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Matinee: 'BBC Master Photographers: Alfred Eisenstaedt' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

2 August 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the forty-fourth in our series of Saturday matinees today: BBC Master Photographers: Alfred Eisenstaedt.

In 35 minutes this 1983 BBC production will introduce you to the father of photojournalism.

An uncle was to blame. He gave Eisensaedt an Eastman Kodak Folding Camera No. 3 as a birthday present. Then a friend showed him how to enlarge his images. And "the photo bug bit me."

He tells his own story, with the help of a narrator. And his images are willing accomplices.

He wore a tie to all his assignments. Jeans hadn't been invented yet, he claims (although Levi Strauss would beg to disagree). Despite the restrictive attire, he still had to carry glass plates and a hefty camera.

His subjects had it worse. They were all wearing stiff collars. Even at the Aquarium Society (which, with the long table outfitted with individual aquariums, is an amusing shot). There's also a coachman's school with the same problem.

If you're getting the impression that these are funny images, don't wipe that smile off your face. You're right.

It's not all obscure assignments from pre-war Europe, though. There are a lot of celebrities.

Whose that blonde in the upper right corner of the scenes in which he is speaking? Marilyn Monroe, of course. It's just a print but she looks like she's hovering over his shoulder. And when the second camera catches him from the right, there's a brunette hovering in the background. Funny indeed.

There was only one Eisenstaedt around, he explains.

He would sit with the musicians at the symphony with a tripod between his legs, dressed like them, in a dark suit, to take the shot. He blended in. But he hardly listened to music. You pay attention to what you are doing, he said. Later, however, it was all automatic. His eyes and his "little finger" would just react.

He felt important but, he says, he was never conceited. Funny. He's shy when he doesn't have a camera, otherwise not so shy. Fearless.

"We didn't know very much about photography," he admits. He developed his film in hotel rooms. And he wasn't well paid. "We did it for the love of it."

He used small cameras (Leicas) and was diplomatic, he says. He never forced anyone to do anything. He asked.

It's true, as the narrator points out, that his images are more familiar than his name. You'll recognize more than a few, including that famous shot of a sailor in his dark uniform kissing a nurse in her white one. He took four shots of that scene and the composition of the third pleased him the most.

He's happy to tell you all about it.

In this short production, he's happy to tell you the story behind these all these famous images. And you also get to meet the charming man behind those stories. Who is wearing a tie.

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