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A Brief Biography of Photographer Joe Rosenthal

written by: Kristina Dems•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 10/22/2012

One of the most reproduced historic photograph of all time was captured by an Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal who was refused by the US army to join the war due to poor eyesight. Learn more about him and his famous photograph in this article.

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    Joe Rosenthal was a famous American photographer best known for his photograph titled “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" which is regarded as the most iconic image of World War II. Rosenthal won a Pulitzer Price for his dramatic image of American Marines (and one Navy Corpsman) raising the US flag after the Battle of Iwo Jima.

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    Life and Works

    Joe Rosenthal Joe Rosenthal was born on October 9, 1911 in Washington DC. He was of Russian Jewish lineage, but he subsequently converted to Catholicism. He began his career in photojournalism with the Newspaper Enterprise Association based in San Francisco, California. He was the chief photographer of the Times Wide World Photos before being absorbed by the Associated Press (AP).

    Prior to taking his most popular image, Rosenthal had distinguished himself as an excellent war photographer having been assigned to cover conflicts in New Guinea, Guam, Hollandia, Angaur, and Peleliu.

    However, Rosenthal had been rejected by the US Army and Navy to join them during World War II battles, citing his impaired eyesight. Fortune took him to a different route, however, as the AP signed him up in 1945 to cover the battles in the Pacific.

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    Taking The Iconic Image

    Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima Joe Rosenthal took that image on the 23rd of February 1945, some were taken after US troops had won over Japanese forces at the Battle of Iwo Jima. The photographer was planning on his regular tour around the island when he heard news about the US flag being raised on top of Mount Suribachi located on the southern part of the island.

    He hurried towards that area armed with his large Speed Graphic Camera which was the most common Iwo Jima Memorial camera used by photojournalists during that time. Initially, he spotted two other marine photographers and joined them towards the trek to the mountain top. However, they met another photographer who was on his way down - and he told Rosenthal and his group that the flag had been raised on the summit. But because the said photographer shared how great the view was at the top, Rosenthal and company decided to continue on with their trek.

    When they reached the summit, Rosenthal attempted to take a photo of the Marines who raised the first flag, until he saw another set of Marines starting to raise another flag that was larger than the first.

    Joe Rosenthal Photography Backing off from the group, Rosenthal had the best view in capturing that image, and soon that picture defined his place in the history of photojournalism. The rumor that the photo is staged is not true and born of a misunderstanding. Rosenthal had no idea his action shot would become a sensation. He took a posed shot shortly after and when asked if his photo was posed he replied that it was, thinking they were referring to his second shot. The initial action shot, however, was not posed.

    The image was so powerful that it was immediately picked up by wire services around the world. The photograph immediately hit the headlines of Sunday newspapers on February 25, 1945. The photo was also used for a bond drive that garnered $26 billion.

    After World War II, Joe Rosenthal became a staff photographer of the San Francisco Chronicle. He worked there for 35 years. He died on August 20, 2006 at the age of 94 years old.

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