Not too long I put up a post titled No Surprise that the Camera Lies which was based on an excellent Observer article by Geoff Dyer. Following the recent death of renowned photographer Joe Rosenthal. Peter Caddick Adams wrote an interesting article on the BBC website. It is argued that Rosenthal’s (among others) most famous photograph was staged. Carrick-Adams poses the question “Does it matter?”. In the case of the Iwo Jima photo, I say emphatically “NO”. Rosenthal may not have captured the erection of the first flag but he did not intend to deceive anyone. It is a magnificent image that deserves its place as an “icon”
This is an extract from his article.
Images of Victory
One of the most enduring images of WWII was the raising of the US flag on Iwo Jima - a photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal on 23 February 1945. Rosenthal had followed a US Marine group up to the summit of Mount Suribachi, a volcano on the southern tip of the island, and whilst the fighting was ongoing he snapped six men raising the Stars and Stripes.
It now appears this was the second flag raised on the spot, a smaller flag having been erected three hours earlier. Rosenthal's picture won him instant fame and many awards, but a strained relationship with the US Marines who had raised their flag earlier. Enormous controversy arose as to whether the image was staged or depicted a genuine snapshot, a "freeze-frame" during the battle.
Another iconic images of waris is the raising of a flag over the Reichstag . Representing Victory in Europe, it was shot by Soviet photographer Yevgeni Khaldei on 2 May 1945, as the last Nazi forces resisted in Berlin. It, too, is surrounded by controversy. The German parliament building was stormed and taken on 30 April, when a flag - specifically set aside for planting on the symbol of Nazi power - was held aloft that evening. Khaldei's image, was staged a couple of days later in daylight. Even that had to be retouched as at least one of the Red Army soldiers had been on a looting spree and was wearing several wristwatches.
There is no suggestion here that the pictures themselves were doctored - apart from the removal of a looted wristwatch or two - just that they "don't do what it says on the packet". The question we have to ask is, does it matter? Consider who the images are for. There are many "stakeholders" in a war. The soldiers, their loved ones, war workers, the enemy and so on. The images of Rosenthal and Khaldei communicated a different message to all these important groups in a way print or the human voice could never do. To the enemy, the message was loud and clear - throw down your weapons, you've lost. If the message is "assisted" in its composition, should we be surprised or offended?
Many of the famous war photographers of the 20th Century, including Robert Capa, who caught the agony of the assault troops on D-Day, and Larry Burrows, who worked in Vietnam, died in combat, camera in hand. This is not a suggestion that professionals compromise their integrity by doctoring images, that would be lying in celluloid, but as we are the consumers, we need to applaud the bravery of the Joe Rosenthals of this world for being there in the first place.