There aren’t too many press photographs of soldiers kissing, and certainly not of male soldiers kissing other men. In the most famous photo of a military man kissing someone – taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square on V-J Day, August 14, 1945 – a sailor is kissing a nurse.
The couple in this image was photographed at the gay pride parade in Jerusalem on July 29 by Sebastian Scheiner of the Associated Press. At first glance, it appears to be quite a passionate kiss. With puckered lips and tilted heads, the men are pressing their pelvises together, their hands resting beneath each other’s waists. But how private can the kiss be when the two are dressed in symbols? The kisser – the one bending his head – is draped in the gay pride flag. The other, the kissee, is in his army uniform.
The soldier is simultaneously kissing and “demonstrating” a kiss: concentrating on the kiss itself and displaying his devotion to the person kissing him. For his part, the kisser, wearing the flag like a superhero’s cape, is focused on the task of kissing: He is certainly in the correct position; perhaps he is even staging the image to demonstrate his kiss. Both are standing in the middle of a public place and putting on a performance, showing how it’s done, getting into the moment, feeding off it and adding to it something of their own. The people around them, by the way, aren’t even looking. It’s a parade, for heaven’s sake. Everyone is demonstrating something.
The soldier who is being kissed while in his uniform is broadening the definition of his self-identity: Ideological military apparatuses ostensibly do not allow expressions of unmediated passion, but when he kisses as a “soldier” he also recognizes himself as a product of the military. (“I can kiss whomever I want, just as any other soldier can kiss whomever he wants” ). Like the Nahal Brigade soldiers who stopped a patrol in Hebron to dance to the American electropop singer Kesha’s hit “Tik Tok,” and uploaded a video of themselves to YouTube on July 5, the soldier here is toying with the image of himself. He is young, free, liberated, fun-loving – and also, at the end of the day, still a soldier.
The focus in this endearing photograph is not, however, on the little show concocted by the superhero and his soldier, but on the mustachioed man in the back corner, who is holding a camera. The real mystery of this photo resides with him. What did this man capture with his lens? Perhaps the photographer who was aiming his camera at the couple and at him? What is saved on his memory card? Is this man, with his Groucho Marx mustache, interested in the couple at all? Despite the perspective captured in the photo, he is not even looking at them. From where he stands, the superhero is not kissing the soldier, he’s just whispering something into his mouth.