Friday, August 21, 2009

The Iwo Jima Flag

The photo "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" taken on February 23, 1945, by Joe Rosenthal is probably the most reproduced photograph of all time. It was the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and it became in the United States one of the most important national icons.

Nevertheless it’s a photograph and no painting! But the crucial point is, that it depicts not the first flag-raising. This happened some hours earlier and was photographed by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery.

Later there was a big discussion and Rosenthal was accused that he "could not resist reposing his characters in historic fashion." Meaning that he arranged his photograph like a history painting! Rosenthal and all the surviving witnesses always denied that he did so. But they became all famous because of the photograph and had therefore a lot to loose.

But anyhow that’s not very important in our context. Our crucial question has to be: Why became Rosenthal’s photograph an icon and a million seller and that of Lowery was nearly forgotten? The answer is simple: Because Rosenthal shot a perfect history painting whether accidentally or not. It fulfilled all the esthetic requirements (formed by 19th century paintings) but could be accepted as "realistic".

The poster of the film "Flags of Our Fathers" (2006) by Clint Eastwood is even optimizing this history-painting-effect by adding to the dramatic action and the pyramidal group the typical illumination. It’s clear, Eastwood refers to a painting, a monument, an icon, not to a realistic photograph.
Recently appeared the painting "September 11th" by the American contemporary artist Jamie Wyeth. Now the history painting is quoting a photograph, which was quoting history paintings. The circle is closing. Once history painting pretended to be realistic and failed, now it seems that it returns more to the roots, wanting to be an icon.

No comments:

Post a Comment