How Would You Crop Einstein?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The photos that LIFE magazine recently released reminded me of a learning experiment I passed around to staff not long ago. Take a look at the photo above and note your immediate impressions:

What did you first notice when you first saw this photo?
What went through your mind?
What drew you in? What did you wonder?
What is Einstein wearing?
What sense of Einstein do you get from this image?

I rifled through hundreds of photos of Einstein trying to find a marquee image for our two-part series on Einstein and the mind of god. I wanted photos that were fresh and not overused. Portraits that presented the more human, contemplative side of Einstein — the “inner being,” if you will.

Then, one of those Proustian moments: slipping on a jean jacket with a banded collar — a memory of a portrait of Einstein seated in a chair bathed in natural light. Ahhh, Lotte Jacobi! — whose photographs I had seen in 2004 at the National Museum of Women in Washington, D.C. And, of course, the exhibit’s title? “Focus on the Soul: The Photographs of Lotte Jacobi.”

Her work is intimate and often goes unnoticed. Her portraits are not the default portraits of Einstein commonly chosen for newspaper articles, blog entries, magazine spreads. I still can’t understand why. We’re fortunate to have set our eyes upon them.

Now, back to our experiment. Look at the following image. This is the original version of Jacobi’s print, without cropping.

Albert Einstein title image

Ask yourself the same questions as above and a few more:

Perhaps you have other observations?
What would you crop? How would you crop it?
What do you gain; what do you lose?

I have some fairly strong opinions, but I’ll table them so I can hear yours and ponder my own.

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