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August 27, 2014

Living Photographs: Incredible Pictures Formed by Thousands of U.S Soldiers During World War I

In search of some eye-catching imagery to boost morale surrounding US involvement in WWI, the US military commissioned the English-born photographer Arthur Mole and his assistant John Thomas to make a series of extraordinary group portraits. Between 1915 and 1921, with the dutiful help of thousands of servicemen and staff from various US military camps, the duo produced around thirty of the highly patriotic images, which Mole labelled “living photographs”.

As one might imagine, the creation of each photograph was somewhat of a military exercise in itself, taking a week or more to prepare. Firstly, the desired image would be traced with wire onto a glass plate mounted to Mole’s camera, which he would then take to the top of an 80 foot high viewing tower. Looking through the template, armed with a megaphone and large pointing stick, Mole would then oversee the laborious nailing down of miles and miles of lace edging, tracing out the pattern. The next stage was fairly straight forward, the servicemen would then simply need to fill the design.

Making use of anamorphic perspective, the images would not make much sense from overhead or on the ground, but only become intelligible at one particular vantage point — where Mole would be positioned atop his tower with his 11 x 14-inch view camera. This would make for some wonderful skewing of numbers, and itself, acts as a great example of perspective at work. The Statue of Liberty image, for example, required a total of 18,000 men: just 17 at the base but, more than half a mile away, 12,000 in the torch. Sadly it seems no one thought to fly a photographer overhead and capture what would have been a wonderfully skewed vision of Liberty, with enormous bulging torch and minuscule feet.

Here’s some of their amazing works.

Human Statue of Liberty. 18,000 officers and men at Camp Dodge, Des Moines, Ia

Human Liberty Bell. 25,000 officers and men at Camp Dix, New Jersey

Human American Eagle. 12,500 officers, nurses and men; Camp Gordon, Atlanta

Living Insignia of the 27th Division “New York’s Own”. 10,000 officers and enlisted men, Breakers of the Hinderburg Line

Human U.S. Shield. 30,000 officers and men, Camp Custer, Battle Creek, Mich

Living Emblem of the United States Marines. 100 officers and 9,000 enlisted men, Marine Barracks, Paris Islands, S.C.

Grenzhausen, Germany, 1st Field Artillery Brigade, 1st Division, 1919

Sincerely yours, Woodrow Wilson. 21,000 officers and men, Camp Sherman, Chillicothe, Ohio

Living Uncle Sam. 19,000 officers and men, Camp Lee, VA.

Soldiers of the 164th Depot Brigade, Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas, formed into the shape of the U.S. Armed Forces service flag, ca. 1918.



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