V-J Day in Times Square
While he never manged to convince Time Magazine that he was the man in the picture, it has become accepted that George Mendonsa was the infamous sailor in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s most famous photograph: V-J Day in Times Square.
Always one of my favourite photographs and very much in the style of Cartier-Bresson’s Images à la sauvette or The Decisive Moment, Eisenstaedt captured with his trusty Leica the spontaneity, excitement and unbridled joy that marked the end of the Second World War.
One of a sequence of the young and impromptu couple, his choice of the final shot could not have been better. Eisenstaedt is known for exquisite composition. For those who dissect such work, the composition of this classic image goes way beyond the simplicity of the Rule of Thirds. The woman falls on the Baroque Diagonal, its Reciprocal passes through both of their faces, the Sinister Diagonal passes through both of their arms and hits his elbow and shoulder.
At the time, Eisenstaedt did not get the names of the subjects of this iconic image, but eventually they were identified and today, two days before his 96th birthday, the sailor George Mendonsa died. Greta Zimmer, the other subject of the photograph died aged 92 in 2016 and was unaware of the photograph until the 1960’s.
Shortly after taking the iconic photograph, Eisenstaedt was captured in similar manner by fellow photographer William C. Shrout. His faithful Leica IIIa clearly evident slung over his shoulder.
Eisenstaedt continued to use the Leica IIIa rangefinder until his death in 1995 and it was sold for almost $150,000 at auction in May 2013 (at the same time as a 17.5″x12″ print of the famous picture signed on the back which fetched almost $31,000).