The kiss of liberation.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot / All rights reserved
Publication date: June 2014
Agrégée in history, doctoral student at the University of Paris I
A G.I. photographer in the liberation campaign
The Allied landing in Normandy marks the beginning of the liberation of France, which runs from June 6, 1944 to May 8, 1945. Independent photographers or working for an agency or a press organ, war correspondents and photographic services of the armies realize images that document these moments.
The organization of the production of the images was little controlled, but the photographs taken had to be subject to military censorship in order to be published. From then on, he would never stop capturing images of the war while redoubling his ingenuity to overcome technical failures and the lack of products, film, and paper.
He participated in the liberation campaign and covered all military operations carried out by his division. Called to intervene in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer as part of the liberation of Brittany, the young soldier records these moments in which he is one of the actors.
The kiss to the liberator
The photographer and G.I. strive to testify to the joy that runs through the party improvised by the villagers to mark the liberation of Saint-Briac. In front of the village post office, the young women form a farandole and smile at the lens. They thus surround the American soldier who, in the foreground, kisses a little girl on the cheeks. The soldier has a scarf around his neck which young Noelle wore. “The little girl had a scarf over her eyes and the others were circling around her. As she was about to touch someone, her hand met Private Gene Constanzo. When I saw the scene, I ran towards them […] I took the shot just as the third kiss took place. If he [sic] it had only been two kisses, I would have missed everything. But in Brittany they always kiss three times. "
However, the handkerchief carefully spread under little Noelle's knees suggests that the scene is not a real snapshot. Symbol of innocence and purity, the little girl seems to embody the gratitude that the villagers feel. Also kneeling, the G.I. lends itself to the exercise and holds young Noelle in both hands. Her uniform contrasts with the freshness of the summer dresses of the little girl and young women. The image thus focuses on the gratitude shown to the liberator and on the jubilation that followed the departure of the Germans and the entry of American tanks.
The construction of a symbol of Liberation
"When I took this picture, I already knew that I had an exceptional photograph: the love of men for each other all over the world ...", comments Tony Vaccaro, later a renowned photographer. Although later, just like the title he gives to his photo, "The kiss of liberation", his words reflect his awareness of attending a historic moment and his concern to make his image a symbol of festive scenes. and fraternization that may have taken place at the Liberation, while suggesting the hope and expectation of the populations before the arrival of the Allies.
In a way, the soldier whose photography was only a side activity in the field has built a real icon here. Topos of the liberation scenes, this cliché owes its strength to the contrast between the soldier, representing America and the Allies, and the little girl and young women, an allegory of liberated France. Actor of the Liberation, on the front line as a simple 1st class soldier, the G.I. photographer thus delivers an image imbued with a documentary approach that serves as testimony but also favors emotion.
- Normandy landing
- Liberation (war)
- War of 39-45
ABDELOUAHAB Farid, The Year of Freedom: June 1944-June 1945, Paris, Acropolis, 2004.AZEMA Jean-Pierre, New history of contemporary France, T.14. From Munich to the Liberation, 1938-1944, Paris, Seuil, 2002 . DELPORTE Christian, MARECHAL Denis (dir.), The media and the Liberation in Europe, 1945-2005, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2005.Tony Vaccaro, Photographs 1944-1945, Ille-et-Vilaine departmental archives, Rennes, 2010
To cite this article
Anaïs GUILPIN, "The kiss of liberation"