissed, watched by passers-by. The four frames are similar, but, for Eisenstaedt, one of them was clearly the best. "Only one is right, on account of the balance," he said. "In the others the emphasis is wrong — the sailor on the left side is either too small or too tall. People tell me that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture."

The identity of the two people in the photograph is not entirely clear, but they are widely believed to be George Mendonsa and Greta Friedman.

In 1979, Edith Shain wrote to Mr Eisenstaedt  claiming she was the woman who was kissed, but experts later claimed she was too short to be the person depicted.

Edith Shain's letter (Image via Letters of Note)

However, when LIFE magazine asked the subjects of the photograph to step forward, a total of three women and 11 men claimed to be the kissers.

An examination of the sailor's scars and tattoos soon suggested that Mr Mendonsa was the man, and he identified Ms Friedman - who was a dental hygienist - as the woman.

The sailor was at the cinema with a date when news came of the Japanese surrender, and he says he kissed the woman because he considered her uniform showed she was part of the war effort. Mr Mendonsa's date, Rita Petry, would later become his wife - she has since said she did not mind the passionate embrace, which took place right in front of her, but added: "In all these years, George has never kissed me like that."

Ms Friedman played down the significance of the kiss in later years, saying: "It wasn't that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn't have to go back (to fight in the Pacific)." She also paid tribute to the upbeat atmosphere in Times Square on VJ Day: "All throughout the day and the evening, people were there. It was like New Year's Eve, only better!" And she had no idea she was being photographed when the stranger grabbed her - she was just anxious to get back to her job at the dentist's.

LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt kissing unidentified female reporter in Times Square on VJ day, somewhat mimicking his famous sailor kissing the nurse photograph. Photographed by William C. Shrout.

Another photograph of the same scene. A U.S. Navy photo journalist, Victor Jorgensen captured another view of the same scene, which was published in the New York Times the following day. Jorgensen titled his photograph Kissing the War Goodbye. It shows less of Times Square in the background, lacking the characteristic view of the complex intersection so that the location needs to be identified, it is dark and shows few details of the main subjects, and it does not show the lower legs and feet of the subjects.

Jorgensen's similar photograph (Image via Wikipedia)

(via Wikipedia and Mail Online)

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  1. Ahhh that VJ Photo is still one of my favourite photos of all time. An absolute classic!!!!