Remember Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photograph of the sailor impulsively kissing the nurse on V-J Day in the middle of Times Square in New York? Or Frank Capa’s dramatically Goya-esque shot of a Spanish Loyalist fighter falling dead, his rifle upright in his hand? These and other remarkable journalistic images by famous and less-known photographers (mostly in non-vintage prints made during the lifetimes of the photographers) give “We Were There: 1933-1963" a grand historical vividness.
A group of images from the book “U.S. Navy War Photographs” (made by the photography unit led by Edward Steichen) includes two views--shot through a submarine periscope by some unknown person with quick reflexes--of the sinking of a Japanese destroyer. The collection also includes portraits of the human side of war, such as Wayne Miller’s “Airmen Preparing for the Strike Against Manila"--a candid glimpse of weary and vulnerable-looking young men.
The peacetime photos run the gamut from cheesecake (Philippe Halsman’s portrait of Janet Leigh gasping in the erotically foamy Malibu surf) to piety (Margaret Bourke-White’s famous 1946 set-piece of Gandhi meditating in his room next to a spinning wheel, two years before the Indian leader’s death).
Such images as Loomis Dean’s grainy, pearly-gray “Sinking of the Andrea Doria” immortalize disaster, the operatic side of journalism. Other photographs sketch the lineaments of Innocent America, imbued with sturdy faith in God, progress and leadership. Marion P. Wolcott views a serene country baptism from a discrete distance; Van Deren Coke offers a heroic view of two construction workers working on right-angled beams against the vastness of the sky, and Hank Walkers silhouettes a moment of destiny: John Kennedy conferring with his brother Robert in a hotel room during the 1960 Democratic Convention.
And the eerie feeling that yesterday’s news never really goes away is summed up by Allan Grant’s 1945 shot of Highland Park Optimists Club members wearing gas masks to protest the Los Angeles smog. “Why Wait Until 1953? We Might Not Even be Alive” reads a banner on the wall. (G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, 7224 Melrose Ave., to April 8.)