March 7 - April 27, 2019
Press Release

Alfred Eisenstaedt:
Portraits of the pAst

Robert Mann Gallery presents a collection of iconic works by the “father of photojournalism,” Alfred Eisenstaedt. The German-born American photographer, best known for his candid black-and-white photographs of celebrities, politicians, and captivating street scenes, captured life, movement and emotion in a strong yet natural manner. 

Alfred Eisenstaedt was born 1898 in Dirschau, West Prussia. In 1906 his family moved to Berlin where he studied music, received his first camera, an Eastman Kodak Number Three, and used his parents bathroom for a makeshift dark room. Eisenstaedt was drafted into the German army after the outbreak of WW1 and served at the front lines in Flanders until April 1918, enemy fire crippled both his legs, yet thankfully his life was spared. After the war, he worked as a salesman, but continually found success with assignments as a freelance photographer. His first major mission was covering Thomas Mann accepting the Nobel Prize in literature in 1929. Eisenstaedt came under the influence of photographer Erich Salomon and his work regularly found its way into Die Dame, Berliner Illustrierte, The Graphic, The London Illustrated News and many other magazines.

In 1935, Eisenstaedt decided to emigrate to the United States, as magazines in Germany began to shutdown with the rise of Hitler. He settled in New York where he became one of the first four photographers hired by LIFE Magazine. Eisenstaedt’s coverage of Hollywood in the 1930’s is some of his most quintessential work, photographing stars such as Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and Sophia Loren, who is known to be one of his favorite subjects. He photographed Marilyn Monroe on a small patio behind her home in Hollywood in 1953, capturing her in Rembrandt inspired light that beautifully emphasized the unparalleled Marilyn mystique—femininity, naiveté and sexuality.

“In a photograph a person’s eyes tell much, sometimes they tell all.” - Alfred Eisenstaedt

Along with capturing portraits of great politicians and movie stars, Eisenstaedt was just as intrigued to set his keen eye on the human element. He found magic in the faces of Parisian children exploding with shrieks of delight at the puppet theater in the Tuileries, Paris in 1963. Enthralled in the scene, the children didn’t even notice Eisenstaedt. He easily blended in with the crowd to find those initial moments of reactions and then made various enlargements and crops in order to construct a well balanced composition and highlight the essence of the image. Sometimes all it took was one shot. Eisenstaedt’s work created memorable documents of his era both historically and aesthetically, such as one of the iconic images of the 20th century - a couple kissing on VJ Day in Times Square. 

Eisenstaedt completed over 2,500 assignments in his career and his photographs appeared on 92 covers of LIFE. His photographs have been exhibited and collected by many prestigious institutions, including The Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Philadelphia College of Art, and the International Center of Photography in New York. He was the recipient of numerous awards, among them the National Medal of the Arts which he received from President George Bush in 1989 in a ceremony on the White House lawn. Eisenstaedt died on August 23, 1995 in Oak Bluffs, MA.

Images left to right:
Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood, CA, 1953
Children at a Puppet Theatre, Paris, 1963
© Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images