I have no idea where this photograph went in the mess of moves that has become my life. Instead, I chose to do this project on V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt. This picture has always spoken to me for some reason. Perhaps it's the romance that it depicts (growing up I always thought these people were husband and wife, reunited after the war) or maybe it's just my affinity for black and white photographs. But as I grew older and learned more about the people in the photograph (actually complete strangers to each other and unable to be later identified by the photographer) and the history of the war which lead to its capture, I realized there was much more to this picture than two people celebrating the end of a war.
This picture raises some serious questions as I gaze upon it with a new and more educated eye. Classified as a World War II Photograph according to Hackings, it seems strange to me that such a photograph should be used to signify the end of a war (315). Their celebratory kiss seems to overshadow the fact that millions of people died in order for this photograph to be taken. Moreover, a quote from the alleged woman in the photograph oozes with the misogynous views that were prevalent during that time. Edith Shain, the supposed nurse in the photograph (this was never actually proven and she has since died), wrote to Eisenstaedt stating, "she thought she might as well let him kiss her since he fought for her in the war" (V-J Day in Times Square 15). I don't know about anyone else, but I certainly wouldn't allow a complete stranger to manhandle me in the middle of Times Square solely on the grounds that "he fought for me in the war."
But this is the beauty of photography which Barthes and Hacking discuss in great detail: that photographs allow life beyond death. In this case, the since improved misogyny in America is being perpetuated through this photo. One could even argue that the souls of Edith Shain (or whoever the woman may be), the sailor, and the millions who died in the war live on through this iconic moment in American photographic history.
Barthes defines photographs through elements of studium and punctum. Studium being the simple "likes" or "dislikes" of the Spectator and punctum being the elements that pierce or arrest the Spectator, it's clear this photograph possesses both of these qualities (at least for me). I like that the picture is black and white, that it conveys a sense of romance and excitement, and without further inspection relays a feeling of general happiness. I like that it showcases Times Square unlike the similar photograph taken by Victor Jorgensen that was published in the New York Times the next day. But what arrests me about this photograph is how uncomfortable the woman looks in the photograph: back arched, cap almost falling to the ground, hundreds of people watching in the background smiling as if nothing is wrong with this picture. And once one discovers the history behind it, it only adds to the discomfort depicted. That no, these people did not in fact know each other before this picture was taken. No, this was not in fact a glorious time in world history-- many people died in order for this photograph to be taken. Even the mystery of who these people actually were intrigues me (why is it so difficult to identify the subjects?).
I was never really one for photography. But in reading Barthes and Hacking, I've gained a new respect for the art. Their views on photographic life after death are comforting to me, and I wish I could find that picture of my uncle so I could do him justice in perpetuating his life. But V-J Day in Times Square is certainly an intriguing and mysterious photograph. I don't think Uncle Keith will mind if I use this; he may even be proud of my analysis.
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. New York: Hill and Wang, 1980. Print.
Hacking, Juliet. Photography: The Whole Story. London: Thames & Hudson, 2012. Print.
"V-J Day in Times Square." Wikipedia. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-J_Day_in_Times_Square