Liberal Arts Blog — Photography (VI): the Shanghai Baby, the Crying Frenchman, the V-J Day Kiss

Today’s Topic: Photography (VI): the Shanghai Baby (Wong), the Crying Frenchman (unknown), the V-J Day Kiss (Eisenstadt)

Nothing drove home the horror of the 1937 Japanese bombing of Shanghai than a photograph of an abandoned baby in the ruins of Shanghai South Railway Station. The utter dismay that rippled around the world after the fall of France in 1940 is captured in the distorted face of a crying Frenchman taken in Marseilles. The jubilation at war’s end is frozen in time in Eisenstadt’s “V-J Day Kiss.” Today, a few notes on three of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE JAPANESE BOMBING OF SHANGHAI — AUGUST 28, 1937

1. The child’s name was unknown. His mother lay dead a few yards away.

2. The photographer was H.S. “Newsreel” Wong, working for Hearst Metrotone News.

3. Within a year the picture was seen by 138 MM people worldwide. It became a staple of anti-Japanese wartime propaganda.

NB: “It was a horrible sight. People were still trying to get up. Dead and injured lay strewn across the tracks and platform. Limbs lay all over the place. Only my work helped me forget what I was seeing. I stopped to reload my camera. I noticed that my shoes were soaked with blood. I walked across the railway tracks, and made many long scenes with the burning overhead bridge in the background. Then I saw a man pick up a baby from the tracks and carry him to the platform. He went back to get another badly injured child. The mother lay dead on the tracks.” (HS Wong)

Bloody Saturday (photograph)

THE CRYING FRENCHMAN — Marseilles, September 1940

1. Paris fell in June. In September French troops departed Marseilles for exile in Africa. The unidentified man weeps as he watches the regiments depart.

2. “Gone is the Republic of France, gone is free speech, and a free representative governnent. Gone is Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; the people of France weep as their glory departs.” (Text of the newsreel from which the still was taken.)

3. Don’t miss the one minute video in the link below.

NB: Charles De Gaulle, in exile in London would become the leader of Free French forces with bases in North Africa. Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944.

The weeping Frenchman, 1940

THE V-J DAY KISS — ALFRED EISENSTAEDT, TIMES SQUARE, NYC, AUGUST 14, 1945

1. “In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers” (Original Caption, Life magazine, August 1945)

2. “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. Only one is right, on account of the balance. In the others the emphasis is wrong — the sailor on the left side is either too small or too tall. People tell me that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture.”

3. The identify of the sailor and the nurse has been the subject of substantial controversy involving both physicists (who focus on the shadows to pinpoint the precise time) and professors of photography (who focus on the tattoos of the sailor). The top contenders are Greta Friedman, a dental hygienist, and George Mendosa, of Newport, Rhode Island, on leave from the USS The Sullivans.

NB: Eisenstaedt was a German Jew who had fought in the German artillery during World War I, chronicled the rise of Hitler and Mussolini during the 1920s, emigrated to the US in 1935, and served as a photographer for life magazine from 1936 to 1972. Over 90 of his photographs appeared on the cover.

V-J Day in Times Square

Alfred Eisenstaedt

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