V-J Day Kiss

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After four years of blackout, all the lights in Time Square went on as Mayor LaGuardia announced the Japanese surrender. In a celebration mirrored around the world, from the moment Japan announced its surrender on August 14, 1945, the New Yorkers took to the Square to celebrate a new era of peace, and hope–the image of which was captured on Alfred Eisenstaedt’s picture of an unknown couple kissing.

The picture was neither a highly anticipated embrace by long-lost lovers, nor it also was staged, as many critics have claimed.Eisenstaedt explained: “There were thousands of people milling around, in side streets and everywhere. Everybody was kissing each other…And there was this Navy man running, grabbing anybody, you know, kissing. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make any difference….I ran ahead of him because I had Leica cameras around my neck, focused from 10 feet to infinity. You only had to shoot…I didn’t even know what was going on, until he grabbed something in white. And I stood there, and they kissed. And I snapped 5 times.”

Yes, he kissed every girl he encountered and this particular nurse slapped him. In the October 1980 issue, in a spread entitled “Who Is the Kissing Sailor?” the LIFE editors reported that eleven men and three women had come forward claiming to be the subjects of the photograph.

A U.S. Navy photojournalist, Victor Jorgensen also captured another view of the same scene, which shows less of Times Square and the bodies of the duo. The photo below was published in the New York Times the following day.

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16 thoughts on “V-J Day Kiss

  1. I am Nerdbotatron My fiance is a member of these blogs, so I decided it was time for me to join. There seems to be a wealth of information on here, I look forward to assimilating it xD Hmmm, a little but about myself….later

  2. Many photojournalists stumble-upon events and photos. Often, there is little time to ID the content, just place and time and perhaps the event issues. Some photographers are great documentarians of their work. Paul Moloney in Greeley/Denver Colorado has meticulous notes about his photos. In the 60’s, i watched airbrush artists at a major news organization do what photo-shop does today. Otha Spencer at Texas A&M University, Commerce Texas has taught many photojournalists, some winning a Pulitzer. His rule was touch nothing, choose the subject, moment and exposure. Let God do the rest.

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  6. In the background, under the “W” of the Walgreens sign is my mother, nee Anna Karabots. She was 16 years old at the time. When she heard the news on the radio, she grabbed my Yiayia and said, “Mom, we don’t want to miss this!” They hopped on the train from the Bronx, and just a few minutes after arriving, they witnessed this event taking place. Mom told me, years later, “I just kept wondering how she could hold her breath that long!”

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