The photographer who shot what may be the most famous war photograph ever has died at 94. The photo depicts soldiers raising the flag on Mount Suribachi after a four-day battle to climb the 546 mount. 6800 US servicemen died in the battle.
Rosenthal won a Pulitzer for the photo, which has a classical composition that could easily appear on the pediment of a Greek temple. The diagonal of the flagpole, with the flag flying to the left, acts as a lever on the group of soldiers, as the one of the right forcefully pushes down, and the ones on the left rotating clockwise. Are they raising the flag, or is the flag raising them? The soldier on the far left strains to reach.
I’ve always felt that the 9/11 photo of firefighters raising the flag over the ruins of the World Trade Center paled in comparison. The “instant comparison” seems to consist primarily of a flag, being raised, on a diagonal flagpole. But it has nothing of the thrust of the original. Instead of a group working strenuously together, you have one man simply pulling a string, while another statically holds an end, and a third just kind of stands around and watches. The Iwo Jima soldiers stand atop some kind of wreckage, while the 9/11 firefighters have a wall wreckage of wreckage looming over them.
The resonance comes solely from outside the picture, something those of us who were close by and those who remember that day feel, but in time will lose its impact. The Iwo Jima photo holds its power within itself.