September 11, 1995 12:00 PM

IN SEVEN DECADES OF CLICKING away with his 35-mm camera, photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt documented so many faces and events, one almost invariably sees the century through his eyes. Among Eisenstaedt’s more than 2,500 assignments for LIFE, whose staff he joined at the magazine’s inception in 1936, and for PEOPLE, starting in 1974, were unforgettable portraits of both world-famous newsmakers and ordinary Americans—most famously, the sailor and the nurse swept into a V-J Day kiss in Times Square on Aug. 14, 1945. Not that Eisenstaedt made a fuss about his genius. “He was always worrying about when he would get lunch and what tie he should wear,” says John Loengard, former photo editor at LIFE. “But he never worried about the picture.” That was because Eisenstaedt had total self-confidence. “The picture,” he once explained, “originates in the brain.”

The brain of Eisenstaedt, who died at age 96 during his annual August vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, never stopped clicking. Into his 90s, he was doing portraits of such notable subjects as Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. His lifelong stamina he credited to unstinting attention to his diet (no alcohol) and exercise (50 sit-ups and 50 push-ups a day). “I can go all day long without a drop of water,” said Eisenstaedt, whose wife, Kathy, died in 1972. “I am like a camel.”

Eisenstaedt, the son of a Berlin merchant and his wife, received his first camera at 14. A veteran of the German army in World War I and then an uninspired button-and-belt salesman, he turned to photography professionally in 1929. By the time he left Hitler’s Germany for the United States in 1935, he was already renowned for his pictures of such epochal events as Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia. “He was always shooting the real world and real people,” says Ralph Graves, former managing editor of LIFE. “And he was always impatient for his next assignment. Eisie believed in tomorrow. That’s why he took great pictures all his life.”

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