One of the most iconic images of the 20th century is attributed to one of its most diminutive photographers. Alfred Eisenstaedt stood no taller than five feet, yet his impact on photography and the profession of photojournalism was monumental.
Had it not been for his ability to remain in the background, away from the attention of those he wished to photograph, some of the greatest images of the past century would have never been taken.
His most famous is the image of a sailor snatching and kissing a young nurse from the crowd in Time Square as New York City celebrated the end of World War Two. Eisenstaedt was a master of the candid shot and perfected techniques for capturing spontaneous moments.
Born in 1898, he sold his first photograph in 1927 and soon found work with the Associated Press in Europe. Using the large and cumbersome photographic equipment of the time, Eisenstaedt traveled the continent on assignment, photographing artists, musicians and royalty. But it was during the 1930's that he perfected his candid style.
By the mid 1930s, Eisenstaedt acquired a Rollieflex camera, a sharp departure from the heavy equipment of the past, and was now capable of forming a much more mobile and subtle style. In 1935 he immigrated to the United States and became one of the original staff photographers at Life Magazine, where his shots graced ninety of the magazine's front covers.
"For the photography that I do, one has to be very unobtrusive and to blend into the crowd," Eisenstaedt said, describing his approach to taking photos as remaining motionless like a statue in a crowd.
Wonderful visual and un-staged reality is what gives many of Eisenstaedt's photos a timeless quality. One that quickly comes to mind is of a University of Michigan drum major high stepping across a field with a group of children in tow.
When Eisenstaedt passed away in 1995 at the age of ninety-six, he left behind a photographic legacy of simplicity and truthfulness, summarized in his countless candid portrayals of daily life.