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National identity is usually shaped by a country's history and culture of the people within the country among other things. It is therefore interesting to note that the romantic art of kissing could be a shaper of a country's national identity like in the 1950 Le baiser de l'hotel de ville photograph by Robert Doisneau and the 1945 V - J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt. But what is a kiss and how has the art of kissing evolved over the years? What are the other issues that shape national identity and how did kissing fit into the French and American culture such that it became part of their mainstream culture and identity. These are the questions we seek to explore and obtain comprehensive answers to.
The role of photography in the construction of national identities
Photography captures important moments in a nation's history be they good or bad. Photographs taken by allied forces at Jewish concentration camps in Germany after World War II are contested today with anti Israel groups especially in the Arab world rubbishing them as false but this was the initial intention the American army general sought to address this eventuality when he ordered photographers to capture as many images as possible as he foresaw that people may deny the Holocaust ever happening in the future and years later, that is exactly what is going on.
The power of photography has as a result shaped the identity of the nation of Israel and the Jewish people at large by providing images of what they went through in Europe and a possible reason for their unmatched fight to keep their homeland. Israel is just but one of the nations of the world, photography has captured crucial moments in all nations of the world and helped in constructing their various identities.
Alfred Eisenstaedt's photograph that is famously known as V-J Day in Times Square captured a very important moment in the history of America as a country and the world at large. It captured the celebrations that marked the end of a conflict, end of World War II, which had led to loss of many lives. This is the reason as to why everyone who saw this photograph at the time fully embraced it even those that under different circumstances would have seen it as morally inappropriate given it was published in 1945, a time when public show of affection was not embraced. This is the same for Robert Doisneau's Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville.
History of the culture and art of kissing
A kiss can be loosely be defined as the act of touching a person or object with the lips, be it gently or passionately. Muslims, one of the most religious groups in the world do not believe in the western world romantic kissing but do kiss to embrace family members, friend and most significantly, the Holly Quran, a book that they hold so dearly and from which they obtain spiritual guidance in the day to day activities. Kissing is therefore used in appreciating other people, as a greeting, show of respect, love, passion, affection, respect and friendship among others. It is however not a universal culture and several cultures of the world especially in Africa, South America and Asia totally prohibiting the art of kissing.
The art of kissing is very old and evidence from ancient Greece point at kissing having been part of the ancient way of life with writings of Homer showing that the ancient Greek kissing the lips, hands, stars, sun and moon among others. Today, members of the Roman Catholic Church do kiss the pope's ring as a show of respect to him. There has been suggestion from anthropological quotas that the art of kissing as we know it today, originated from India. The evidence presented to this effect is the human cultural artifact that show kissing or as they called it; exchanging breath that led to locking of lips. In this context, it is not clear where or who founded the art of kissing, what is clear though is that kissing is here with us and has shaped the western culture by being part and parcel of it (Cane 2005).
Different types of kisses and their implication
Kissing varies in the different cultures with some involving the noses, cheeks, lips, tongues, hands or forehead. Among the kisses in the world is the air or flying kiss that involves the use of hands which one kisses and blows in the air. This is what we see when renown world entertainers greet their fans. It is a form of expression where one tries to kiss several people at a distance. (Maher & Maher2009)
Culture is a cornerstone to privacy in kissing. Certain societies relegate kissing to the privacy of the bedroom while in the western culture, people can kiss to show affection anywhere they see fit including public gatherings. Then there is the wedding kiss that is done to seal contract after wedding ceremony. There is also an Eskimo kiss that is a show of affection between family members, lovers or close friends by pressing the upper lip and nose on the other party's forehead or cheek. To crown it is the French kiss that was as a result of among other things the 1950 Le baiser de l'hotel de ville photograph by Robert Doisneau. This kiss is usually of romantic and sexual nature and persons involved touch each others tongues in an interlocking movement (Harmel 2008).
Not all kisses positively impact and become part of a culture and identity; there are those that are regarded as controversial ad stir debates that have adverse effects on a society like the 1979 greeting between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker during the celebration of the 30 years of the GDR when they kissed each other stirred debate and led to several questions being raised about their sexuality.
Modern classes of kissing that categorize all the above mentioned kisses include:
Kiss of affection
This category sums up all kisses with the intention of expressing feeling without an erotic element and would stand for love, gratitude, intense joy of profound sorrow like those at funerals. A parent kissing his or her child fall s under this category.
Sexual or romantic kiss
This kiss expresses love and erotic emotions. It requires much more than physical proximity to each other and instead should contain some elements of intimacy and privacy.
Kiss as a ritual
Ritual kissing is very formal and symbolic gesture that shows devotion. It under this category that kiss to the Popes ring, kissing the queen's hand and kisses to the bible and Quran fall.
Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville
This photograph by Robert Doisneau is simply referred to as 'the kiss'. It is one of Robert's most iconic and recognizable works. This photo of a couple kissing in the streets of Paris next to Hotel de Ville was taken in 1950 and is to date a symbol of young love in Paris. Thanks to this photo, Paris is today known as the romance capital of the world and a romantic kiss between couples is today referred to the 'French kiss' (Babitz, Kennedy & Martin 1995).
This iconic photograph was published in the June 1950 issue of life magazine and the individuals in the photo were later revealed as Delbert and Carteaud whose relationship was revealed to have just lasted just nine months. This is interesting given that a relationship that gave Paris its romantic status did not last as long as people would have imagined. As controversy would have it, a couple by the names of Jean and Denise mistakenly believed that they were the couple in 'the kiss' photo and instituted a law suit against Doisneau, a suit that they eventually lost.
The reason for the popularity of this photo is that it came at a time when the world was craving for something fun and different to believe in having just come from the Second World War. For years, the world had been receiving news of death during the war and there was a very big thirst for news and image of love. Doisneau's photograph did just that and the world could not let go of this image. It was initially believed that the photograph was spontaneous with Doisneau taking photograph of random sample in the act, it was therefore a big disappointment to believers in this spontaneity when he later revealed that the couple had posed in different places following the request of Robert after previously kissing.
V-J Day in Times Square
This 1945 photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt shows an American sailor a young nurse in New York's Times Square on V - J Day. Coming at the end of World War II, the photograph was printed in life magazine and unlike Diosneau's photo, this was spontaneous and Alfred did not get the identities of the people in the photograph. A lady by the name Edith Shain later wrote to Eisenstaedt at the end of the 70s claiming that she was the lady in the V-J Day photograph. On the request by life magazine's editors that the kissing couple come forth, several alleged sailors presented themselves, eleven men to be precise while three women including Edith Shain turned up.
Reasons for the popularity of the two photographs
The reason for the universal popularity of V-J Day and Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville photos is that they captured the moment in what was believed to be a spontaneous way. At the time of their publications, the two images were known to be spontaneous something that was later confirmed in the case of V-J Day photo. The world appreciates love and true romance, something that was very well captured in the two images. This appreciation was evident during the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton that recently happened. Given the many bad things happening in the world, people do not have stories of happiness to gather around; this is why when one global act of love and happiness come around, the entire planet rallies behind it without much hesitation (Getty 2000).
In the mid 1940s to early 50s the world had been in the dark for good news with World War II taking centre stage for almost half of the decade. Doisneau and Eisenstaedt's works came in a time they were needed the most and given the thirst for good news and likable images that had been missing for years, the world quickly grabbed the chance to appreciate these pieces of work and fully embraced them. They made them part of the two national identities that resulted into the branding of Paris as the perfect romantic spot.
Other influencers of National Identity
Kissing as in the two photos under discussion constructed the French and American cultures and today, Paris is referred to as the 'city of romance', a romantic kiss is even called the 'French kiss'. But in as much as kissing shaped these two cultures and national identities, there are other shaper of national identities other than kissing that have equally shaped several cultures of the world, American and French included, these are:
Art has shaped the identities of many nations headed by Italy. Artistic work by Leonardo da Vinci have for generations been regarded as the greatest and his work on Mona Lisa is still not only a mystery in today's world but also a national heritage that is cherished by Italians and the world at large. Italy's artistic culture has placed the country on top of the world with major designs in fashion being the world's best and favorite. Today, any artistic work from Italy is not subjected to a lot of interrogations because the world has over the years appreciated this as part of their national identity.
Culture can be loosely defined as a way of life. This is a very general definition given that every society has several items that form part of their ways of life and these include everything the human mind can think of, however, there are certain aspects of a people's culture that make each society unique. A case in point is the British way of life which is very different from many nations starting from their monarchy that has been in existence from time immemorial and is still part of their society today having been kept alongside modern day democracy. This has constructed the British national identity, making it very unique and different from others.
People associate a country with what it produces and economic activities that dominate its general economy. Ivory Coast in Africa is known for its cocoa production and that has been part of its identity with the world referring to her as the 'cocoa producing Ivory Coast'. Morocco in northern Africa is known for tourism and this is part of her identity. Middle Eastern nations are known for their oil and the list is endless. Industries perform an important role in shaping a nation's identity and project their uniqueness from the rest of the world.
Major past events
Revolutions, be they industrial or political have the responsibility of being part of a nation's identity. The French revolution is one such event. France today is known for this revolution and when revolt is witnessed in the Middle East today, reference is made to the past events in France. It has a matter of fact been part of what differentiates France from the rest.
Opera, hip hop, Bangra and many more are identities of various nations with opera being Italian, Hip hop being and Bangra identified with India. Music is one of the most effective ways of building an identity and selling ones culture to other people. Hip hop for example taken over the world with lovers in as far as China and Russia. If one mentions hip hop in whatever forum, the country that immediately comes to mind is America. The mention of reggae sparks the thought of Jamaica; this is how deep music forms part of a nation's identity.
Wine and beer
French wine are regarded as the best and this opinion has been held for centuries by other nations. French wine, just like Italian designs have been placed very highly in the world society because they have stood out for centuries. The same goes for beer that shapes Ireland's identity with people travelling from all over the world to experience the taste of Guinness and share into the culture behind its production.
The Grand Canyon is identified with America, river Nile related to Egypt and many more are evidence that geographical features in a country are elements of its identity and uniqueness. Deserts, lakes, mountains, rivers and valleys are district to every country of the world and part of makes them different from the rest.
In as much several nations share languages with Espanola spoken in Spain and South America, a nation is known for the language of her people. Colonization led to export of European and other languages to other parts of the world but this has not led to loss of their identity to countries of origin. A person speaking French is either from France, its colonies or specific interest in the language. A nation is therefore identified by her national language.
Sports vary from one country to the next. Brazil adores soccer, America has love for many games among them basketball, India loves cricket, Kenya is known for athletics. This is an example of how unique countries are and how they can be identified with their main sporting activities.
This is another national identity element, Saudi Arabia is known for Islam, Italy is known for Christianity, specifically Catholicism. At the mention of Hindu, one will always think
of India. Religion does help in constructing a countries identity in a major way.
It is clear that a country's identity is constructed by many issues. Photography and two photographs to be specific, having been constructors of the identity of two nations is a feature that has not ceased to amaze the world and further emphasized the power of a picture. It is inherent that one examines the emotions the photographs captured and stirred among the people of this planet.
Connotations that Popularized the Two 'Kiss' Photographs from America and France
Connotation is the emotional association to a word or image. A man can choose to call a female lady, woman, girl or even chick. It's the choice of the observer to draw an appropriate connotation. The photographs under discussion had a man and woman kissing and one could choose to call them husband and wife, lovers, a man and a prostitute and so on based on what the individual considered emotionally appropriate. The world however unanimously chose to regard the two characters in the photographs as people in the deepest of love and it is this unanimity around their romance that has made the images iconic.
Had the world seen them as something else other people in love, they would not be as legendary as they are today. There are several reasons why the world was so unanimous on their love that was seen as so true and these include;
The images came at a time of celebration following a worldwide war. This was the perfect time to show love to people one loved and cared about given that the war had brought with it so much pain. Had the images been published today, they would have passed for any other photograph (Kucera 1984).
The photographs were believed to have been spontaneously taken this turned up to be the case in the V-J Day in Times Square photograph. This belief gave the images authenticity beyond reproach and helped lovers and believers in love relate very partially with the photographs. As they, a picture is worth a thousand words, these pictures spoke much more than that to the world at the time of their publication.
Attire of the subjects
The attire worn by the characters in V-J Day in Times Square was picture perfect. Capturing a sailor in uniform kissing a nurse in her white attire spontaneously is almost out of a movie if you ask me. The dressing in these photographs captivated the world and that hasn't stopped to date.
Locations of the photographs
Times Square and Hôtel de Ville are icons in their own ways. Having a romantic picture capturing these icons is breath taking. Photographers say that a good image is defined by the moment and the location. These photos captured both and for that, they are legendary.
Nationality of characters
Had it turned out that the people in the Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville photograph, were not French, the people of France would not have been as enthusiastic about the images as they were. The same thing goes for V-J Day in Times Square photo. Nationality of the characters helped make relations between the country and the photos which played a major role in helping them construct national identity (Kucera 1984).
We must not fail to pay tribute to the photographers who saw the moments and captured the images we cherish to date. Robert Doisneau had started his career in photography very humbly, capturing objects before graduating to children and finally adults. We must owe it to him for requesting the couple to pose for this legendary image after witnessing their first kiss. Had he let them go, we would have missed on an image that not only shapes a country's identity but has also given rise to a romantic destination in the name of Paris (Dyer 1999).
Credit must equally be given to Alfred Eisenstaedt for seizing the moment in Times Square. He narrated the moment saying that when he saw the sailor walk towards the nurse, his instincts told him a photo moment was about to go down and having trusted his instincts, positioned his camera and captured the moment, he clearly deserves praise and credit for bringing joy and happiness to some citizens of the world then and now (George 1993).
Photography indeed captures and shapes a country's identity. After examination, we can confidently say with utmost certainty that V-J Day in Times Square and Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville did construct the identity of the United States and France respectively. It is worth speculating that at the time of their publishing, the photographers and editors of life magazine did not foresee the impact their publication would create in the world, the two countries and the field of photography.
People of the world yearn for good news and stories of hope given the trials and tribulations that they go through and witness every day. Images and uplifting stories of hope will forever find a place in the hearts of people and will surely not go unnoticed. This is what the photographs by Eisenstaedt and Doisneau did in 1945 and 1950 respectively. They inspired a people who had for long been torn by war and continuous stream of bad news by ushering celebrations, peace and most importantly, love.
Love as they say, knows no boundaries and for this, every reader of life magazine who came across these photos made instant connections to them irrespective of race, culture and language. Coming at a time when public show of affection was not as common as it today, these images opened the door to an otherwise suppressed lovers of public show of affection and it is appropriate to speculate that the photos were a liberation to an otherwise emotionally oppressed population. They set precedence for public show of affection just like Marilyn Munroe precedence of what for lack of a better word I would call public nudity only that unlike Munroe, these images sent the message of love at a time hardship.
Thanks to these images, Paris is today a destination of romance and love, so is Times Square. As the world today appreciate and celebrate these two works of art, it is important to remember the period of their publication and their impact on our society as we know it today. We must take note of the skill, element of chance and expertise that was put in place to help get these images. It is a lesson to us that we should never let a moment that we feel could make a difference pass because the difference cannot be made if the moment is not seized to begin with
America and France should forever be grateful to these great artists for their contributions to the respective national identities and the economic good that these images spurred especially to Paris, enabling millions to visit the photo sites tore live the 1945 and 1950 moments of romance and happiness.