Arthur S. Mole was a British-born commercial photographer who worked in Zion, Illinois. During and shortly after World War I, Mole traveled with his partner John D. Thomas from one military camp to another, posing thousands of soldiers to form gigantic patriotic symbols that they photographed from above. Each photo is inscribed with a title giving the subject, the number of enlisted men, officers and nurses participating, as well as the name of the commanding officer and the name and location of the base. Sometimes buildings and tents on the base can be seen in the background. These designs are remarkable inasmuch as they were not based on simple grids, but involved arranging the people in curving lines, leaving spaces between rows to form shadows, or having them wear hats or not, to create the shading and subtleties of an actual drawing.
Mole & Thomas’s subjects include the American eagle; a stars and stripes shield; the emblem of the United States Marines; the Statue of Liberty; and a profile portrait of President Woodrow Wilson, who guided the nation through World War I. The Wilson portrait, for example, was formed using 21,000 officers and men at Camp Sherman in Ohio and stretched over 700 feet. The “Human Liberty Bell” was composed from over 25,000 soldiers, arranged with Mole’s characteristic attention to detail to depict the crack in the bell. Mole and Thomas spent a week or more preparing for each of these immense works. They were were taken from a 70- or 80-foot tower with an 11- by- 14-inch view camera. When the demand for these photographs dropped in the 1920s, Mole returned to his photography business in Zion. Photographs by Mole and Thomas are in numerous prestigious collections including the Chicago Historical Society, the Museum of Modern Art and the Library of Congress.
Full title and publication information: The Human U.S. Shield/ 30,000 Officers and Men Camp Custer, Battle Creek, Mich. Brig Gen Howard L. Laubach Commanding. Mole & Thomas, 915 Medinah Building, Chicago, Illinois.
Jensen, Oliver. America’s Yesterdays — Images of Our Lost Past Discovered in the Photographic Archives of The Library of Congress. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1978, pp. 248-49.
“Arthur S. Mole.” The Heartland Project: Illusions of Eden. http://www.illusionsofeden.org/photographer/mole.html (18 March 2003).
Collins, Dan. “Anamorphosis and the Eccentric Observer (Parts 1 and 2).” Leonardo Vol. 25, No. 1 and 2, 1992. Online at Arizona State University. http://www.asu.edu/cfa/art/people/faculty/collins/Anamorph.html (18 March 2003).