Many people consider Mr. Alfred Eisenstaedt the defining photojournalist of the 20th century. His best known work is probably the photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on VJ Day in 1945. In this superb volume, you can test that assessment with your own eyes. The images in this book were culled from over 290,000 frames available to the editor. I found the quality to be remarkably and consistently high. The reproduction quality is more than adequate as well.
Mr. Eisenstaedt straddles the 20th century almost perfectly. He was born in West Prussia in 1898 and died in 1995. He started photography as a hobby while a youngster, and only turned it into a livelihood as a 31 year-old man. He served in the German army in World War I and was severely wounded in the legs in Flanders during 1918. While recuperating, he visited art museums to study the compositions the painters used. It was time well spent. Later he would comment, "I seldom think when I take a picture." "But, first, it's most important to decide on the angle at which your photograph is to be taken." After the war, he sold belts and buttons. But he continued to take photographs as a hobby.
His big break came when he photographed a women's tennis match in 1927. Discouraged with the results, it was pointed out that the image of the woman serving in one frame would work well if everything else was cropped out. This image is in the book for your reference. This photograph immediately sold, and he was encouraged to come back with more. By 1929 he was doing well enough to start photography full-time.
Because of the rise of the Nazis and the popularity of photojournalism in the United States, Mr. Eisenstaedt came to the New York in 1935 where he visited Time. There he learned about plans for a new weekly photography magazine, LIFE, and became one of four staff photographers in 1936 when the magazine started. Over the years more than 80 of his photographs graced its cover.
Sophia Loren was his favorite assignment, and Ernest Hemingway was his least (Hemingway tried to throw him off the dock).
"I like photographing people only at their best." "This means making them feel relaxed and completely at home with you in the beginning."
Unlike most portrait photographers, he was informal. "I always prefer photographing in available light." His approach to equipment was similarly simple. "A Leica, a couple of lenses, a few rolls of film -- that's all he needed."
Totally devoted to his art he said, "I will never retire," and he never did.
Familiarly known to his friends and colleagues as "Eisie," "'Cold fish' or 'horrible man' were his epithets. 'Unbelievable' was his word for wonder."
These details and observations are taken from the excellent introduction by Bryan Holme.
I found Mr. Eisenstaedt's work here to be amazingly luminescent. He captures a spiritual glow in his subjects and in nature. Realizing that he was using natural light, the images and detail are very well illuminated regardless, much like what you find in Ansel Adams's work. His people have an animation of body and personality that makes the viewer feel more alive as well. Whether professional actor or ordinary person, they each resonate with the viewer through intense and attractive emotion.
Here are some of my favorite images (reduced to fit the space allowed): Italian officer sledding, 1933; Toscanni, early 1930s; La Scala, 1934; Carriage, near La Scala, 1934; George Bernard Shaw, 1932; Ruth Bryan Owen, 1934; Robert Oppenheimer, 1947; Albert Einstein, 1949; Bertrand Russell, 1951; Dancers pause, 1936; Roofs of Prague, 1947; Trees in snow, 1947; Janet MacLeod, 1937; Katherine Hepburn, 1938; Carole Lombard, 1938; VJ Day, 1945; Edward R. Murrow, 1959; John F. Kennedy and Caroline, 1960; Dame Edith Evans, 1951; Marilyn Monroe, 1953; Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen, 1949; Frank Lloyd Wright, 1956; Alec Guinness, 1951; W. Somerset Maugham, 1942; Robert Lowell, 1959; Charlie Chaplin, 1966; W.H. Auden, 1955; Children watching, 1963; Gunter Grass, 1979; Norman Rockwell, 1974; Gilbert Murray, 1951; Menemsha harbor, 1937; Thomas Hart Benton, 1969; First lesson, 1930; Propeller, 1951; Willie Mays, 1954; Leonard Bernstein conducting, 1960; and Tree-lined road, 1978. The effects of well-known painting compositions on these images will be obvious to you.
After you view these photographs, I suggest that you try your hand at capturing people at their best with your camera. Once you get to be reasonably good at that, I encourage you to try to catch them at their best without your camera. Practice the skill of subtly encouraging people to fulfill their potential. That will make you a person of simple genius, as well.
Evoke the best!