Posted by: brentatent12 | September 20, 2009

Pulitzer Prize Photo (1945): Marines Raise the Flag on Iwo Jima

1945: Joe Rosenthal, The Associated Press Marines Raise the Flag on Iwo Jima

1945: Joe Rosenthal, The Associated Press Marines Raise the Flag on Iwo Jima

One technique that Rosenthal uses is to show the contrast between light and dark areas of the image.  The sky is very bright; this helps to showcase the soldiers, rubble, and flag against it.  Also, the way the soldiers almost form a triangle helps to draw the viewers’ attention up and to where the flag is.  The rule of thirds states that when composing an image, you should imagine it’s divided into nine parts, aligning key details along the lines and intersections to help make the image more powerful.  When we apply this to “Marines Raise the Flag on Iwo Jima”, we can see that many of the lines and intersections correlate to the positioning of soldiers and the flag.  Also, they correlate with a portion of the blank sky which helps to further the contrast between the flag, soldiers, and rest of the image.

The photograph was taken on February 3, 1945 during World War II.  The raising of the flag helped to signify the high-water mark in one of World War II’s most devastating battle.  At the time of the photograph, the soldiers were actually replacing a smaller flag with this larger one per the request of their commander so that all the soldiers on the island could see it.  The flag was mounted atop, Mount Suribachi, a volcanic peak which was recently captured and was the highest on Iwo Jima.  The raising of the flag helped to boost morale and US hope of ending the war.

Rosenthal sent his film to Guam to be developed and printed.  Upon first setting eyes on the photo, AP photo editor John Bodkin exclaimed “Here’s one for all time!”, after which he immediately radiophotoed it to the Headquarters of the Associated Press in New York.  From there, it “was distributed by Associated Press within seventeen and one-half hours after Rosenthal shot it—an astonishingly fast turnaround time in those days.”  It was published in hundreds of newspapers.



  1. I also commented on this photo and found much of the same information as Brenton about the historical situation and journey of the picture to print. I think it’s interesting to think about the timing and how different things are today. The film had to be flown to Guam to be developed and then “radiophotoed” (I had never heard this term before this assignment) to AP headquarters in New York. Digital photography and the Internet have revolutionized news. I’d be interested to see timelines of news photos now. Also, still photography has also been greatly supplemented by video footage. However, I don’t think video would have had the same effect as this perfect instant captured on film.

    I think this is an amazing picture. I liked Brenton’s observation about the soldiers forming a triangle that points to the flag. Reading different interviews from the photographer and watching the Newseum video, it’s hard to believe that Rosenthal took the picture without even knowing what was in his shot. John Bodkin was correct in his statement: this truly is a picture for all time.

  2. PS That comment was posted by Emma.

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