Arthur Mole (1889–1983) started out a commercial artist in England. In the first part of the twentieth century, he assembled and photographed large groups of churchgoers into religious symbols. It wasn’t until the outbreak of World War I that he had the idea to approach the military for similar, but patriotic concepts, using massive lines of obedient American troops to make the photographs.
By 1917 he had taken on an assistant by the name of John Thomas. The two would spend a week or longer planning and assembling these fantastic photographs, which Arthur Mole called “living pictures.” The photographs were sold in order to raise funds for the troops and care for the wounded when they returned.
Logistically, this project of extreme forced perspective was extraordinary. The team would first draw the outline they needed on the viewfinder of their large 11 x 14-inch view camera from an eighty-foot-high tower. The two men used megaphones and flags to communicate what they needed to assistants standing below. In order to calculate the number of men it would take to create a row, they would first take test photos of men standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Using this method they could calculate how many people were needed to complete a line. Next, they had to decide whether the men should wear dark or light shirts to complete the arduous task of making the tonalities of the picture correct. Published reports of their various projects say many soldiers fainted after enduring a full day in wool uniforms.
At around the same time, other photographers got in on the act, most notably E. O. Goldbeck, and, in 1920, 10,000 students and faculty of the University of Pittsburgh created their school mascot, The Panther—not bad for a non-military assembly.
Could a photo similar to the ones by Mole and Thomas be accomplished today outside of the military, and without digital trickery? What do you think?