My Friend, Eisie
by Carl Mydans
If one were to describe the force behind Eisie's greatness, it might be done with a single word: curiosity. 

He was driven to wonderment.  A conversation with him was often full of starts and stops as he interrupted with questions:  "Why did they do that?" "Why do you think they would say these things?" And nearly always, at the end, he would ask: "Tell me what you think about it." 

His memory was remarkable. As a photojournalist he took few notes, only the briefest captions, really no more than slugs, which he inscribed on film jackets and on the backs of prints.  But, with his kind of mind, that was all he needed. 

As he sat in his small officer in the Time and Life building he was surrounded by yellow Kodak boxes piled high on the shelves around him, filled with negatives and prints from his more than half a century of taking pictures, each box identified with just a word or two that he had inscribed in his neat Germanic hand. 

His pictures were his pride.  As he sat among the boxes his eyes would sometimes circle the shelves as he lost himself, reading the brief slugs on them and reliving the instants of history that flowed from them. 

He once said to me, as his eyes lingered on them, "It's all up there. I don't write. Let others write about them.  If they want to know what I saw, what is in those boxes will show them--as they were and as I saw and thought about them." 

Even so, he could always provide his editors with dates and names and places. Sometimes, he was carried away by the images he had made, and was seeing again. He would talk for a long time about not only the pictures themselves, but the movement of history that surrounded them. 

Eisie had a magical eye that catch people and events at their most telling moments. And he had the stamina to live his ninety-six years fully alert to the world around him. 

When Eisie was not making pictures he was reading. He loved English, even though he knew only a few words when he first came to America at the age of 37. 

When he spoke, his sentences were carefully composed. And he was highly critical of anyone whose English was sloppy, or of authors whose grammar was not correct. 

As Eisie got older, the place he had won for himself in history became more and more important to him. The books that talked about him kept piling up in his office. And in the later years, as he tired, he simply dipped into a book's index to find the author's opinion of him. Sometimes he would call me into his office and point to a paragraph and ask me what I thought about it. 

Above all, he had a remarkable self discipline, not only in his work but in his daily life and physical routine--walking and exercising faithfully, by the watch--until his legs gave out. He learned to depend on Lulu, his sister-in-law and constant companion, for his needs at home and for pushing him in his wheelchair along Sixth Avenue each day to his office. 

I now look at the notes I made after I spoke at Eisie's funeral services in 1995. I write them here: "Eisie became such a force to us who spent many or our years with him that he will remain present and active in our lives and we will continue to hear him telling stories and asking questions. 

And when these services are over and I go back to my office alongside Eisie's, I shall not be surprised to see him again through his half-open door, sitting among his yellow boxes or prints and negatives and to hear him call out to me: "What a great gathering,"  he will exclaim, his voice raised slightly in appreciation. "Everybody came! Everybody!  Did you see them there?"  And after a pause he may add: "So many people!" And he will name names, full names, and as always, correct names. 

And then he will sit there, alert, looking at all of us. And after awhile he may add, "I'll still be watching. And if what they do catches my eye, I'll photograph them."

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