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.