Home > Photography, Uncategorized, Visual Culture > Visual Culture: The Iwo Jima Flag Raising Photograph Controversy

Visual Culture: The Iwo Jima Flag Raising Photograph Controversy

October 22, 2011

I still have to see the Soviet TASS poster exhibit at MAIC; but as long as I’ve been thinking of WWII, I have been showing some people the difference in two historic photographs.  People have been telling me that they were not aware of the original photograph; except for my friend Will McShane, whose grandfather fought at Iwo Jima.  I have been frequently surprised that all of the people know the event portrayed in the photograph but do not know anything else about it.

Most people are familiar with the widely published photograph shown below.  This is the iconic photograph placed on stamps, published heavily in books and magazines, and was used for a large monumental sculpture.


“Rosenthal’s photo won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Photography, the only photograph to win the prize in the same year it was taken.”

The above iconic photograph was not the original event; it was a do-over.  The photograph below was the first flag-raising from the landing at Iwo Jima.  The controversy, ongoing for 66 years, is that the iconic photograph above was posed.  Even in its time, this photograph was contested and some called for Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize to be revoked with the view that the photograph below, which was taken first, was the original and authentic event.

“First Iwo Jima Flag Raising. Small flag carried ashore by the 2d Battalion, 28th Marines is planted atop Mount Suribachi at 1020, 23 February 1945”

What do you think?  The Wikipedia entry is very comprehensive and is an interesting read for the historical information surrounding the events and controversy.  There were also additional controversies surrounding the correct identification of the men in the photographs.  Even if the iconic photograph was posed, and this was questioned at the time, the image of victory resonated with people and had a strong emotional impact.  I find the first and original photograph more plausible.  A friend said it best when pointing out that if this is a military action in a dangerous area, the first photograph is more believable as it shows someone on guard and acting like a soldier.  I feel that soldiers may want to hold or touch the flag pole as a symbolic gesture, such as they are in the original photograph; but what I always found ludicrous is that it does not take four men straining at a pole to raise one flag, as in the iconic photograph.

US postage stamp, 1945 issue, commemorating Battle of Iwo Jima.”

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