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.
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.