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OZZIE AND ALBERT: SWEET'S ICONIC EINSTEIN

by Larry Canale |

Perhaps the most iconic portrait in Ozzie Sweet’s archive is a black-and-white photograph he made of Albert Einstein (1879–1955), an image that gives us a different view of the great scientist—relaxed, smiling, unassuming. Ozzie loved recalling his Einstein session, and I enjoyed hearing about it on multiple occasions. 

It was late February in 1947, and Newsweek—for whom Sweet was working as chief photographer—was planning a cover story on Einstein and his accomplishments. Einstein, who was born in Germany and became a Swiss citizen early in life, had moved to Princeton in 1933 as a “life member” of the newly founded Institute for Advanced Study and would stay there for the remaining 22 years of his life. He officially became an American citizen in 1940.

In February 1947, Sweet arranged to capture Einstein in as natural a setting as he could: his Princeton office. He had Einstein sit in his office armchair, positioning him in front of his view camera and lights, and then he worked his magic.

In February 1947, Sweet arranged to capture Einstein in as natural a setting as he could: his Princeton office. He had Einstein sit in his office armchair, positioning him in front of his view camera and lights, and then he worked his magic.

Sweet, known as a friendly, congenial, “guy’s guy” sort of fellow, made small talk with Einstein to get him comfortable in front of his large-format view camera. One topic Sweet remembered vividly for the rest of life was Einstein’s footwear. He had removed the laces of his Oxford-style shoes and flattened the backs, behind the heel, so he could easily slip his feet in. Ozzie joked that the broken-in shoes added “a certain dash” to Einstein’s look, eliciting a chuckle from him.
 

Newsweek would use one of that session's color portraits of Einstein on its March 10, 1947 cover—an informal portrayal of the scientist on his red- and white-striped chair, a pipe in his hands, a full wall of books shelved behind him. (Note the "O.C. Sweet autograph in the lower left corner. Ozzie signed this vintage copy of Newsweek for me in gold ink, using the photo credit he typically used early in his career: O.C. Sweet, for his given name, Oscar Cowan Sweet.) 

An alternate color take would appear in Liberty magazine in 1948. But it's the charming black-and-white shot shown above that would became a Sweet trademark. It became a well-circulated image in the decades of Ozzie created it. We've seen it on postcards, in books, on refrigerator magnets, and more.

It’s classic Ozzie Sweet: Who else could have put a disheveled-looking Einstein at ease so effectively—and received in return such a disarming smile? 

Reprinted courtesy of Belvoir Media Group, as published in the April 2013 issue of Antiques Roadshow Insider and updated by the author for OzzieSweet.com.