Alfred Eisenstaedt [PWS]


Lumberyard, Seattle, Washington [1937]

The series continues with another great photographer of the 20st century: Alfred Eisenstaedt. In case you want to read the previous (and first) entry and also would like to catch up on what the PWS is about, click here.

There are several reasons to like Eisenstaedt, and I don’t necessarily think of the photo that probably became one of the most recognizable pictures ever taken. He was the photographer going against the flow: when most professionals would use a larger, 4X5 format and did not refrain from flash, Eisenstaedt committed himself to 35 mm and natural lights. He is also known for being a pioneer of candid photography, and renowned for the countless photos he had taken of famous people (celebrities and politicians alike, from Monroe to Loren and Hitler to Clinton; perhaps my favorite is the one of Goebbels, which would worth a post on its own). Unsurprisingly, most of his most well-known photographs come from a combination of the above: (famous) people, natural lights and no poses.

So his focus is mainly on people, and as such, his subject usually dominate his photos. Putting them into perspective is a rather rare thing. Or is it?


You can see similarities between the one I chose, yet the buildings and the statue are all stuff we can relate to: it’s easy to perceive the scale here. Plus note how the sky enframes the picture, creating a more “open” feel to it. Eisenstaedt also likes to play with patterns¬†(although not frequently):


Even though the dimensions of this picture are much smaller, the human vs. infinity theme is much similar to the lumberyard photo. Surrounded by  a countless amount of chairs (boards) one lonely person stares towards the edge of the picture.

But even this one falls short of being similar to the gravity of the first photo. The piles of board seem to be of infinite height: that patch of sky is as if it was trapped between them. As the tiny man examines the piles, his head tilting towards the top, we cannot exactly know how big the the pile actually is (sidenote: either my search words were bad or Eisenstaedt was lucky to live in an era of huge board piles, but it seems nowadays we cannot find them).

This is why I consider this one of the most masterful photographs he had ever taken. Most of his candid photos don’t focus on anything but the human in motion; but here we see perspective putting a subtle, spontaneous motion (inspecting the piles) into context.

The sharp contrast between countless amount of boards racked up on one another makes your head almost dizzy as you try to make a ballpark to understand the true size of the lumberyard. Don’t even bother: that’s that guy’s job over there.

Want to see more of Eisenstaedt’s work? Click here. His brief but detailed bio can be found here. I hope you liked what you’ve read – if so, don’t forget to follow the blog and read the next PWS, which will be about a fellow Hungarian, Robert Capa!


3 thoughts on “Alfred Eisenstaedt [PWS]

  1. You are so interesting! I do not believe I’ve read a single thing like that before. So nice to find another person with some original thoughts on this topic. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This web site is something that’s needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!


  2. Pingback: Lift-off | Analog anecdotes

  3. Pingback: Ansel Adams [PWS] | Analog anecdotes

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