1918, 18000 US Army soldiers take place in this Statue of Liberty outline at Camp Dodge, Arthur & Mole

1918, 18,000 Soldiers. Arthur S. Mole


I've never done this in the column before, but this week I'm running an image that came to me via email in one of those "pass it on or the world will end" deals.  I looked at this image and at first didn't see anything particularly interesting and then I read the bottom where it said 18,000 soldiers were used to form this image and all of a sudden I was interested!

Our countries have changed a lot since WWI (World War One) and I have to wonder if any country other than China or the DPRK (Democratic Republic of Korea (north)) could pull off using 18,000 soldiers to promote anything in their country without the public getting upset over waste and abuse and calling for senate hearings.  This one though might be something you really want to think about on many levels.

I was doubtful if this image was authentic so dug around on the internet, consulted Snopes, found like pictures at Hammer Gallery, and found a really great history on these sorts of shots at the Iowa National Guard Museum site.  Folks, this image is real.  It is as advertised.  So what is it?

This photo was taken by Mole & Thomas at Camp Dodge in July of 1918.  The design (pay attention to the spatial perspective necessary to envision this shot) was laid out on the drill grounds using thousands of yards of white tape.  18,000 Officers and Enlisted filled the positions.  The camera and photographers were up on a high tower and from the first to last man was over 1/4 of a mile.  It's especially interesting to note that there were 12,000 men used in the flame of the torch, twice as many as the number of men used in the rest of the image.  This is part of the spatial perspective requirements necessary to pull this off.


United States of Liberty, Mole & Thomas 1918

A crop of the above image


It's also interesting to note, that even in 1918, hundred of these men were of foreign birth, standing side by side with native born citizens.  Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas made several of these types of images, for instance a Marine Corp emblem using 21,000 soldiers, and a human Liberty Bell using over 25,000!  They used a 11x14 inch view camera.  The negatives from these shots I'm sure are still in great shape today and beautiful.  I've seen 11x14" negatives and they're out of this world!

What would it take to pull off a similar feat in today's world?  Would the public stand for using soldiers for such photographs?  How about New York photographer Spencer Tunick's shot in Mexico City where 18,000 people got together NUDE for a photograph?  Tunick uses a Pentax 6x7 SLR and not a 11x14 view camera.  Times and values have indeed changed.  Personally I think Mole's & Thomas's work took a lot more creativity both in the composition, and photographically.  We should have learned more in over 90 years.


Spencer Tunik's latest, thousands of naked Australians

Linked from the above story