News and Culture

V-J Day in Times Square: The History Behind the Iconic Image

On August 14, 1945,  WWII ended with the surrender of the last Axis power, a day which became known as the Victory over Japan. Photographs of cheerful sailors in the middle of Times Square circulated everywhere. However, one particular photo has received the most recognition and has become a key representation of the joy felt following the announcement of WWII’s end.

“V-J Day in Times Square” is easily one of the most popular photographs of the 20th century. Captured by LIFE magazine photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, he described the iconic moment in his book, Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt:

“In Times Square on V.J. Day I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make a difference. I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but 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. If she had been dressed in a dark dress I would never have taken the picture. If the sailor had worn a white uniform, the same. I took exactly four pictures. It was done within a few seconds.”

Photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt, August 14, 1945

Not only is the photo itself iconic, but the camera system that captured this historic moment has swooned photographers everywhere. Leica cameras and lenses became Eisenstaedt’s go-to tools ever since he purchased one in 1929, only four years after the first were invented. On V-J Day, he carried his trusty Leica IIIA.

Eisenstaedt was not as adamant about creating visually appealing photographs as he was creating photographs that conveyed a story, an imperative attribute if you want to be a true photojournalist. His handy Leica was a key factor in his photos of intimate moments—reliable 35mm cameras proved less obtrusive and faster to work with than larger formats. Eisenstaedt  continued shooting historic moments with his legendary camera until his death in 1995.

This image continues to be iconic, as it beautifully demonstrates the emotions felt on that momentous day. Eisenstaedt himself recognized the photo’s notoriety by saying, “People tell me that when I’m in heaven, they will remember this picture.”

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