From the July 11, 1975 edition of the Gazette:

Alfred Eisenstaedt was on the Vineyard this past weekend, putting his shrewd eye and famous camera on Walter Cronkite, Lillian Hellman, David Lilienthal and others for People Magazine. The Gazette has been talking to him in recent months about his 25 summers on the Island, and here are some of his observations.

He comes back to the Vineyard like an old salmon, he says, because the Vineyard is an addiction with him, maybe a disease. But not exactly the whole Vineyard. He is almost pugnaciously partial to Menemsha.

He went to the Menemsha Inn the first year of his marriage, and still returns to the same room, as he will on holiday next month, but he feels almost amputated without his wife, who died more than a year ago, and he seems sadder now and reflects that “progress is spoiling everything.”

“I used to walk in the morning,” he says, “from the Menemsha Inn to the Bight and photograph before people woke up, for this is the time when it is very still. But you can’t do that any more. I used to take the most beautiful sunsets with flowers as foreground. But now the marina is there. Wires strung everywhere. Electric poles. This is what they call progress!”

Mr. Eisenstaedt, studying Mr. Cronkite at the Yacht Club tennis courts in Edgartown, seems tough and remarkably agile at 76. He doesn’t just take pictures, he creates and negotiates them, but his enthusiasm for the exploding human race is not unbounded.

“I was on Gay Head some years ago,” he recalls. “I went down below that red mountain — it is almost washed away now — and I saw two little boys with some kind of shovels, and I got so mad I yelled up there: ‘The police are coming, the police are coming!’ Their mother and father were there and they said the boys were only having fun. It took nature maybe a million years to create those cliffs but they can be destroyed in minutes.”

Mr. Eisenstaedt was born in Dirschau, Germany, in 1898, and came to the United Stated during the Nazi purges in 1935. He was a staff photographer for Life Magazine from 1936 until it folded, and was a pioneer in the technique of candid camera photography.

He is now freelancing and still using his old Leica, and gathering anecdotes of the famous people he photographs. But the art of photography, he says, is still in the mind of the photographer, and not in all the new equipment and darkroom techniques.

“It is not the camera,” he told a man who offered to buy a boy the same equipment as Eisenstaedt. “I have two hands. Rebenstein and Van Cliburn have two hands. They play the piano. I don’t’ I can’t. I have two hands. Rembrandt had two hands. He could paint; I can’t. Where does it originate? In the brain, of course.”

He usually carries only one camera, his Leica, which his wife used to call a “toy”, but here on the Vineyard, he carries two, one for black and white and the other for color, just in case some spectacular cloud suddenly rises in the sky, as one did while he was photographing Mr. Cronkite. Timing is everything, he says.

It might seem that he has photographed almost everything to be seen on the Island, but no day is ever the same, he says. You have to catch that particular sunset, that special wave, for they will ever be the same again in a million years.

“We can’t believe it, can’t even comprehend it,” he says, “but every wave, every pattern is different.”

Next to timing, Eisenstaedt emphasizes self-confidence in a photographer.

He recalls, however, that he had a little trouble photographing former Vice President Spiro Agnew. This was in the Executive Office Building in Washington, and Eisenstaedt was down on one knee taking pictures of Mr. Agnew at a desk, but having trouble getting any motion or expression.

“So I said to him: ‘Mr. Vice President, could you ask me a question?’ And he leaned down to me and said: ‘Are you a member of the Silent Majority?’

“Very funny. I didn’t say yes and I didn’t say no. But I did turn my head around to show him my defoliated skull. No long hair, I said. The Vice President’s aide came over and settled the question. ‘Mr. Vice President, he is a member.’ “

Anyway, member or not, Eisenstaedt somehow managed to keep going while all the famous and infamous characters fade and disappear. He is now going through his files and putting together what he calls “something like an Eisenstaedt Album” of pictures and written comments by the Jerry Fords, Bob McNamaras, Haldermans and Ehrlichmans.

He had his notebooks along at the Edgartown tennis courts the other day, and was leafing through them with morbid glee. “Here is one from John Ehrlichman,” he said. “It reads ‘Fond memories of a day in October in Ohio when you were taller than I.’

“Eisenstaedt, five feet five, explained that he had photographed the White House aide while he, Eisenstaedt, was on the shoulders of a colleague during the 1972 presidential campaign. “A lot has happened since then,” Eisenstaedt said, riffling the epitaphs of happier days.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox