Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE
Dusk in Menemsha, 1962
Vineyard Times With Eisie by William Marks
Yes, this was Eisie’s idyllic Vineyard setting at its best.  Little did I realize -  this was the beginning of a wonderfully loving relationship. For years to come, Eisie and I would share in our mutual love and admiration of water and nature. Eisie loved photographing island scenes with water in them. He loved sitting for hours at the picture window of his Menemsha cottage looking out over the ocean while listening to music through his headphones. Eisie’s special chair and chaise were set up on the screened porch of Pilot House so he always had the optimal water view. One summer, overgrown bushes blocked his view. He complained for days. I told Eisie and Lulu that I would gladly trim the growth if the inn’s owners, Richard and Nancy Steeves permitted. Richard Steeves telephoned me and said he was overwhelmed and just didn’t have time to trim back the growth this year. Eisie stood on the porch deck like Napoleon - giving me marching orders as to what offending invaders he wanted cut down. 

All too quickly, a couple of hours passed by, and the demands of being a magazine publisher beckoned me to the office. When I asked Eisie’s permission to take his picture, he said, “yes, you may photograph me, but make sure you do not take a picture of my knees.” The disfigured shape of his knees had caught my eye earlier. After taking a few snaps of Eisie’s upper torso, I asked him about his knees--this is what he told me: “I was drafted by the German army during World War I. I still remember the day it happened, April 12, 1918. I was fighting on the Flanders front, bullets and bombs were flying all around. Suddenly, a piece of shrapnel hit my right leg here (pointing to the outside of his right leg just above the knee). The shrapnel went through the leg and then hit my left knee. I ended up the only survivor of my artillery battery. I am lucky I didn’t have my legs blown off or cut off by the field doctors. My left leg was in worse shape because of the shrapnel hitting the bone of knee. That’s why I have this big lump there. It took me years to walk on my own two legs without assistance or the support of crutches or canes. Sometimes when I think about that war, I can still see surreal pictures of the muddy battlefield; the bloated corpses of horses and men; and even to this day, I can still smell the sickening stench of death. It was horrible.”  The look on Eisie’s taut face when he relived this moment was of tight jaw, wide-eyed, flared nostril horror.  

Eventually, as years passed, Eisie granted me permission to take photographs his knees as well his day-to-day life in a myriad of settings. Another thing I was to eventually learn about Eisie was how bothered he was for being renowned as a photographer of people. “I always wanted to be known as a nature photographer,” said Eisie many times over the ten years of our friendship. “When I was growing up in Germany, I always liked the outdoors. I liked walking, hiking through the woods, running, climbing, roller skating, playing in the sun with friends. When Henry Luce hired me and three other photographers, we had no idea what type of publication we were taking pictures for. Luce called it ‘secret Project X.’ In November 1936, the first issue came out, it was called LIFE Magazine. Five of my pictures are in that first issue. Luce kept giving me assignments to photograph people and I kept telling him that I liked photographing nature. Even though I did get nature assignments, the pictures I seem to be remembered for are my photographs of  people. Luce kept telling me that I had a natural gift for photographing people. I guess in many ways he was right. But I prefer to be known as a nature photographer. I can see it now,” says Eisie with an ironic laugh, “ the writing on my gravestone will read, ‘Eisenstaedt, the man who photographed the sailor kissing the nurse.’” 

Continued on next page.
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