The Big Kiss

We were in Sarasota recently for a visit with family, when I mentioned to my brother-in-law, Rick, that I hustled my husband out of the hotel bright and early on Sunday morning to snap some photos of the sculpture in Island Park on the waterfront.

Oh, you mean the “Big Kiss,” Rick called it.

Yes. That’s it.  

At the front desk of the hotel where we stayed they called it the “Sailor and Nurse” statue.

“Oh yeah, you can’t miss it. Turn right, two blocks from the hotel…” (We had arrived the night before in the driving rain from the opposite direction, so in fact, we did miss it, but anyway.)

Unconditional Surrender.  That’s its given title.  It’s the work of Johnson & Johnson heir, J. Seward Johnson – part of a series with several versions begun in 2005. If you haven’t seen it in Sarasota, perhaps you’ve viewed it during its stint in Tuna Harbor Park in San Diego in 2007. Or in Hamilton, New Jersey on loan from Johnson’s Sculpture Foundation.

Supposedly, Johnson’s sculpture is based on a photograph in the public-domain Kissing the War Goodbye, taken by Navy photojournalist,  Victor Jorgensen.  

Jorgensen photo in the National Archives

Well, c’mon! Everyone knows the other photo, the iconic shot –  taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE Magazine.  Acclaimed as the "father of modern photojournalism," Eisenstaedt chronicled the 20th Century with more published photos than any other photographer in history. (source:Michael Hoppen Gallery)

Eisenstaedt photo, forever in the public eye

As anyone can seeyou can’t miss it - Johnson captured the spirit, the stance, the energy, even fashioned the skirt-pull of that exuberant full-bodied kiss, modeled from Eisenstaedt’s world famous  photo V-J Day in Times Square. The photo was taken on August 14, 1945 and published a week later in a 12-page section called Victory Celebrations.  Notably, (or not so notably) the plaque planted next to the sculpture erected in the Sarasota park makes no mention of either photo, but anyway…who’s reading? 

Snapping-happy, early that morning in the park, there we stood:  shooting pictures at the foot (and at the feet) of the statue on the morning of September 2, 2011 - coincidentally 66 years to the date of the formal signing of the surrender, marking the official U.S. celebration of “Victory Over Japan.”  But anyway, who’s counting all those years, the victories and losses, the casualties and  memories . . .  

The nurse, the sailor, the photographer, the sculptor, are now forever melded. One Big Longing Kiss.  Forever alive in a black & white still shot, in styrofoam, in bronze, and in painted aluminum  – that sailor, that nurse, that time and place, and the millions of viewers forever after are locked in that one embrace, indelibly sealed in collective memory. 
But can art imitating art still be art?

Kissed off in Sarasota?

Those giant Navy uniform pant legs. The huge white shoes.  Is the kiss stolen or an attack on aesthetics?  Some call it kitsch.  A monumental mistake.  A giant smooch that smacks of plagiarism. A parody.  Fabricated in  aluminum to “withstand winds from a category 3 hurricane,” on the narrow strip of green between traffic on the street and public parking along the pier, Unconditional Surrender seems, well. . . sorta fitting for Sarasota, Florida.  I don’t know why, but seeing that Kissing Couple in the park at the break of day makes me happy. . . in a campy, Ringling Brothers circus, sunny Disney-world sorta way.    

And if you call it kitsch, I guess I’m okay with that.   

Documenting life for LIFE magazine, Eisenstaedt shot nearly 100 covers and some 10,000 prints.  “You learn something from every picture you take,”  he observed.  Snapping up my own photos, stolen moments from life, I’m inclined to agree.   

What do you think?

Photos: VHenoch (or otherwise linked to original sources)
 with xoxoxo's and thanks for stopping by.  


To capture what has become perhaps his most reproduced image, the kiss in Times Square on V-J Day, Eisenstaedt had been following the sailor who was "running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn't make any difference. None of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then, suddenly in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse." In 1991 he told a New York Times reporter, "Although I am 92, my brain is 30 years old." To prove it he recalled that to shoot that victory kiss he used 1/125 second exposure, aperture between 5.6 and 8 on Kodak Super Double X film.

It's more important to click with people, than to click with the shutter." A. Eisenstaedt


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