I am not certain that photographs like those made by Arthur Mole in the early twentieth-century are purely an ‘Only in America’ phenomenon, but their patriotism towards Mole’s adopted country of the United Sates of America certainly make it seem so. Starting in the early days of World War I, Mole was commissioned to create spectacular images where thousands of people, properly arranged and photographed from a high vantage point, created a unified image of various patriotic symbols and emblems that included; the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, and a huge portrait of Uncle Sam. A new book by RVB features many of Mole’s epic ‘living photographs’.
The logistics of Mole’s photographs are staggering and took at times more than a week of elaborate planning for a single photograph. Shot with an 11X14 inch view camera high atop a towering platform, Mole’s partner John Thomas would direct the positioning of upwards of 25,000 people into the exact shape desired.
From these elevated vantage points, the foreground might have contained just a few hundred soldiers, where as the distant background, in order to keep the proportions correct might require tens of thousands.
Living Photographs presents 27 photographs in a creative design as is typical with RVB’s books. Blue tinted heavyweight plastic covers with white lettering and a red thread binding set the star-spangled tone. A fine essay by Louis Kaplan called “Photographic Patriotism: Arthur Mole’s Living Photographs” provides the historical context of Mole’s life and work.