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Photographer says Sept. 11 flag shot hasn't changed him, but the fame has
changed his life
By Steve Strunsky, Associated Press
HACKENSACK, N.J. — Newspaper photographer Thomas E. Franklin still shoots the same small-town subjects he has for years.
But these days his schedule also is crowded with events like his appearance at the White House -- at President Bush's invitation -- and the unveiling of a postage stamp adapted from his photo of three dusty firefighters hoisting a tattered flag amid the rubble of the World Trade Center.
A year after the terrorist attack, that picture remains as vivid a symbol of America's response to Sept. 11 as it was the day after.
The picture, which first appeared in Franklin's newspaper, The Record of Hackensack, became an instant icon, reproduced countless times on everything from the cover of Newsweek to snow globes.
It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, one of the few photography awards Franklin did not win.
"I think the events of Sept. 11 have really changed me," Franklin, 36, said in a recent interview. "The picture specifically really hasn't. I mean, now people know who Tom Franklin is, and it has opened up some doors.
"But the picture is not about me, it's about the thousands of people who died."
On assignments, Franklin himself sometimes becomes the main story, recognized by the people he is sent to photograph.
"No one had to convince me of the power of photography," Franklin said. However, "I've been surprised all along that people could react so strongly to a photograph."
Franklin is on a committee at The Record, owner of the picture, that decides who will be granted a license to use the photo. The image has earned more than $600,000 for charities set up by The Record and the three New York City firefighters -- George Johnson, Dan McWilliams and Bill Eisengrein.
"We take great pride in the fact that Tom was able to capture such a significant moment," said Jennifer Borg, The Record's general counsel and the daughter of publisher Malcolm A. Borg.
The photograph is not universally revered, however. One element contributing to its appeal is its resemblance to another famous flag-raising picture, taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, of six soldiers on Iwo Jima during World War II.
In an essay in the September 2002 issue of Vanity Fair, David Friend wrote: "In photography circles, Franklin's shot was quickly dismissed as trite, flat and unimaginatively composed."
Franklin shrugs off that characterization.
"It was just a moment in time, and I was the witness," Franklin said. "And I did what any good photographer would do, I recognized it and I shot it and then I moved on to the next photograph."
He almost lost the photo. He was using a digital camera that day and his initial frames were obliterated when he was shoved into a lamp post during the chaos around ground zero.
"I lost my first 80 or so pictures that I shot on Sept. 11," he said. "All the pictures of the Trade Center towers still standing."