By Lucas Justinien Pérez
Trailblazing father of candid photojournalism, Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995) said he preferred carrying his small Leica camera at stomach level as he snapped some of the most recognizable images of the 20th century — discreetly. Working with almost no equipment, he sat stony face and unassuming as he captured moments like “V-J Day in Times Square,” the famous photo of a jubilantly flirty sailor kissing a semi-compliant nurse.
A large collection of works by the prolific photographer is held at the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA), where an exhibition highlighting his long career at Life Magazine is on display from April 12-July 14. “Alfred Eisenstaedt: Life and Legacy” opens concurrently with the museum’s blockbuster Art Alive 2019 event that attracts thousands of guests each year with innovative floral interpretations of important art from the museum’s permanent collections.
Sarah Grossman, associate director of Special Events and Corporate Relations at SDMA, noted Eisenstaedt’s work will serve as the “overarching theme” of this year’s event and a handful of floral designers will be using his photographs as inspiration for their creations. This year, the famously monumental rotunda installation will be designed by Flower Art founder, Jennifer McGarigle, who said she is working from the idea of “flowers frozen in time, just as moments are captured in photographs.”
Legacy Floral Designer Nancy Hagen also chose to interpret an Eisenstaedt photo, and gravitated to an image of a Cartier jeweler crafting a sumptuous piece of jewelry at his cluttered bench. Hagen, who comes from a family of engineers, said she liked the photo initially because he “looked like an engineer.” During research, Hagen even discovered her mother had been surreptitiously photographed by Eisenstaedt for Life in the 1940s.
When asked how Hagen would interpret a small 10-by-10-inch black-and-white photograph in flowers — not an easy design problem — she opined “that size is my biggest challenge with this picture… when I do my [designs] I like to go big, and I’m having to scale it way, way back.” Hagen added that she does not want to be constrained by a black-and-white color palette and she will use flowers in rich jewel tones that suggest the preciousness of jewelry.
Hagen’s personal connection to the image she selected is just one example of why Eisenstaedt’s photographic style is so accessible and appealing to so many. Just like his images, flowers also evoke powerfully meaningful associations. People use the “language of flowers” to commemorate, celebrate, and honor the people, places and things that are most important to them. A quote from Eisenstaedt could just as easily be applied to the impermanence of a bloom, as it could to the instantaneousness of a snapshot: “The world we live in is a succession of fleeting moments, any one of which might say something significant.”
— Published writer, gold medal-winning calligrapher, and accomplished polyglot, Lucas Justinien Perez’s passion is for words. His linguistic journey began as a child in Mexico, took him through 28 countries, and enabled him to study ancient Chinese calligraphy in Taipei — Japanese “Nihonga” painting in Tokyo — and contemporary art and critical theory in New York City. Lucas has a home in San Diego, California but spends his time working bi-coastally. To find out more about Lucas, please visit lucasperez.org.