Alfred Eisenstaedt (December 6, 1898 – August 23, 1995) was a German-born American photographer and photojournalist.
Eisenstaedt was born in Dirschau (Tczew) in West Prussia, Imperial Germany in 1898. His family moved to Berlin in 1906.
Eisenstaedt was fascinated by photography from his youth and began taking pictures at age 14 when he was given his first camera, an Eastman Kodak Folding Camera with roll film. He later served in the German Army’s artillery during World War I, and was wounded in 1918. While working as a belt and button salesman in the 1920s in Weimar Germany, Eisenstaedt began taking photographs as a freelancer for the Pacific and Atlantic Photos’ Berlin office in 1928. The office was taken over by the Associated Press in 1931.
He became a full-time photographer in 1929 when he was hired by the Associated Press office in Germany, and within a year he was described as a “photographer extraordinaire.” He also worked for Illustrierte Zeitung, published by Ullstein Verlag, then the world’s largest publishing house. Four years later he photographed the famous first meeting between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Italy. Other notable, early pictures by Eisenstaedt include his depiction of a waiter at the ice rink of the Grand Hotel in St. Moritz in 1932 and Joseph Goebbels at the League of Nations in Geneva in 1933. Although initially friendly, Goebbels scowled at Eisenstaedt when he took the photograph.
Because of oppression in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Eisenstaedt’s family saw that the Nazis were targeting Germany’s Jewish population and decided to emigrate to the U.S.
They arrived in 1935 and settled in New York, where he subsequently became a naturalized citizen. The following year, 1936, Time founder Henry Luce bought Life magazine, and Eisenstaedt, already noted for his photography in Europe, was asked to join the new magazine as one of its original staff of four photographers, including Margaret Bourke-White and Robert Capa.
He remained a staff photographer from 1936 to 1972, achieving notability for his photojournalism of news events and celebrities.
One of the most prolific photographers of the twentieth century, he began his career in pre-World War II Germany, and after moving to the U.S., achieved prominence as a staff photographer for Life Magazine, which featured more than 90 of his pictures on its covers with over 2,500 photo stories published.
Among his most famous cover photographs was the V-J Day celebration on August 14, 1945 in Times Square, New York City of “an exuberant American sailor kissing a nurse in a dance-like dip that summed up the euphoria many Americans felt as the war came to a close.” He took this famous photograph using a Leica IIIa.
Because Eisenstaedt was photographing rapidly changing events during the V-J Day celebrations, he stated that he didn’t get a chance to obtain names and details, which has encouraged a number of mutually incompatible claims to the identity of the subjects.
Eisenstaedt was “renowned for his ability to capture memorable images of important people in the news, including statesmen, movie stars and artists” and for his candid photographs, taken with a small 35mm Leica camera and typically with only natural lighting.