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  Alfred Eisenstaedt

Alfred Eisenstaedt, one of the fathers of twentieth-century photojournalism, was born to Joseph and Regina Eisenstaedt in Dirschau, West Prussia (now Poland) on December 6, 1898. In 1906, the family moved to Berlin, Germany, where the senior Eisenstaedt continued his successful career as a merchant. Fourteen-year-old Alfred was being groomed to join his father's business when he received an Eastman Kodak No. 3 folding camera and roll film as a present from his uncle. By the 1920s, he was working as a photographer in Germany, and sold his first photograph at the age of 28. In 1928, he began freelancing for the Berlin office of Pacific and Atlantic Photos, which merged with the Associated Press three years' later. Mr. Eisenstaedt recalled of this period, "Photojournalism had just started... and I knew very little about photography. It was an adventure, and I was always amazed when anything came out."

Despite having to struggle with heavy tripods and the tedious process of glass plate negatives, his workload grew and his subjects became increasingly prominent. His first important international assignment was photographing German author Thomas Mann accepting his 1929 Nobel Prize. He later photographed royalty and some of Germany's most notable writers and musicians. One of his most famous early photographs was of a skating waiter at the Grand Hotel ice rink in 1932. Placing a chair on the ice, Mr. Eisenstaedt asked the waiter to skate past it, a moment he captured with his Miroflex camera. His first major political photograph revealed a scowling Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels at a 1933 political conference, and received international attention.

In 1935, Mr. Eisenstaedt accepted a life-changing assignment that required him to relocate to New York City. He, along with Margaret Bourke-White, Peter Stackpole, and Thomas McAvoy, became the original photographers for a startup publication dubbed "Project X," but debuted as Life magazine on November 23, 1936. His preferred camera was the 2-1/4" Rolleiflex because it did not have to be raised to the eye, and therefore could take candid shots with relative speed and ease. This camera served him well during World War II when he photographed soldiers saying goodbye to their wives and girlfriends as they left for combat. The images were natural and not posed, which gave them an emotional intensity they would have otherwise lacked. On VJ Day, August 15, 1945, Mr. Eisenstaedt snapped his most iconic image - of a sailor spontaneously kissing a nurse in Times Square.

After the war, Eisenstaedt did a fair amount of globetrotting, which included an extended stay in Hiroshima, where he exhaustively documented the damage inflicted by the atomic bomb. During one of his returns to New York in 1949, he met and married South African-born Kathy Kaye. In the 1950s, Mr. Eisenstaedt took several celebrity photographs for Life, the most memorable being of Marilyn Monroe in 1953, who posed demurely on her Hollywood patio wearing a black turtleneck and white pants (in some shots, she is wearing checkered slacks).

There were several one-man exhibitions of Mr. Eisenstaedt's photographs, including one at the George Eastman House's International Museum of Photography. Among the many awards he received throughout his fabled career was the National Medal of the Arts bestowed upon him by President George H. W. Bush in 1989. Alfred Eisenstaedt died at the age of 96 on August 24, 1995. The modest photographer summed up his approach to his art in three words: "Keep it simple."

1997 Alfred Eisenstaedt (URL:

2012 Alfred Eisenstaedt and Marilyn (URL:

2007 The Home Front Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.), p. 585.

2006 Photography: A Cultural History (London: Lawrence King Publishing), p. 297.

2005 World Wars and the Modern Age (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), p. 126.

1973 Pete Main Photo, The Christian Science Monitor News & Photo Service.

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2012-12-01 04:31:07

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