Tag Archives: Life (magazine)

History: VJ Day in Times Square

A number of people have come forward over the years, claiming to be either the sailor or the nurse in this iconic photo. It happened so quickly, and the scene became so chaotic, that photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt was unable to get their names. Uploaded by blogbybeckett.blogspot.com.

It’s a thing of wonderment when a photographer can capture the mood of an entire nation in a moment of spontaneous excitement. When a great photographer like Alfred Eisenstaedt accomplishes it and publishes it in the pages of Life Magazine (Great American Things, May 19, 2011), the country’s leader in photojournalism, it achieves iconic status.

Alfred Eisenstaedt, by Mark Lennihan, AP.

It was early evening on August 14, 1945, and President Truman had just announced Japan’s surrender, and people began to flock to Times Square to celebrate. Right before the streets became crowded with revelers, Eisenstaedt saw his opportunity developing. The sailor was “running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight,” Eisenstaedt said. “Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make any difference.”

The memorable kiss between the sailor and the nurse has been a subject of curiosity ever since, because Eisenstaedt didn’t have the opportunity to get the subjects’ names. Dozens of people have laid claim to that distinction over the years, but the identities are destined to remain unverified. You have to love Life’s caption to the photo: In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.

Americana: Life Magazine

During its peak in the 1940s, Life had reporters and photographers in all theaters of World War II, and brought the war home to America. By the 1950s, more people got their news from TV, and Life became more of a celebrity magazine. Uploaded by arts-wallpaper.com.

While there was an earlier (and a later) incarnation of Life magazine, this honor goes to the Henry Luce version (as in Time-Life) published weekly starting in 1936 and ceasing in 1972. Noted for its photojournalistic style, the articles were typically long on pictures, short on text. Not that literature was ignored, though; Life serialized Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, along with his novella that came to be called The Dangerous Summer.

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Perhaps at no time was Life more important to America than during World War II. The magazine had reporters and photographers in all theaters of the war, and their stories and pictures brought the war home to ordinary Americans. At its peak, it sold 13.5 million copies per week.

As more people got their news from television, circulation figures for newsmagazines tumbled in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and despite numerous gimmicks (such as reducing the cover price from .25 to .19), Life eventually ceased weekly publication. It was resurrected as a monthly, then as a Sunday newspaper insert, but the magic was gone. Still, it provided Americans of an entire generation their graphic look at world events, and its photo library is still available for advertising and editorial uses.