Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima is a momentous photograph taken on 23rd February 1945, by Joe Rosenthal, an American Photographer from Washington D.C. The photograph portrays five United States Marines and a Navy corpsman raising an American flag on top of Mount Suribachi, on the little Japanese island of Iwo Jima, during the ‘Battle of Iwo Jima’ in World War II. The US occupied Iwo Jima until 1968 when it was returned to Japan.
The photograph was exceedingly popular, being reprinted in thousands of publications. Later, it became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize, an award for achievements in journalism, literature and musical composition, for Photography in the same year as its publication, and came to be considered in the United States as one of the most symbolic and recognisable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time, recreated on millions of posters, both pro- and anti-war. The photograph even appeared on the commemorative US Dollar in 1945.
What few people know is that this inspiring moment was actually a second version of the original event.
I swung my camera around and held it until I could guess that this was the peak of the action, and shot. I couldn’t positively say I had the picture. It’s something like shooting a football play; you don’t brag until it’s developed. – Joe Rosenthal
Rosenthal admitted that when he took a shot of six men raising the Stars and Stripes on Mount Suribachi, he had no idea that he had captured something extraordinary. He was setting up for a different shot when he spotted the group of men planting the flag and quickly took a snap without even looking through the viewfinder. Unsure if his photo would come out clearly, he assembled some marines to reproduce the original image. This photo would become iconic overnight and go on to win the Pulitzer Prize. When the six men in the second image returned home, they were classed as War Heroes and toured America, explaining life of the front-line.
Many copies and parodies have been done of the iconic image, the most of any other image of its kind, and hold the record for the most reproduced photograph in history. Most of them can be seen on this website: http://www.usni.org/iwo-jima-parody-photos. Some other famous artists and photographers have even copied and made their own Iwo Jima style image.
British toy photographer Mike Stimpson, creating the scene out of Lego (above), and American instillation artist Edward Kienholz, making a ‘Portable War Memorial’ (below) in 1968, which encourages you to go and sit down on the piece.
Overall, I feel that the narrative in Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima is the history and emotion behind it. The terrible wars that were breaking out, the lives lost and the stories left behind were incomprehensible, and to be alive and living in such times must have been extraordinary and painful. This one still image has been able to portray such deep emotion into society especially in the US and Japan and encourages people to remember what happened in the past actually happened, no matter how traumatising it may seem.