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Smile Professor Einstein : The story behind Einstein’s most iconic Photograph

Smile for the camera, Professor Einstein!

When the photographer Arthur Sasse asked physicist and scientist Albert Einstein to smile for the camera on his 72nd birthday on 14 March 1951 – this is the image that was taken. Einstein was tired of smiling at all the photographers and instead decided to stick out his tongue. Einstein himself later used the image on greetings cards that he sent to friends.

And became one of the most famous and iconic images ever taken of laureate Albert Einstein, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 30 years before the photograph was taken.

You may appreciate this memorable portrait as much as the next fellow, but it’s still fair to wonder: “Did it really change history?” Rest assured, we think it did. While Einstein certainly changed history with his contributions to nuclear physics and quantum mechanics, this photo changed the way history looked at Einstein. By humanising a man known chiefly for his brilliance, this image is the reason Einstein’s name has become synonymous not only with “genius,” but also with “wacky genius.”

So why the history-making tongue? It seems Professor Einstein, hoping to enjoy his 72nd birthday in peace, was stuck on the Princeton campus enduring incessant hounding by the press. Upon being prodded to smile for the camera for what seemed like the millionth time, he gave photographer Arthur Sasse a good look at his uvula instead. This being no ordinary tongue, the resulting photo became an instant classic, thus ensuring that the distinguished Novel Prize-winner would be remembered as much for his personality as for his brain.

Likewise, in 2017 physics laureate Kip Thorne collected his Nobel Prize medal, he was overcome with emotion while looking at an image of fellow Nobel Prize laureate, Albert Einstein.

A century ago, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves. On 14 September 2015, Thorne and a collaboration of more than 1,000 physicists finally observed gravitational waves for the very first time.

This teamwork led to Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017.

Photographer Arthur Sasse

Arthur Sasse was an American UPI(United Press International) photographer. He was born on July 30, 1908 and died in October 1973.

Arthur wasn’t known as a stylish or even much in photography circuit until this image happened to him. This image was taken on March 14, 1951 after Einstien’s 72nd birthday celebrations at The Princeton Club. Hounded by camerapersons from all sides, he made the iconic shot, but other photographers surrounding the car missed it. The appropriateness of the photo was heavily debated by Sasse’s editors before being published on International News Photos Network. But became one of the most popular photos ever taken of Einstein, who himself requested nine prints for his personal use.

This image also became the talk of the town because until then Einstein was only known to be of course and intelligent, but serious. But this photograph showed people that he can also be silly and wacky too.

The picture became so popular that it was widely reproduced on posters and stickers. The original picture was auctioned off for $72,300, making it the most expensive Einstein photograph ever sold.

This photo was shot minutes before the famous Arthur Sasse photo of Einstein sticking his tongue out was taken.

Arthur found much work later, making portraits of several artists including Salvador Dali and the likes but it was his this image that brought him what Photographers often look for.

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Thank you

If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste

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I will take this opportunity to introduce you to About me and importantly;

As a co-traveller, will take you through the Ten Lessons I learnt from several years on the roadbefore you coarse on youown Road to Nara.

Also read: 9 Most Read Stories from Road To Nara in 2022

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You might also like to know about My Little School Project. 

If you wish to come over for a visit someday, that you must, you will be heartily welcome here

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If you have anything to share, or feel like saying a hello, please feel free to write to me at narayankaudinya@gmail.com

To visit other long-term photographic works, please visit here.

To follow my walks through the rural Indian Subcontinent, find me at 
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    • Thanks mike. It’s very fascinating when we enter the world of ImageMakers and being a photographer myself I really feel a responsibility in writing for photographers whose journeys are more than fascinating on how they got that image and their life et all.

      Thank you for your encouraging comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This interesting story about the scenes of the creation of Einstein’s famous photograph is a departure from Narayan’s iconic articles about Indian divers and rich culture, religious and social rituals, the beauty of the landscape, technological achievements, and future aims, including positive dealings with climate change.
    It seems that Narayan is perfecting his writing skills by using unusual but fascinating topics to prove that he is a master of his pen.
    Adding the complex information about the Nobel Prize winners proves that point too.
    His presentation is perfect and the title of his article grabs our attention from the start. Thank you.



    • Dearest Joanna, happy to read your just and analytical comment. And how you just know so well.

      It is true that I am taking time to write as it has been hard for these initial days after coming physically back to Delhi, my soul was still catching up to me. It was hard to find myself amongst city life again.

      Also, I am trying to use blog in diversifying subjects as being a visual artist I had expressed very little of my understanding and observations on cinema and Photography and life of imagemakers.

      People have rarely known the quest and sacrifice they go through. Their contribution to the world is very much underrated.

      Thank you Joanna, for understanding always.


      • PS. I just wanted to add how right you are, Narayan, about our lack of understanding of what is needed to created an outstanding photo, documentary, film or a book that would stand the passing of time and become iconic, giving you fulfilment and satisfaction of life well lived.

        Good luck with all your future endeavours!



  2. Pingback: Smile Professor Einstein : The story behind Einstein’s most iconic Photograph — ROAD TO NARA | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

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