Alfred Eisenstaedt was a German photographer whose pioneering images for Life magazine helped define American photojournalism. Over a career that lasted more than 50 years, Eisenstaedt became famous as the quintessential Life photographer, producing more than 2,500 picture stories and 90 covers for the magazine. He was especially renowned for his ability to capture memorable images of important people in the news, including statesmen, movie stars and artists. Still, his most famous photograph is not of a celebrity, but of the joyful celebrations in Times Square on V-J Day, Aug. 14, 1945, when Japan’s surrender brought the end of World War II.
Born in 1898 in Dirschau in Prussia (now Tczew, Poland), Eisenstaedt moved with his family to Berlin in 1906. He served in the German Army in World War I and in the 1920’s began working as a freelance photojournalist. He turned to photography full-time in 1929, when he was assigned to cover the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm for a German publication. Six years later, after Hitler’s rise to power, he immigrated to the United States. In 1936, his extraordinary involvement with Life began. One of the four original photographers hired by the magazine (the others were Margaret Bourke-White, Thomas McAvoy and Peter Stackpole), Eisenstaedt soon distinguished himself with candid shots taken with a Leica camera. He had begun using the unobtrusive 35-millimeter model in Germany in 1929, four years after its invention. He became known at the magazine for his ability to bring back visually striking pictures from almost any assignment. Among the many celebrities he photographed were figures as diverse as Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, George Bernard Shaw and Marlene Dietrich.His mastery of the Leica allowed him to capture his subjects in unguarded moments, creating a sense of intimacy.
Eisenstaedt was the author of many books and his work was included in exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe. He received many awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Arts and the Infinity Master of Photography Award, given by the International Center of Photography. In 1951 he was named “Photographer of the Year” by the Encyclopedia Britannica and the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He continued to work until shortly before his death in 1995.