VJ Day Kiss. Credit Getty

WWII

VJ Day: The Story Behind The Iconic Kiss Photograph

How was the famous kiss image captured? And who are the people in it?

VJ Day Kiss. Credit Getty

It is one of the most famous images to come out of Victory Over Japan Day, 75 years ago - but just how did the photographer happen to be in the right place at the right time to take it? And who are the people in the photo?

On August 15, 1945, World War Two came to an end when Japan surrendered to the Allied forces.

People around the world took to the streets to begin celebrating, even before the official documents had been signed. In New York, Times Square was flooded with jubilation and excitement, and this is where photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt found himself.

It was here that he captured the photograph of a sailor kissing a dental nurse, which has now become an iconic emblem of the Allies’ military triumph.

Who Are The People In The Kiss Photo?

For years, a cloud of uncertainty hung over their identities.

Many people came forwards claiming to be either the sailor or the nurse, but it was not until several years after the war, in the 1980s, that serious leads were found. 

History teacher Lawrence Verria and retired Navy Captain George Galdorisi were fascinated by the mystery, and spent two years researching and tracking down evidence for who the two people could be. 

Their book, 'The Kissing Sailor', puts US Navy Quartermaster George Mendonsa and dental Nurse, Greta Freidman as the strangers in the photo. 

This claim has been backed up by scientific research, which studied George Mendonsa's face to recreate how he would have looked in 1945. 

Alfred Eisenstaedt was one of four photographers employed by American magazine ‘Life’ and was there capturing the celebrations at the end of the war.

But how did the experienced photographer end up taking the iconic image?

Alfred Eisenstaedt was born in Germany to Jewish parents in 1898, and in 1935 they fled the Nazi regime and began a new life in New York.

Previously, in 1933 at a League of Nations meeting, Alfred was there to take photos. One of the photos he captured was of Joseph Goebbels, which he referred to as ‘From Goebbels With Love’.

Alfred believed that Goebbels suspected the photographer's Jewish heritage, and that his hatred is conveyed through the expression on his face in the photo. He said:

"When I went up to him in the garden of the hotel, he looked at me with hateful eyes and waited for me to wither, but I didn’t wither."

Yet it was to be Alfred who would enjoy the victory of the Allied Forces and the destruction of the Nazi empire.

A victory that he captured in his historic spur of the moment photo in Times Square. 

There have been other debates and controversies around the photograph, more of which you will find here, in our rundown of the VJ Day history and this year's events.