Home / Joe Rosenthal, Iwo Jima Photographer, Dead at 94

Joe Rosenthal, Iwo Jima Photographer, Dead at 94

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The man who snapped what is arguably the greatest photo of the twentieth century died today. Joe Rosenthal was 94.

You may not know his name, but you certainly know the photo. On 23 February 1945, at approximately 1:03 PM, Rosenthal took a quick shot of five Marines and one sailor raising the American flag atop Mt. Suribashi, Iwo Jima. He shot it at 1/400th second, at an aperture of somewhere between f8 and f11. In other words, it was a lucky shot, the kind photographers dream of. The composition was absolutely classical, the lighting flawless, the symbolism timeless. It was the perfect photograph, the kind that stirs emotions that no words can express.

Too perfect, some said. It wasn't the first raising of the flag — that photo was taken by Sgt. Louis Lowery, working for the Marines' Leatherneck magazine. And that became the focal point of a controversy that would haunt Rosenthal for years. Rumors abounded that the Rosenthal photo had to be staged — it was just too good to be real.

None of that matters. As I've said before, photography captures a moment in time that has never happened before, and will never happen again. The moment Rosenthal captured was 1/400th of a second in time, but for a nation sorely in need of a morale boost, it was the most iconic image of the preserverance of the American Spirit ever recorded. He didn't fake it — he snapped at that moment, that perfect moment that history remembers always.

Joe Rosenthal should be immortalized with that iconic photo. He's gone, but remember his name.

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About Ray Ellis

  • Actually Rosenthal’s photo was not staged. A frame by frame analysis of the movie film taken of the flag raising has proven that Rosenthal snapped his picture in exactly the right moment.

    For a fulla ccount of the flag-raising and the men who raised it, I highly recommend “Flags of Our Fathers” by James Bradley and Ron Powers. James Bradley was the son of John Bradley, a Navy corpsman, and one of the six soldiers who raised the flag on Mt. Suribachi. It is a mganificent book and traces the lives and eventual fates of all of the flag-raisers.

  • You’re absolutely correct, Deano. I’m familiar with the film. People unfamiliar with photography don’t fully grasp that there are times when all the elements come together and, well– you just get “lucky” (perhaps a poor choice of word, given the circumstances.)
    And thanks much for the book recommendation.


  • There is no film of the flag raising unless you’re talking about the Clint Eastwood movie. It certainly looks fake though other photos taken by Joe Rosenthal with the same camera at the same location could help prove it authenticity.

  • There was, in point of fact, a 16mm film snippet taken by Marine Sergeant William Genaust, on ly feet away from Rosenthal.

    I think that predates any Clint Eastwood movie.