Unhappy Returns: Portraits of Miserable, Anxious Taxpayers

A woman at an Internal Revenue information center in New York in 1944.
Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
A woman at an Internal Revenue information center in New York in 1944.
Alfred Eisenstaedt
'40s

We all know the feeling: a gnawing anxiety that somewhere out there, an IRS auditor is reaching for our file. But perhaps we can draw some very small solace from the realization that this painfully specific, tax-related misery is nothing new.

LIFE’s Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the most dreaded rite of spring — filing tax returns — seven decades ago, and except for the style of clothes on display, these pictures might have been taken last April, or the April before that. Here, a full century after the enactment of the income tax (Feb. 3, 1913), LIFE.com commemorates the grim, unavoidable task of paying one’s national dues with a gallery of photographs.

Eisenstaedt’s candid shots of taxpayers, taken with a telephoto lens from around 40 feet away from his subjects at an IRS information center in 1944 New York, reaffirm the old adage that, even when it comes to taxes, the more things change, the more they remain — for better or for worse — very much the same.
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