The Kiss that Ends the War

This iconic photograph of a jubilant sailor kissing a nurse near Times Square has always held a special place in my personal history. To an aspiring photojournalist, it was a benchmark of great news photography. That it bordered on the contrived and was compositionally simple (yet satisfying), only added to its greatness for me. Behind the joy was Japan’s defeat, but it was the optimism so perfectly captured in this photograph that led my father to leave Tokyo in 1956 to do his medical internship in New York.

Anyway, yesterday I stumbled upon an interesting postscript to Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photograph in the archives of Life magazine. While I knew that Eisenstaedt had been anxious to get a great kissing image, shooting at least a half-dozen frames of other kisses in the crowds, I didn’t know that another Life photographer, William C. Shrout, captured Eisenstaedt, seen below with his shouldered Leica M3 IIIc, getting a taste of the decisive moment himself.

For photographers, who are basically voyeurs at heart, there’s often a tension between bearing witness and participating in the drama unfolding before your eyes. On August 14, 1945, Eisenstaedt had his cake and ate it. For more about the famous photograph go here.
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