Vancouver Kiss

It kept photobloggers busy for a few days; Iconic Photos weighs in with its two cents.

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If there is one small part of photojournalism that this blog revels in, it is on how photos lie. Seeing is believing, but we also only see what we want to see, and the above photo taken amidst the chaos of hockey riots in Vancouver is almost a textbook case. The image seemingly showed a young couple determined to make love, not war – to use a much clichéd phrase.

But was it a passionate embrace, a staged photo-op or a piece of performance art? Like many a good kiss captured on film, this photo was dogged by endless questions. Like Eisenstaedt, Richard Lam who took the photo didn’t have time to verify the identifies of his subjects; he even didn’t realized what he had captured until he got back to his office, initially assuming that he was taking pictures of some injured youths.

But this is no 1945, there are Twitter and Facebook to propose many theories, and also surveillance cameras and camera phones to substantiate and repudiate them. A fake twitter account popped up; Esquire gushed it may be the greatest photo ever. (Still another tongue-in-cheek retort). In the end, it took a little more than 24 hours for details to emerge. [See the Guardian]

The man in the photo was identified as the 29-year old barman Scott Jones by his family which lived 10,000 miles away in Perth, Australia. “I knew it was him because he doesn’t have a lot of clothes with him and he always puts on the same thing,” his mother mused. Mr. Jones was lying on the road with his Canadian girlfriend who had hurt her leg. The kiss, alas, was one of reassurance and comfort, rather than one of passion.

(N.B. I showed Emily the photo, hoping to solicit an “awww”; instead she noted cynically that had the girl been wearing pants, there would have been no fuss. She may be onto something here – it’s the legs that made this photo, in my opinion).

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The Fraternal Kiss

In 1979, Régis Bossu, a freelance photographer for European Stars and Stripes, Stern, Spiegel, and Sygma, went East Berlin to photograph the festivities of the 30th anniversary of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik — East Germany. The celebrations’ guest of honor was the aging Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

When Brezhnev finished his speech, East German President Erich Honecker opened his arms to congratulate him with a big kiss, a normal ritual for socialist comrades.  (But both Honecker and Brezhnev were a little more enthusiastic than your average Communist dictator in kissing. A contemporary joke runs such: Brezhnev was commenting about a foreign leader, “As a politician, rubbish… but what a good kisser!”) A dozen photographers were there to capture this moment, but it was Régis who captured two men at the decisive moment. Many magazines used it immediately, and Paris Match devoted double pages to it, with a caption “The Kiss”.

In the euphoric weeks following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, artists from all over the world gathered flocked to Ostbahnhof to paint on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall. In a lampoon of Socialist Realism, a Soviet artist, Dmitri Vrubel, painted the kiss there with a caption: “God help me to survive this deadly love affair.” (Vrubel saw the photo in an old Paris Match). It became one of the most famous pictures on Berlin’s East Side Gallery as that long stretch of wall is now called, and when it was erased by the government in 2009, the public uproar led to Vrubel being invited to repaint it.

Bossu’s and Vrubel’s image was repeatedly copied, re-photographed and re-published, and printed on T-shirts, towels and other memorabilia. A Berlin hotel took it as its logo. According to Bossu, “The Kiss,” has been re-published more than 500 times. See Bossu and Vrubel posing with their respective images in front of the erased section of the Wall here.

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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