First Lesson at Truempy Ballet School, Berlin, 1930 by Alfred Eisenstaedt
  • Alfred Eisenstaedt

  • Title:First Lesson at Truempy Ballet School, Berlin, 1930
  • Inventory#:EI000031
  • Size:24" x 20"
  • Medium:Archival Pigment Print
  • Price:Price On Request
  • Date: 1930 Location: Berlin, Germany
    Description: Ballet teacher advising little girl and group of dancers at ballet dancing school look on. Open edition 20x24 printed and unsigned. Digital Fiber print
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Alfred Eisenstaedt

Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995)


Alfred Eisenstaedt was the preeminent photojournalist of his time—a time that spans eight decades of the twentieth century. Alfred Eisenstaedt, the man behind the camera that fixed itself on some of the most enduring images of modern history, died this morning at age 96. Until the last years of his life he was still shooting and adding to an inventory that included hundreds of thousands of negatives. His final working days would start at nine in the morning when his sister-in-law, LuLu Kaye, escorted him the five blocks from his apartment to the Time and Life Building. Looking natty in suspenders and often a bow-tie, he answered letters and phone calls long before others had arrived. His days were filled supervising the printing of his photographs for the next exhibit or book project. His five-foot-four frame maneuvered agilely in an office crammed with books and papers and tidy yellow cardboard boxes of prints. His filing system was perhaps inefficiently simple: the boxes marked only "Germany," "Great Americans," "Great Englishmen," "Musicians," and "Miscellaneous." He had no trouble locating pictures, however. His memory was photographic. Eisie's most recent project, 95 for 95, which gathered ninety-five images in a show for his 95th birthday, was exhibited nationwide. EARLY YEARS Alfred Eisenstaedt was born December 6, 1898, in Dirschau, West Prussia (now part of Poland), one of three sons of Regina and Joseph Eisenstaedt, a merchant. The family moved to Berlin when Alfred was eight, and remained there until Hitler came to power. He may well have followed in his father's footsteps, were it not for an uncle who, when Eisenstaedt was 14, gave the boy an Eastman Kodak No. 3 folding camera. At age 17 he was drafted into the German Army and served on the Flanders front. On April 9, 1918 during the second western offensive, shrapnel tore through both his legs. The only survivor of his artillery battery, he was sent home. It was a year before he was able to walk again unaided. During his recuperation, his interest in photography renewed. Walking first with crutches, later with a cane, he attended museums to study light and composition. Although he became a belt-and-button salesman by trade in 1922, with the money he was able to save, he bought photographic equipment. Developing the pictures in his bathroom, Eisenstaedt had yet to learn there was such a thing as an enlarger. In 1927, while vacationing with his parents in Czechoslovakia, he photographed a woman playing tennis. Taken from a hillside 50 yards away, the photo captured the long shadow the woman cast on the tennis court. He wrote in his book Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt: "I took one picture of the scene with a Zeiss Ideal camera, 9 x12 with glass plates. I was rather satisfied when I showed it to a friend of mine. 'Why don't you enlarge it?' he asked. And he showed me a contraption of a wooden box with a frosted light bulb inside attached to a 9x12 camera, same as mine.... When I saw that one could enlarge and eliminate unnecessary details, the photo bug bit me and I saw enormous possibilities." Including the possibility of making a living with his pictures. That tennis player photo sold to Der Welt Spiegel for three marks, about twelve dollars at the time. By age 31, he quit the belt-and-button business to become a full-time photographer. In doing so, he would come to define the profession. As a pioneer in his field, Eisenstaedt had few rules to follow. He looked to the work of Martin Munkasci and Dr. Erich Salomon, with whom he had the opportunity to work. "He was the real father of candid photography," Eisenstaedt said often. In 1949, he married Kathy Kaye, a South African whom he met in New York. As a freelancer Eisenstaedt worked for Pacific and Atlantic Photos, which would become the Associated Press in 1931. At that time Eisenstaedt began working with the innovative Leica 35mm camera, which had been invented four years prior. His assignments included portraits of statesmen and famous artists, as well as social events such as the winter season in St. Moritz. By 1933 he was sent to Italy to shoot the first meeting of Hitler and Mussolini. His aggressive yet invisible style of working allowed him to come within arm's reach of the two dictators. Two years after Hitler took power, Eisenstaedt would immigrate to America. "PROJECT X" In New York he was soon hired with three other photographers—Margaret Bourke-White, Thomas McAvoy and Peter Stackpole—by Time founder Henry Luce, for a secret start-up known only as "Project X." After six months of testing the mystery venture, it premiered as LIFE magazine on November 23, 1936. "We had a great time," he once said of the early days at the magazine. "Those times will never come back." The first ten-cent issue featured five pages of Eisenstaedt's pictures. The second week Eisenstaedt—now dubbed "Eisie" by his peers—had his photo of Westpoint on the cover. Other early assignments included the recovery of America as the country pulled out of the Depression. He traveled his new homeland sending back images of shacks and abandoned cars in Oregon, skid row derelicts in Los Angeles and signs advertising beer for a nickel. Because he was not yet a citizen, Eisenstaedt could not be sent to cover the war, and so landed a good deal of celebrity coverage instead. THE KISS To capture what has become perhaps his most reproduced image, the kiss in Times Square on V-J Day, Eisenstaedt had been following the sailor who was "running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn't make any difference. None of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then, suddenly in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse." In 1991 he told a New York Times reporter, "Although I am 92, my brain is 30 years old." To prove it he recalled that to shoot that victory kiss he used 1/125 second exposure, aperture between 5.6 and 8 on Kodak Super Double X film. But this image, he said, was not his personal favorite. That honor goes to a photo of a young woman in a box seat at La Scala Opera. Editors at Die Dame, who had assigned Eisie to the opera, did not feel similarly. They never printed the picture. AFTER THE WAR In 1942 Eisenstaedt became a U.S. citizen and traveled overseas to document the effects of the war. In Japan he accompanied Emperor Hirohito on tours to see the destruction caused by the bomb. He recalls a particularly stirring experience in Hiroshima. "A mother and child were looking at some green vegetables they had raised from seeds and planted in the ruins. When I asked the woman if I could take her picture, she bowed deeply and posed for me. Her expression was one of bewilderment, anguish and resignation ... all I could do, after I had taken her picture, was to bow very deeply before her." The 1950s took him to Korea with the American troops, to Italy to show the plight of the poor there, and to England, where Winston Churchill would sit for him. Portrait assignments such as this one often made Eisenstaedt privy to little-known secrets about his subjects. When he asked Lord Beaverbrook how many cigars Churchill smoked each day, he said, "It's all a fake. He smokes only two cigars a day, but when photographed he always has one handy. That's his trademark." For LIFE's Fourth of July issue in 1952 Charles Laughton chose his favorite American writings to be read aloud. Eisenstaedt illustrated these verses by traveling across the country—to Minnehaha Falls for Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha, to the Hudson Valley for Irving's Rip Van Winkle, and on a Riverboat for Twain's Life on the Mississippi. He documented the lighter side of life with no less earnest an approach. "You learn something from every picture you take," he said after shooting a story on women's underwear for LIFE. In total, he shot nearly 100 covers for the magazine and some 10,000 prints. THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURES Portraiture remained a constant. Marlene Dietrich smoldering in top hat and tails. Marilyn Monroe vamping in her backyard. JFK clowning with little Caroline. Albert Einstein lecturing to a class of physicists at Princeton. Sophia Loren—Eisie's favorite model—wearing a negligee in a cover shot that caused some LIFE readers to cancel their subscriptions. No matter how famous or notorious the subject, Eisenstaedt was at ease with them. "In 1938 our picture editor, Wilson Hicks, told me, 'Alfred, I'm sending you to Hollywood. Don't be afraid and in awe of these queens—you are a king in your profession.' I've never forgotten that," he said. He did, however, allow himself to ask for a few autographs, and treasured a collection that includes notes from Norman Rockwell, Henry Kissinger and Lillian Gish. By far the most difficult subject was Ernest Hemingway. Once he told Eisenstaedt after a fishing tournament, "I think you came up too close to me, so I had to shoot at you." "I said, 'Papa, I don't believe it.' Hemingway dropped his gin glass, grabbed me and started to throw me, cameras and all, into the water. I threw my arm around his neck to keep from falling and he pushed me with his fist—but very softly because he had quickly got control of himself. 'Never say again that you don't believe Papa,' he said." INDEFATIGABLE EISIE In 1979, at age 81, Eisenstaedt returned to Germany for the first time. An exhibition of 93 photographs of German life from the 1930s through that year traveled through Europe and the U.S. Remarkably, Eisenstaedt's first major retrospective show did not come until age 88 when the International Center of Photography presented 125 of his prints. In recent years Eisenstaedt received awards too copious to enumerate. The city of New York named an Alfred Eisenstaedt Day in his honor. President Bush bestowed him with the Presidential Medal of Arts, and ICP recognized Eisenstaedt with its Master of Photography award in 1988. Far from resting on his laurels, Eisie continued to take commissions. When President Clinton vacationed on Martha's Vineyard last year, he was there to photograph the first family, and to present them with their choice of his prints as a gift. Bill Clinton chose "Drum Major at the University of Michigan" (1951), and Chelsea picked "Future Ballerinas of the American Ballet Theater" (1936). At the openings of his shows photographers who looked up to Eisie would ask to take their pictures with him, and perhaps to get some advice. Modestly, Eisie would say, "When the young photographers come ... I ask them questions. They know more about the modern cameras than I do." Last year LIFE and Vanity Fair ran portraits of Eisie on the Brooklyn Bridge by Annie Leibovitz. "He was telling me what to do during the entire shoot," recalled Leibovitz. "But then he'd say, 'This is your picture, do whatever you want.'" Although Eisie did choose the location. "Because I am still younger than the Brooklyn Bridge," he told the Times. Another photographer, and later LIFE's director of photography, John Loengard, explained Eisenstaedt's enduring success: "He never tries to please editors. He only makes pictures that please him." For some sixty years, LIFE readers were the beneficiaries of those pictures, a life's work that was also his pleasure. August 24, 1995

First Lesson at Truempy Ballet School, Berlin, 1930
Alfred Eisenstaedt
Archival Pigment Print
24" x 20"
Price On Request
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