The Photograph That Isn't as Romantic as You Might Think

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"V-J Day, Times Square, 1945,"
a.k.a. "The Kiss" Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945

On August 14, 1945, the news of Japan's surrender was announced in the United States, signaling the end of World War II. Riotous celebrations erupted in the streets, but perhaps none were more relieved than those in uniform. Although many of them had recently returned from victory in Europe, they faced the prospect of having to ship out yet again, this time to the bloody Pacific.

Among the overjoyed masses gathered in Times Square that day was one of the most talented photojournalists of the 20th century, a German immigrant named Alfred Eisenstaedt. While snapping pictures of the celebration, he spotted a sailor "running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight." He later explained that, "whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn't make any difference." Of course, a photo of the sailor planting a wet one on a senior citizen wouldn't have made the cover of Life, but when he locked lips with an attractive nurse, the image was circulated in newspapers across the country. Needless to say, "V-J Day" didn't capture a highly anticipated embrace by long-lost lovers, but it also wasn't staged, as many critics have claimed. In any case, the image remains an enduring symbol of America's exuberance at the end of a long struggle.

This post was excerpted from Ransom Riggs' article "13 Photographs That Changed the World," which appeared in a 2007 issue of mental_floss magazine.

November 11, 2009 - 9:23am
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