New York City’s Times Square on August 14, 1945
V-J Day in Times Square (also V-Day and The Kiss) is a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt that portrays a U.S. Navy sailor grabbing and kissing a stranger —a nurse— on Victory over Japan Day in New York City's Times Square on August 14, 1945.
The photograph was published a week later in Life magazine, among many photographs of celebrations around the United States that were presented in a twelve-page section titled "Victory Celebrations". A two-page spread faces three other kissing poses among celebrators in Washington, D.C. , Kansas City and Miami opposite Eisenstaedt's, which was given a full-page display. Kissing was a favorite pose encouraged by media photographers of service personnel during the war, but Eisenstaedt was photographing a spontaneous event that occurred in Times Square soon before the announcement of the end of the war with Japan was made by U.S. President Harry S. Truman at seven o'clock.
Because he was photographing rapidly changing events during the celebrations, Eisenstaedt did not have an opportunity to get the names and details. The photograph does not clearly show the face of either person involved, and numerous people have claimed to be the subjects.
“I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, looking for pictures. I noticed a sailor coming my way. He was grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all — young girls and old ladies alike. Then I noticed the nurse, standing in that enormous crowd. I focused on her, and just as I’d hoped, the sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her. Now if this girl hadn’t been a nurse, if she’d been dressed dark clothes, I wouldn’t have had a picture. The contrast between her white dress and the sailor’s dark uniform gives the photograph its extra impact” - From The Eye of Eisenstaedt.
U.S. Navy photo journalist Victor Jorgensen captured another view of the same scene, which was published in The New York Times the following day. Jorgensen titled his photograph Kissing the War Goodbye. It shows less of Times Square in the background, lacking the characteristic view of the complex intersection so that the location needs to be identified, it is dark and shows few details of the main subjects, and it does not show the lower legs and feet of the subjects. Unlike the Eisenstaedt photograph, which is protected by copyright, this Navy photograph is in the public domain as it was produced by a federal government employee on official duty. While the angle of the photograph may be less interesting than that of Eisenstaedt's photo, it clearly shows the actual location of the iconic kiss occurring in the front of the Chemical Bank and Trust building, with the Walgreens pharmacy signage on the building façade visible in the background.
Numerous men have claimed to be the sailor, but decades later the unknown couple was identified as the American sailor George Mendonsa and nurse Greta Zimmer Friedman. Greta Friedman was 21 years old in 1945. After reporting to work at a dentist’s office, she heard the news that Japan had surrendered, and finally, World War II was coming to an end. She wandered into Times Square when a passing sailor locked her in an unexpected embrace. “I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this vice grip,” she declared CBS News in an interview in 2012. “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed. That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me”.
The kisser was a 22-year-old sailor, George Mendonsa from Newport, Rhode Island. He was on leave from the USS The Sullivans and was watching a movie at Radio City Music Hall when the doors opened and people started screaming the war was over. George and Rita joined the partying on the street. It was then that George saw a woman in a white dress walk by and took her into his arms and kissed her. “I had quite a few drinks that day and I considered her one of the troops — she was a nurse”.
Alfred Eisenstaedt signing his famous V-J Day photograph on the afternoon of August 23, 1995, while sitting in his Menemsha Inn cabin located on Martha's Vineyard. He died about eight hours later.
But “The Kiss” was not the only photograph taken that day, nor was Eisenstaedt the only photographer navigating the New York City festivities. Another photographer from LIFE, William C. Shrout, brought a different set of negatives back to the office that day, with his own perspective on the people’s response to peace.
While Shrout’s photos have much in common with Eisenstaedt’s—kisses abounded that day—they capture one thing that Eisenstaedt couldn’t easily have captured: images of Eisenstaedt himself.
In one photo, Eisenstaedt kisses a reporter, his camera slung over his shoulder, in a pose not unlike that of the famous kiss he photographed that day. In another, he and that women walk toward
Shrout, bright smiles on their faces.
(Source: Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com.)
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