Upon first glance, it may seem as though Alfred Eisenstadt’s Nurses at Roosevelt Hospital, NYC is a random snapshot of a crowded auditorium. In reality, this is a carefully composed work of art that frames the female figure in early to mid-20th century American life.
Capturing this congregation of nurses in their ascending rows without showing a ceiling, floor, or wall, gives the image an infinite quality, as if the rows of nurses could continue forever in all directions. At the same time Eisenstadt anchors the photo with a group of nurses supporting their heads on their palms in the lower left hand corner and a gray shape diagonally opposite. He uses these features as physical framers of his photograph to provide a stable and focused scene for the viewer. The nurses’ uniforms gradually change in color from dark grey to white as they ascend the auditorium rows, most likely marking the different ranks of nurses. Eisenstadt uses this gradient to give weight to the base of the photograph and counterbalance the many more bodies that appear in the higher rows of the auditorium. This gradient of the nurses also invokes the sense of heavenly assumption, as the women appear to rise onwards forever and become whiter and fade into the wall space.
Eisenstadt’s compositional decisions frame these women and their era. First comes the idea of monotony, that all of these women are the same, attentive, properly dressed and ready to serve. This is then contradicted by the way that Eisenstadt captures the subtle emotions and different personalities of every individual nurse. The heavenly assumption mentioned previously relates to the ideas of purity and angelic nature of women, and perhaps Eisenstadt is suggesting that these nurses are the real angels, working in the background to help others. Either way, this striking image does indeed capture that these women are individuals, even within the large crowd. The composition of this piece, which utilizes the natural lines and colors of the room as well as the actions and qualities of the people, makes it a deeply engaging photograph.
By Dan Clark, Class of 2016