Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Conceptual Photograph: The Art of Mole & Thomas

An Accidental Mysteries blast from the past (12/12/08).

ARTHUR MOLE AND HIS ASSOCIATE JOHN THOMAS would spend a week or more planning and assembling these fantastic photographs in the years during and after WWI. As a patriotic gesture to show American strength and to boost morale here at home, the team would first draw the outline they needed on their 11 x 14 inch view camera from a constructed tower some 70 feet high. By taking test photos of men standing shoulder-to-shoulder, say 10 or 20 men across and deep at various points, they could then calculate how many people were needed to complete a line. Then, they had to calculate whether the men were to wear dark or light shirts to complete the arduous task of making the tonalities of the picture correct. Look at the back part of any image
(click on image). Obviously, it took many more people to fill a row there than towards the front. Published reports of their projects say soldiers endured full days in wool uniforms standing in heat and other conditions for the pictures—probably a better task than fighting in the trenches of France, where a good portion of them ended up. The images were later sold to raise funds for the troops and care of the wounded when they returned.

Just to give you an idea of the number of people it took to make a few of these pictures, on the top row is the famous portrait of Woodrow Wilson, taken in 1918. This picture was composed of 21,000 officers and men at Camp Sherman, Chillicothe, Ohio.

On the bottom row, the photograph of the Statue of Liberty (1917) was composed of 18,000 officers and men from Camp Dodge in Des Moines, Iowa.

Next to that, is the Human Shield. It contained approximately 30,000 officers and men from Camp Custer, Battle Creek, Michigan.

I am doubtful a photo of this magnitude could be accomplished today. Originals sell in galleries for well over a thousand bucks. Like any photograph, condition of the picture is important.

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