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Monday 17 August 2020

Alfred Eisenstaedt and his Photographs of Typewriters

One of my favourite Eisenstaedt photos: Sports writers at the Saratoga racecourse
Press Box, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1939.
On Saturday, the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, it would have been a surefire bet that the photo taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE magazine, of nurse Greta Zimmer Friedman and sailor George Mendonsa smooching in New York City's Times Square on August 14, 1945, would be dusted off by pictorial editors around the world and used a few times more.
Eisenstaedt’s iconic shot wasn’t LIFE’s choice as its main pic in its August 27, 1945, Victory Celebrations spread. And it was by no means the only memorable photo taken by Eisenstaedt with his dependable 35mm Leica IIIa and Miroflex cameras. At one point I didn’t think Eisenstaedt had taken very many photos with typewriters in them – how wrong I was! It turns out he just didn’t use the word “typewriter” in his captions too often. Probably thought it was superfluous to needs. Eisenstaedt photographed playwrights George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams with their typewriters, as well as authors Erskine Caldwell and Rachel Carson, actors Charlie Chaplin and Sophia Loren, and fellow photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. He photographed typewriters being used in the Graf Zeppelin and being offered for sale in an Italian flea market (the very sort of place that inspired Michael Adler to write his typewriter histories).
A student typing at the University of Missouri.
Summer workshop for jazz and dance, Idyllwild, California, 1959.
German-born Eisenstaedt (1898-1995) was one of the great photojournalists of the 20th Century, though his name isn’t as well known as the two who joined LIFE’s photographic staff in 1936. Bourke-White and Robert Capa. Eisenstaedt was once considered LIFE’s best snapper – that is, at least, until New Zealander George Silk was recruited by the magazine’s pic editor Wilson Hicks in 1943.
Douglas Southall Freeman, American historian, biographer, newspaper editor, radio commentator, author and twice Pulitzer Prize winner.
LIFE featured 90 of Eisenstaedt’s pictures on its covers, and more than 2500 of his photo stories were published. These ranged from the extraordinary and bizarre to the mundane, but often with a touch of humour. Eisenstaedt’s images were said to “have a power and a symbolic resonance.” In later life, Eisenstaedt was fond of getting himself into the frame, and of dressing up for the camera too.
Above, Arthur Miller, below Tennssee Williams.
Below, Patricia Prochnik, voted No 1 debutante of the season, taking dictation from her father Edgar, former Austrian minister to the US, teacher of diplomatic history at Georgetown. Patricia in a typing class at her business school.
Below, various images of Margaret Bourke-White with typewriters. In the first she is outside her home in Connecticut with Eisenstaedt himself. In the last two, Bourke-White is being played by Teresa Wright, alongside Eli Wallach (playing Eisenstaedt) in a TV series about her life. 
Below, George Bernard Shaw, Charlie Chaplin on set with Eisenstaedt, 
Below, Ada Louise Huxtable, Rachel Carson, Erskine Caldwell, activist Sam Brown and Vance Packard.
Below, Michigan senator Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg,
 who helped set up the United Nations.
Below, women journalists covering League of Nations conference, Geneva, 1933:
Below, Eisenstaedt and Sophia Loren.
Passengers using Remington portables on the Graf Zeppelin
flight to South America, 1930:
Below, student typing at Rollins College, student typing at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, 1957, and other unidentified typists from 1937-38.
Below, Jessie M. Pickens, a state board of health secretary with the Works Progress Administration in Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1937, the model for the typist in Thomas Hart Benton's History of Missouri mural. Jessie and Thomas were childhood friends.
German dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann dictating to his secretary. 
Below, typewriters being sold in an Italian flea market in the early 1930s:
Here are a few other notable Eisenstaedt photos. I’m sure you’ll be able to identify most of the subjects, including Goebbels, who gave Eisenstaedt a dreadful glare. There's the ice skating waiter at the Grand Hotel in St Moritz in 1932 (shot with a Miroflex camera), and the children at the Guignol puppet show at Parc de Montsouris in Paris in  1963.


Bill M said...

Wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing.

Johnpyyc said...

Morning Robert:

Great pictures of famous typists and typewriters. It makes me want to spark up my pipe and move from this to my Olympia.

Best Regards,


D. said...

Writing barefoot... in complete freedom! Take a look of the right feet of the "student typing at the University of Missouri": body gestures say many things. Look at the toes of her right foot, resting on the legs of the table and slightly arched: she is very focused on writing and seems to pay no attention to the photographer! The same for the girl at the summer workshop: her toes arched upwards, she is very concentrated in the act of typing! All the best from Italy. Davide