Ethiopian Soldier – Eisenstadt


In December 1934, a border dispute between Abyssinia and the Italian Somaliland led to a small war. Haile Selassie, the emperor of Abyssinia, sought the help from the League of Nations. The League — dominated by European powers — responded by banning arms sales to both Italy and Abyssinia, a move which harmed the latter greatly.

Instead, the League, an international body founded after the First World War to arbitrate international disputes, reverted back into settling disputes a la Concert of Europe: Britain and France, both worn out by war and depression, secretly agreed to give Abyssinia to Italy.

Emboldened, Italy sent a 400,000-strong army into Abyssinia even as the League re-elected the Italian Marquis Alberto Theodoli, as chairman of the Permanent Mandates Commission, an important League body. That winter, however, the opinion turned as the Italians bombarded villages, used poison gas and attacked Red Cross hospitals.

While it was a conflict fought mostly out of the world’s eyes, photography played a significant part. The uneven terms of the conflict were made clear in the photos of Alfred Eisenstadt, working for Berliner Illustriete Zeitung, who saw the poor benighted country before the Italian army arrived. Meanwhile, Mussolini’s Italy attempted to use Abyssinia’s own poverty as a justification for an invasion. Reprinted were postcards and photos of nude locals, to lend credence to the narrative that Italy was “intervening only to bring law and order to a backwards, warlord-ridden, and slave trading land,” as Susan Pedersen notes in The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, her excellent account of diplomacy in the interwar years.

Eisenstadt’s pictures proved more powerful. His picture of the bare feet of an Abyssinian soldier was reprinted around the world but censored in Italy. In fact, the worldwide sales of his photo enabled Jewish Eisenstadt to emigrate from Germany. Although later to be often miscaptioned as the feet of a slain soldier, mud-caked feet wrapped in dirty WWI-era puttees belonged to a soldier participating in a rifle practice.

Public opinion did turn against Italy, but it was too late: the Italian conquest was nearly complete. The League voted for economic sanctions onto Italy in May 1936 but by this time, Italy had already walked out of the League Council. Following Japan and Germany, which withdrew from the League in 1933 rather than to submit to its decisions, Italy left the League in 1937. Fascist Italy was now inexorably allied with Germany and Japan and contours of a global conflict were slowly settling.

(For Japan’s withdraw from the League, here; to follow the future career of Haile Selassie, here).

V-J Day in Contact Sheets

For this photo, no further caption is needed, and no more ink (pixels?) will be wasted. Instead, I will leave you with Alfred Eisenstaedt’s two slightly different remembrances of that iconic day. In Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt (1985):

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.

Only one is right, on account of the balance. In the others the emphasis is wrong — the sailor on the left side is either too small or too tall. People tell me that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture.

In The Eye of Eisenstaedt (1969), he recalled differently:

I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, looking for pictures. I noticed a sailor coming my way. He was grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all — young girls and old ladies alike. Then I noticed the nurse, standing in that enormous crowd. I focused on her, and just as I’d hoped, the sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her. Now if this girl hadn’t been a nurse, if she’d been dressed dark clothes, I wouldn’t have had a picture. The contrast between her white dress and the sailor’s dark uniform gives the photograph its extra impact.

V J Day Kiss

Here are three frames from Eisenstaedt’s set of the sailor kissing the nurse. In the book Eisenstaedt on Eisentstaedt, the photographer wrote:

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…. It was done within a few seconds.”

Originally, this most famous of World War II photos did not make the cover of Life magazine in which it first appeared; it showed up on page 27, full-page, but amid a whole series of somewhat similar pictures from across the country under the headline, “The Men of War Kiss From Coast to Coast.” The photo didn’t appear on a Life cover until 2005.

However, in October 1980, Life did run a special spread entitled “Who Is the Kissing Sailor?” Ten sailors wrote to the magazine, each one insisting with convincing evidence — a distinctive hairline, a signature vein on the right hand, a newly acquired Quartermaster 1st Class patch — that he was the “kissing sailor”. Three women also wrote in and claimed to be the nurse.

Sophia Loren on LIFE magazine


LIFE always realized the sales value of a little sex. Seldom did an issue of Life miss the opportunity to include partially clad women, sometimes under cover of a story on Hollywood or thinly veiled as a fashion piece on the season’s swimwear. Though this practice opened the magazine to criticism from some fronts, its impact on sales was undeniable. However, in September 1966, the photo of Sophia Loren—the photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s favorite model—wearing a negligee made the cover. It caused many Life readers to cancel their subscriptions.

During the 1960s, Loren was one of the most popular actresses in the world, in 1964, she received $1 million to act in The Fall of the Roman Empire. Despite the failure of her films to generate sales at the box office, Sophia Loren was a darling of studios, and worn some of the most lavish costumes ever created for the movies. The above photo was taken on the set for 1964 film Matrimonio all’italiana, starring Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.

Gala at La Scala


Alfred Eisenstaedt is known for his picture of an unknown couple kissing on the Times Square during the VJ Day. However, as he admitted, this image was not Eisenstaedt’s personal favorite. That honor goes to the above photo of a young woman in a box seat at La Scala opera on the New Year Day, 1934. Always a master of candid photography, Eisenstaedt was looking for the telling detail to place in the foreground of his image. “Suddenly,” he said, “I saw a lovely young society girl sitting next to an empty box. From that box I took another picture, with the girl in the foreground. For years and years this has been one of my prize photographs. Without the girl I would not have had a memorable picture.”

Editors at Die Dame, who had assigned Eisie to the opera, did not feel similarly. They never printed the picture.

V-J Day Kiss


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.


Goebbels by Eisenstaedt


Hitler’s Minister  of Culture Dr. Joseph Goebbels glowering as he sits in the garden of the Carlton Hotel to attend the League of Nations. In September 1933, Goebbels was in Geneva for his first trip abroad. On 29th September, he gave his peace speech, defending the Nazi’s seizure of power. An extraordinary orator, he won the respect of dipomats with his speech An Appeal to the Nations, and the appraisal of international journalists in the subsequent press conference. One, a correspondent of the Paris “Journal” wrote then, “Dr. Goebbels combines German mysticism with Latin logic.”

The photo was taken in 1933 by LIFE magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. One of his most memorable pictures, the portrait still casts its evil spell more than 70 years later. “The fierce arrogance of power, normally covered with false grace of good humor, shone through miraculously into Eisenstaedt’s film,” later wrote LIFE magazine. A Jew, Eisenstaedt himself remembered: “He looked at me with hateful eyes and waited for me to wither. But I didn’t wither. If I have a camera in my hand, I don’t know fear.”

Dark haired, club-footed and physically diminutive, Goebbels was not the symbol of healthy tall, blond, Nordic master-race he defended. This ‘unbleached shrucken Teuton’ (as the Nazi inner circle called him) occupies only a small amount of space in the photo, yet as a man of power and notoriety, he dominates the photo with his fierce personality and penetrating eyes.

The man trying to hand Goebbels a note was Nazi Chief Interpreter Dr. Paul Schmidt. Schmidt was present throughout Nazi’s rise to power, and witnessed such pivotal occasions as the Munich Agreement and Hitler meeting Petain in 1940. In the latter occasion, Schmidt was the person photographed between Hitler and Petain.

Kodachrome (1935-2009)



“They give us those nice bright colors. They give us the greens of summers. Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day. … So Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away,” sang Paul Simon in 1973 hit ‘Kodachrome’. But now after 74-year in service, they are finally going to take Kodachromes away.

Dwindling sales, limited revenues and the move by most labs to stop processing it compelled Kodak company to stop producing the Kodachrome. When it debuted in 1935, it was the world’s first commercially successful color film. It cost $5 per roll and had to be sent back to the company’s head quarters in Rochester, New York for development.  In the age when minimum wage was 25 cents per hour, it wasn’t entirely accessible but the century’s most memorable images are captured on Kodachrome; the only color photos of the Hindenburg Explosion, the conquest of Mt. Everest, Zapruder film, and Steve McCurry’s National Geographic over of an Afghan refugee girl in 1985 were all in Kodachrome. Generation after generation grew up with family photos (coupled with slideshows made on carousel projectors) made in Kodachrome.

At Kodak’s request, McCurry will shoot one of the last rolls of Kodachrome film and donate the images to the George Eastman House museum. McCurry had gave up Kodachrome long ago. He shot his iconic portrait on Kodachrome but returned 17 years later to photograph the same woman with Kodak’s easier-to-develop Ektachrome. Now, he uses on digital.

Above, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Kodachrome for LIFE, 1950.

Keynes and Morganthau


In this picture by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Economists John Maynard Keynes of England (right) & Henry Morgenthau of the US meets at the Bretton Woods Conference to plan for postwar reconstruction. They met with envoys of 42 other nations to plan post war recovery, including idea of the World Bank at an international Monetary Conference. The conference adopted a monetary policy that maintained the exchange rate of its currency within a fixed value in terms of gold and the ability of the International Monetary Fund to bridge temporary imbalances of payments. (The system collapsed in 1971, after the United States unilaterally terminated convertibility of the dollars to gold.) Keynes’ involvement assure that the Bretton Woods supported the government intervention. 

The conference created two important international organizations: the International Monetary Fund is to protect international trade. The World Bank’s is to promote economic development. Keynes suggested that the Fund should be called a bank and the Bank should be called a fund.