Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Arthur Mole and John Thomas: A Picture Worth A Thousand Men


How many men does it take to create the perfect portrait? This blog has on occasion featured group portraits, but nothing on this magnitude. Assembling a cast of several officers and enlisted men, Arthur Mole and John Thomas used their knowledge of perspective and photography in order to create a series of images that would inspire America. Almost a hundred years from that time, their pictures of a thousand men are worth more than tenfold in words.


You may have already seen some of the images in this post when they were circulated in e-mails not too long ago. The image, usually of the Statue of Liberty above, would have some accompanying text similar to "INCREDIBLE HUMAN STATUE OF LIBERTY MADE OF 18,000 SOLDIERS!!!", or something to that effect. The text may sound hyperbolic, but it is in fact true.

The images were made by Arthur S. Mole with the help of John D. Thomas around 1918. Their names are largely forgotten, but their work continues to astound to this day. Mole and Thomas' both worked as commercial photographers based in Chicago. Their claim to fame was their "living photographs", massive images of American patriotic symbols all composed of people, usually soldiers.


The images all work so well because they give the correct perspective in relation to the camera, giving the illusion that they are indeed what they portray to be. In order for the camera to capture all of the men, the photographers would perch atop an 80-foot tower, usually specially made for the occasion as they traveled from one military camp to another all over the US in order to get a different image from each group of men.

The trick to getting the right number of men in the right area was simple, yet ingenious: Mole would draw the pattern he needed over the camera lens. Thus, all he needed to do was direct the men into their proper place on the day of the shoot.

The order and organization in these images are truly remarkable, but you only get a true sense of the magnitude of these group photographs when you find out about the number of men that took to create each shot. For example, in the image of the Statue of Liberty, the base of the statue is comprised of only 17 men, but the torch is made up of 12,000. In fact, the torch alone took more than half of the 18,000 needed to create this image. That detail by itself makes the entire effort truly laudable.


Mole and Thomas deliberately chose symbols associated with the US identity as a means of boosting the nation's morale during the 1st World War. Thus, the likenesses of the bald eagle, the US Shield, the Statue of Liberty, and even President Woodrow Wilson (with his permission and blessing) were used for the occasion.

The images were supposed to help promote the sale of war bonds, however they were never used for that purpose. It may seem like a waste that they weren't used for their original intent, but Mole and Thomas would be proud to know that their images are still being circulated in the digital age and continue to inspire a whole new generation a hundred years from when they were first created.


If you want to see more of Arthur Mole and John Thomas' pictures worth a thousand men, check out the Carl Hammer Gallery. The US Library Congress also has copies of different group photographs over here. You can also find more information over at the Iowa National Guard website and over at Snopes.com.

16 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

Now they are bloody impressive!

anoymous said...

these are great! im definitely going to that Carl Hammer Gallery site!

R said...

Wow, great pictures!

Fang said...

So much coordination is needed to pull something like this off. Biggest respect.

Banacek said...

And they say Americans are militaristic...

Shutterbug said...

This is actually the first time I've seen these photos! They are truly amazing!

GADAFINY said...

wow

MRanthrope said...

Wow. I can't even begin to say how cool this is. And it's from 1918?! The fact they could pull this off almost a century ago is, inspiring.

My 2 Pesos said...

amazing photos!

Interwebs Fails said...

Great shots!

R.gers said...

That is truly incredible feat of photography as well as looking kick ass.

D4 said...

The perspective thing has always been amazing to me.. but this is so old?! WOW that's insane. I wouldn't have been able to imagine it until you said so!

T. Roger Thomas said...

Clearly life was far different before TV and the internet came into being

ironchefman said...

Thinking about the perspective issue, that is just so well planned it blows my mind. At least 18,000 soliders are probably easier to choreograph, than say, 18,000 average folk!

Laughing Vault said...

cool photos :D

Tom_Film_Master said...

Now these are extremely impressive! Such large set ups! Great post!

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