Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Another Icon Passes On

Almost everyone in America is familiar with this icon image of a young sailor in Times Square on VJ Day, August 14, 1945, smooching the bejesus out of a lithe young nurse, in one of the most palpable images of spontaneous passion I've ever seen. It was photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt, a German-American photojournalist known for his candid portraits, specifically this memorable snapshot, most shot with a Leica M3 rangefinder camera.

Well today marks the passing of Edith Shain, the lucky nurse in that photo. Eisenstaedt was in Times Square as the end of WWII was announced, and went to photograph the celebrations. He remembers the moment thusly:

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.

So much was happening so quickly he didn't have a chance to record the names of the couple in the photo. For years no one knew who the woman in that classic photograph was, until she came forward in the 1970's to identify herself. The identity of that sailor remains unknown.

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