Patriotic poses: "living photographs" from Mole & Thomas.

Author:Schmitt, Karen
 
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The DTJ Almanac, NDTA's signature publication, represents membership demographics, Chapter achievements, and profiles of military associates and corporate patrons--our collective energy, so to speak. As I was preparing for this issue, a friend sent a photo by email that caught me by surprise. "You won't believe this ... probably another urban myth!" The photo was an image of the Statue of Liberty composed entirely of WWI soldiers stationed at Camp Dodge, Des Moines, Iowa.

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After some research, I learned that an original photo was located at the Library of Congress, part of a portfolio presented to Joseph Daniels, Secretary of the Navy (1862-1948). I made an appointment to view the whole set. The images of soldiers, marines, and "bluejackets"--awaiting assignment to battlefields in Europe, I supposed--were captivating. Standing side by side, proud and brave, they revealed a collective force from times gone by, one ready to safeguard freedoms just as NDTA members and associates do today.

Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas made these "living photographs," to use Mole's terminology, to boost the war effort and public morale. No matter what your first impression--curiosity, shock, or doubt--their work definitely captures attention.

Arthur Mole (1889-1983) was a British-born commercial photographer based in Zion, Illinois. During and shortly after World War I, he traveled with his partner John Thomas from one military camp to another, posing thousands of soldiers into gigantic patriotic symbols that they photographed from above. Their bird's eye view formations depicted familiar icons such as the Statue of Liberty, the Marine Corps emblem, and the Liberty Bell, its crack prominently configured, hinting at Mole's concern with detail. The pair typically spent a week or more preparing for the portraits, which were taken with an 11-by-14-inch view camera. Their work soon served as a rallying point to support American involvement in the war.

Mole met Thomas at the Zion Tabernacle, a structure that could seat up to 10,000 people. John Thomas was the church choir director and later the "choreographic director" for the patriotic poses. He was a natural fit for the project.

When making the group photos, they first traced the symbolic shape on a ground-glass plate mounted on Mole's camera. Then it was outlined on the field...

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