Albert Einstein at Princeton, 1940:
I had just arrived in America with my wife and child and, unlike my first visit on assignment a couple of years earlier, this time I was an immigrant in a new world, with limited work and income. I decided to keep doing what I had been so successful at doing in Europe: hunt for celebrities to photograph. I set my sights on Albert Einstein, one of the most enigmatic celebrities of the time.
I set out for Princeton with no appointment and no guarantee that I would accomplish my mission. In fact, when I first called his secretary, Miss Dukas, she was not impressed – until I mentioned Picture Post, a British magazine which I had worked for and which, as it turned out, was one of Einstein’s favorites and one widely read by his friends and relatives in Europe. Landing a story in this publication would save Miss Dukas a lot of letter writing. So, I got my appointment with Albert Einstein.
When I first conceived of a picture story on Einstein, I visualized him standing before a blackboard covered with long equations, speaking to a large audience of students. In his Princeton study I told him about my vision. He smiled and said, apologetically, "But I don't teach anymore." Best laid plans….I had to photograph what he was doing now. He agreed.
His two graduate assistants, Dr. Peter Bergmann and Dr. Valentine Bargmann, soon joined us. The three of them began their daily work session with a walk to the Institute of Advanced Studies. I followed with my camera. Arriving at the handsome neo-Colonial building, we climbed to the second floor to Room No. 125. A homemade sign tacked to the door read "Dr. Einstein." The huge desk was empty except for a bottle of glue. The nearly empty bookshelves were a marked contrast to Einstein's crowded shelves at home. The large blackboard was full of equations, all works in progress. The sign attached to the frame of the board read "Erase." The professor and his two helpers dumped their raincoats and Einstein's umbrella on a chair, and began an animated discussion. Then one of the assistants walked to the blackboard, changed some of the symbols, and turned triumphantly to the Professor. The two assistants had done their homework well, coming up with a solution new even to Einstein. Intrigued by the suggestion, the Professor stood up and approached the blackboard. He looked at the new equation, then turned away from the board in reflection. I clicked the shutter. It turned out to be a picture that would change my life. My vision realized! The man, the blackboard, the equation.
Einstein’s secretary later assured me that this photograph, which we have always called the “baggy pants,” became his favorite. "The best picture ever taken of me," she quoted him saying. He was so pleased that, in his crisp, pearly handwriting, he signed it for me and added a jingle in German. In broken English it reads: “When with science you are busy, you may lose your pants easily. Yours truly, A. Einstein.”