Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When A Kiss Is Really More Than Just A Kiss

News photographers are always urged to write detailed captions about their photos, and with good reason.

Alfred Eisenstaedt failed to do so with his renowned image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on Aug. 14, 1945, during the celebration to mark V-J Day, the end of World War II.

As The Associated Press reported, Lois Gibson, a forensic artist with the Houston Police Department, claimed that she had conclusively determined that the sailor in the photograph is Glenn McDuffie, 80, a North Carolina native who played semiprofessional baseball and worked in construction and for the Postal Service. See my original post.

Edith Shain, widely acknowledged to be the nurse in the photo, recalled the kiss in a 2005 interview:

“The street was just wild with people. It was exuberant. They were dashing around and hugging and kissing and we walked in on that. And a sailor grabbed me and held me and kissed me a long time. When he grabbed me, I didn’t see him, and when he kissed me, I didn’t see him because I closed my eyes. And then I turned around and walked the other way,” she said.

“That’s the only contact I had with the gentleman. We never exchanged a word. I don’t know if he looked at me. Maybe he didn’t even look at me.”

But she says she’s always glad she went down to Times Square that day. Ms. Shain was a part-time nurse at the Doctors Hospital in 1945 when she heard reports of the surrender on the radio at work and headed to Times Square to celebrate with a friend.

“I was very happy to be there and listen to the roar, that’s the way it sounded. Everybody jumping around, screaming and yelling and so happy and smiling and they were just thrilled like I was.”

Ms. Gibson, who has 25 years of experience helping the police to track suspects, had Mr. McDuffie dress as a sailor and recreate the pose, this time with a pillow instead of the nurse. “She measured his ears, facial bones, hairline, wrist, knuckles and hand, and compared those to enlargements of Eisenstaedt’s picture,” The A.P. reported.

Alas, Ms. Gibson’s claims will probably not settle the matter. In 1980, Life Magazine counted 11 men — not including Mr. McDuffie — who said they were the sailor in the photo. The men included a Rhode Island fisherman, a New Jersey history teacher and a Harvard University refrigeration mechanic.

When he grabbed me, I didn’t see him,

and when he kissed me, I didn’t see

him because I closed my eyes.

- Edith Shain, the nurse in the 1945 Time Square photo

As of 1995, three women had stepped forward saying they were the nurse in the photo. Of the three, Edith Shain, a kindergarten teacher in Beverly Hills, Calif., seemed to state the strongest case — or at least the earliest. In 1980, she wrote a letter to Eisenstaedt claiming to be the nurse in the photo, and Eisenstaedt flew to California to photograph her for Life. Eisenstaedt died in 1995.

For now, Life’s position is that the identity of the couple remains a mystery. The A.P. quoted Robert Sullivan, the editorial director of Life Books, as saying: “The recent (claims) are ‘CSI’ type of inquiries. We think that’s great, but we just can’t know for sure on our end. We can’t be in a position of anointing one or the other without hard proof.”

(Life Magazine itself has become history. The storied picture weekly ceased publication in 2000 but was revived in 2004 as a Sunday newspaper supplement. It folded again in April '07, but continues to exist on the Web.)

The very youngest service members who served in World War II are now nearly 80, so the time for such claims may be coming to an end. But it’s not surprising that so many people would care about the photograph. The art critic Michael Kimmelman wrote in The Times in 1997:

The most famous photograph of Times Square is surely Alfred Eisenstaedt’s chestnut of the kissing couple, which summed up the national mood in 1945 because it combined all the right elements: the returning soldier, the woman who welcomed him back and Times Square, the crossroads that symbolized home.

The Times Square kiss lives on, in a fashion. Last year, at 1 p.m. on Aug. 14, the Times Square Alliance, a business improvement district, staged a re-enactment of the kiss, as it has done for several years.

Another famous image of a kiss is Robert Doisneau’s “The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville,” taken on a Parisian street in 1950. Alas, the image — considered one of the most romantic ever taken and widely reproduced since 1986, when it was first printed as a poster — has a less happy story. A former actress, Françoise Bornet, emerged from anonymity when she sued Doisneau for $18,000 and a share of the royalty in the image. The case was dismissed, but during the proceedings Doisneau revealed that the scene had been staged. Doisneau died in 1994. Ms. Bornet sold her original print of the photograph for $242,000 at an auction; the rights remained with Doisneau’s agency.

(Unlike the Doisneau photo, the Eisenstaedt kiss does not appear to have been staged. A 1996 editorial in The Wall Street Journal cited a man claiming that his friend was the “kissing sailor” and had been egged on by the photographer. But according to a 1997 by Jay Lovinger, then the managing editor of Life, that claim was debunked when it turned out the man was referring to a different photo, taken on V-E Day. Also, that man described the photographer as “not a small man” — Eisenstaedt was 5 feet, 4 inches tall.)

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I thought what better way to get through hump day, than a little kissing trivia. Enjoy!

  • The average person will spend an estimated 20,160 min kissing in their lifetime.
  • Ancient Egyptians never kissed with their mouths. Instead they kissed with their noses.
  • Kissing helps reduce tooth decay because the extra saliva helps clean out your mouth
  • On Valentine’s Day 2004, 5,122 Philippine coupes gathered together at midnight and locked lips. This kissathon beat the previous world record of 4,445 set in January in Chile.
  • The Chinese didn’t kiss until the practice was introduced by Westerners, and they’re still not very keen on it.
  • You burn 26 calories in a one minute kiss.
  • Kissing releases the same neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) as those that are released when you engage in intense exercise such as running a marathon or skydiving. This causes your heart to beat faster and your breathing to become deep and irregular.
  • Our brains have special neurons that help us find each others lips in the dark
  • The science of kissing is called philematology.
  • There are many strange laws regarding kissing that are still on the books. In Indiana, it is illegal for a man with a moustache to “habitually kiss human beings”. And in Hartford, CT, it is illegal for a man to kiss his wife on a Sunday.
  • In Naples, Italy in the 16th century, kissing was an offence that carried the death penalty.
  • Onur Guentuerkuen of Ruhr-University Bochum in Bochum, Germany, studied hundreds of couples kissing. In his study, he found that two-thirds of people turn their heads to the right when kissing.
  • On Valentine’s Day 2004, an Italian couple made their way into the record books with a 31-hour 18-minute Valentine kiss. The couple beat the previous record by 18 minutes and 33 seconds, however, the man had to receive oxygen afterwards.

Sources: AP, Smithsonian American Art Museum - Washington, DC, The Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York, High Museum of Art, - Atlanta, Life Magazine.

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