When it's time to kiss and tell

Historic clinch is not what it seems
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So a kiss is never really just a kiss. More than half a century after Albert Eisenstaedt captured the ecstatic VJ Day clinch between a sailor and a nurse in New York's Times Square, a 75-year-old war veteran has claimed he was the anonymous man in the picture, and it was a fake.

Jim Reynolds, a retired machine operator from Chicago, insists he was asked to pose for the apparently spontaneous embrace with a woman he had never met, which was taken not on VJ Day, but three months before on VE Day. He also says Eisenstaedt set up several different shots before he was satisfied.

The photograph, which has become one of the most enduring images of the joy at the end of the war, appeared on the cover of Life magazine's commemorative edition on 27 August 1945. It showed a white-clad nurse leaning backwards with one foot in the air, as a sailor threw his arms around her.

Mr Reynolds said: "We'd docked earlier in the day, and everyone was anxious to go ashore. I was just walking through Times Square and this guy asked me if I wanted to kiss a pretty girl. I told him I had a girlfriend and I was getting married, and he said he wouldn't show any of my features."

He added: "He put us in a pose, there were quite a few poses because he wasn't satisfied. He had a certain idea of what he wanted. I didn't think about it at all until it appeared in Life magazine. Then I got tired of looking at the picture over the years and knowing it was a scam, that was taken on a different day."

The picture also provoked the fury of his mother-in-law and his wife, who instantly recognised Mr Reynolds on the Life cover and accused him of infidelity. He was able to use the date and claim quite correctly that he was in California on VJ Day.

After his wife became fatally ill last March, Mr Reynolds came across another Eisenstaedt picture which portrayed a Japanese figure after the atomic bombing, and he was angered that he had been used to portray the end of the war before it had really been brought to a close. He told his pastor, George Byron Koch, who wrote to the Wall Street Journal this week.

Mr Reynolds said: "It was kind of bugging me that the scam was still taking place, and we were looking like there was the big sense of joy. But knowing what these guys were going through and the suffering they still had to face, it didn't seem right."

The magazine stood by its kiss yesterday, and insisted Time Life has documentation to show that Eisenstaedt had been assigned to work for them on VJ Day, but not VE Day. It also suggested hundreds of war veterans had claimed to be the sailor, and 11 had equally convincing stories.

Alison Hart, director of public affairs, said: "There have been so many over the years claiming to be the sailor, this is just one more. And any suggestion it was another day is absolutely incorrect. We have the assignment lists for VJ Day and Albert Eisenstaedt is on them."

She added: "The picture is so special because it just captured everyone's emotions at once. It symbolised all of America at that moment, and trying to find the exact people in it spoils the mystery. We should leave it alone, especially as Albert Eisenstaedt died last August, so we'll never really know."

But the shadow cast over the kiss in Times Square has placed it in a gallery of momentous images taken from all aspects of life, including love, war and death, where there is doubt over the spontaneity or authenticity behind the photographs.

They include Robert Doisneau's best-selling portrait of a lingering kiss outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris, commissioned by Life magazine in 1950; decades later a number of couples claimed they had been the young lovers. But the most determined, who said the picture was set up, failed to win a share of the royalties in court.

Doisneau, who died two years ago aged 81, also freely admitted that he enjoyed creating the image of a world that was not based on reality. He said: "I've created my own world pleasant and charming, it's the world I would like to live in, but don't think for a moment that I'm duped by my own lies."

Another intimate portrait of everyday life was the carefree picture of two young women on Blackpool promenade taken by Bert Hardy in 1951. It had the air of a lucky snapshot, but was in fact the result of a long afternoon photo-shoot in which he was forced to use two chorus girls as models.

There has also been controversy over great war images, including Joe Rosenthal's flag-raising over Iwo Jima in 1945, in which five marines and a Navy medic lifted the Stars and Stripes following the bloodiest battle in the Pacific in the Second World War. It has been immortalised in a bronze statue at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington. But Rosenthal has spent the past 50 years fending off accusations that the stirring image was posed by the photographer after the real flag-raising.

Robert Capa's portrait of a loyalist soldier in the Spanish civil war, known as the Moment of Death, used by Life magazine, has also prompted scepticism. It was exposed by Philip Knightley, the historian, who demonstrated in another picture that the same soldier subsequently stood up.

Mr Knightley said: "Life magazine presented it as the Moment of Death, and Capa was stuck with it from then on. What was he to do, say the picture that made his name wasn't true? He told a series of conflicting stories about what really happened from then on."

But other experts have suggested it is the picture that should endure, not the circumstances in which it was taken. Francis Hodgson, a photography critic, said: "Time and time again these cases come up. But if the picture is wonderful, and it did what it was designed to do, so what? Nobody ever said photography was a scientific record."